The firm’s latest “Real Estate Counselor” column in the Miami Herald is authored by shareholder Nicole R. Kurtz and appears in today’s edition of the newspaper. The article, which is titled “Community Association Disputes? Here’s How to Minimize and Avoid Them,” focuses on the most common types of association clashes, the damage they can do, and some of the best approaches for associations to steer clear of them. It reads:
. . . [F]or most communities to realize the benefits that stem from effective association oversight, some disputes are inevitably bound to arise from time to time. Some of the most typical association clashes involve:
- Matters arising from compliance with state laws and municipal regulations;
- Financial issues, including collections, special assessments and reserves;
- Rule enforcement, including violations, suspensions and fines;
- Architectural review applications and decisions;
- Amendments to governing documents;
- Maintenance of community amenities, and rules governing their use;
- A perceived lack of transparency, including ineffective communications of association rules, changes and operational procedures to owners and residents;
- Seemingly inadequate responses to residents’ concerns and complaints;
- Meetings and their discussions, agendas and notices;
- Devising, implementing and enforcing new rules and restrictions;
- Renovations and alterations to the common elements or common areas;
- Maintenance of the common elements and areas;
- Board of director election irregularities and concerns;
- Vendor contracts.
The most effective community association boards of directors understand their business decisions will inevitably lead to disputes from time to time, but they should seek to avoid perceived minor or frivolous disputes whenever possible. They should also try to minimize or avoid significant disputes that may negatively impact the association’s operations and sow discord within the community.
By working with highly qualified professionals, associations and their boards of directors can circumvent, or at least be prepared to effectively address, many disputes. Experienced and knowledgeable association property managers, attorneys, insurance agents/brokers, financial professionals, engineers, and others can help associations to avoid potential clashes of all types by making effective use of the proper protocols and resources for board decisions and initiatives.
Committees that are independent of boards of directors are also paramount. Matters such as code enforcement, architectural reviews, fining/compliance, and others could benefit from input and recommendations from committees comprised of association members who are completely independent from the current board of directors and could offer a unique perspective on resolving such matters. In some cases, owners who have experience in a particular field are found to be particularly helpful to boards that are faced with decisions involving areas that are outside of the directors’ personal expertise.
Becoming involved in these and other committees should also be seen as an important step for those who aspire to become future board members of their community. Committees and the meetings they hold, independent of a community’s board meetings, foster effective communication with all participating owners, and provide space for owners to voice their recommendations to the board in an efficient and productive manner. Their use is among the some of the most important traits of the best-run communities, so boards of directors and property managers should make it a priority to recruit and retain devoted volunteers for these vital positions.
Promoting and maintaining civility and mutual respect among fellow board members, owners and neighbors is also vital for associations that wish to avoid disputes. The Community Associations Institute, the leading organization representing the interests of associations, created the organization’s “Civility Pledge” as an effective tool for association directors and managers to plan and begin implementing efforts to build and maintain community civility, harmony and mutual respect.
Boards of directors should consider using the CAI Civility Pledge as a framework to lead their communities through conversations about difficult and complex issues, resulting in decisions that are informed and well balanced. To learn more and adopt the pledge, visit www.caionline.org/civilitypledge.
For Florida condominium associations, state law requires that most disputes be submitted for arbitration before the Division of Condominiums under the state’s Department of Business and Professional Regulation. These proceedings can be effective for addressing most minor clashes, and often all involved parties are well served by resolving the matter at this enforcement stage. . .
Nicole concludes by advising community association directors and managers to not lose sight of the fact that they are presiding over matters involving residences that, in many cases, represent some of the largest and most personal investments of their owners. She writes that by utilizing committees, creating an environment of professionalism and civility, and working with highly qualified experts of the upmost integrity, communities can be in a better position to avoid, minimize and address the full range of disputes that may arise.
Our firm salutes Nicole for sharing her insights into this important topic for all community associations with the readers of the Miami Herald. Click here to read the complete article in the newspaper’s website.