So, you have just acquired a new home and, with it, a new homeowner association. As is expected, you take the time to review the association's governing documents, minutes and financial statements. But what if the association is in a town or city that you are unfamiliar with? Have you spent time researching the town as well? Before you answer that question, you may be thinking - why?
While some associations may seem like small cities themselves, they still are typically part of a local municipality and both entities need to work in harmony. Here are just some of the reasons to get to know your town.
Some of the architectural improvements that your residents choose to do such as pools, patio covers, and walls will require a permit from the building and development services of your town. It is imperative to advise your residents that they will need to obtain this permit in addition to the HOA's approval.
I used to work closely with a particular town's development center, faxing them any architectural approvals from the HOA that required a permit. And the same type of "check and balance" was extended to me as well from staff members of this town. We also worked together when improvements from outside the norm were presented such as the time a resident requested an alternative fuel pumping station at their home. While most towns do not realize the benefits of this type of relationship, this particular town's development staff did and it withheld the permit until HOA approval was obtained by the applicant.
If your association relies on public services from your town such as street sweeping and right-of-way maintenance, take some time to meet with the town's supervisors from these departments, even if it is just a phone conversation. The aim is to become familiar with town schedules and procedures for your area and to establish contacts so when requesting maintenance, the process goes a bit smoother.
You can view most town codes or ordinances online to learn about noise and parking ordinances, for example. You can see if some of your association's rules are stronger or weaker than the town's, or if they contradict each other entirely. Looking at town ordinances may also help in the development of your own HOA rules.
Meeting the local emergency service providers can be helpful in cases of emergency within your association. An HOA I once worked with hired the town's police officers through an off-duty program for security purposes. This ended up highly benefiting the entire area. The officers were shocked at the amount of off-hours visitors that the HOA common areas attracted and realized an area that needed improvement. Our community's properties were better protected and residents felt more secure as the area was better patrolled. Our staff offices on site also became known as a "pit-stop" for some of the officers - - which only strengthened our communications and mutual cooperation. The police also provided a monthly report for our newsletter and the local fire service submitted articles on all types of safety issues.
And last, but not least, try to attend a council meeting or two or at least occasionally read their meeting minutes online. There are the obvious issues that may affect your HOA such as road construction projects, but there could also be additional issues such as proposed ordinance changes that might help or harm your particular association.
Getting to know your town can offer many benefits to your HOA and can further protect the interests of all of its members. It's an investment in time that is well worth making.
Kim M. DiStefano, CMCA®, AMS®, PCAM®, Association Times, January 2007