Question: I have a question regarding the management company that serves a community association/HOA. I realize that there is a board of directors; however, I am always told by the management company that I can’t call them to ask questions regarding the community and that if I want information I have to come to the meetings. Can the management company require this?
Below is what they sent me when I asked a question:
“You have been invited numerous times to attend the XYZ POA board of director’s meetings to learn what is going on in this community. Had you been in attendance at these meetings you would have already had the information that you are requesting from our management company. You are not a representative of or a member of the XYZ POA. Your meddling in our efforts to have the tree at ‘2018’ trimmed has served no useful purpose and has only served to confuse the issue. Some of the claims in the letter you forwarded border on pure fantasy.
As in the past we encourage you to attend the board of director meetings. In the future we would encourage you to allow the board of directors to do its job. If you do interfere it only serves to make our job harder and could prevent accomplishing the very thing you want accomplished. Also, we encourage you to follow our association rules and guide lines. They are not hard and serve to keep our community looking neat and orderly.” — M.M.
Answer: Having been involved in many facets of the shared ownership industry — including as a board member, property management executive and attorney — one of the more common refrains that I hear from owners is that the various vendors for the community, including management, “work for” the owners and must be responsive to each owner’s individual demands. While it is true that all owners contribute funds for the maintenance and upkeep of the property, and that those funds are used to pay vendors, it is not reasonable to assume that every vendor, whether management or otherwise, should take direction from each individual owner and resident. That’s why, like any corporation, a community association is set up so that the owners elect representatives (the directors) who are responsible for making the vast majority of decisions that affect the community. Those directors vote on issues at board meetings, which meetings are required to be noticed and open to all owners, and where owners are entitled to comment on all items that are discussed. This, legally, is your forum to be heard and to get information.
Whether the “them” you refer to in your question is management or the directors, you do not have a legal right to simply call either at will. Just as a matter of basic civility, with respect to the directors, it would not be reasonable to expect a corporate director to accept telephone calls at any and all times from what might be hundreds of neighbors, each with their own individual issues. Mind you, I am not commenting on your personal issues, specifically, and I have no way to know whether you are fixated on an issue that has been adequately addressed by the board and rejected, or whether you are simply being unreasonably ignored.
The only way to maintain a modicum of order in what can be an extremely unruly system of shared ownership and governance is to limit owners’ input and questions to very specific times and situations. As you probably know, you have extensive access to inspect records on written request. And, as I mentioned earlier, you can attend open meetings and share your comments with and ask questions of the board regarding agenda items (many meetings include a “catch all” good and welfare section, as well). You also have the right to send letters to the directors — the address of every single owner, including the directors, is an inspectable record. If you lived in a condominium, you would additionally have the right to send the board a written inquiry by certified mail, and the board would be obligated to provide a response within 30 days (with some statutory exceptions). But, there is no similar obligation in the HOA Act, and so the best you can do is attend meetings, ask questions and hope that the directors are reasonably responsive.
It is human nature that, to each of us as individuals, the issues we care about are paramount, and it is extremely frustrating when we cannot resolve them to our satisfaction. But we also have to remember that, in the world of shared ownership, there are hundreds of individually-important issues, and there is no way to reasonably serve them all. The laws and governing documents are our best attempt to bring some order to the chaos and to create a system that is sustainable and that, more often than not, allows communities to thrive as a whole.
Ryan Poliakoff is a co-author of “New Neighborhoods - The Consumer’s Guide to Condominium, Co-Op and HOA Living” and a partner at Backer Aboud Poliakoff & Foelster, LLP. Email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your hometown.