By David Diestel, Regional President, South, for FirstService Residential, as published in the Business Monday section of the Miami Herald

There are 9.4 million Floridians living in communities governed by a condominium or homeowners association (HOA), paying nearly $10 billion annually to maintain their communities.* These associations are under the direction of an elected board of  homeowners making decisions that affect all the residents of the community.

Association board actions have a direct effect on the value of a home, community reputation and overall resident quality of life — factors that influence the desirability of the neighborhood. Yet, while much attention focuses on who will be our next president, significantly less attention is spent by homeowners on elections that will directly impact where and how they live: the vote for HOA and condo association board members.

To have a voice in how the community is run, homeowners need to be proactive participants in their communities, starting with voting at the board elections. Those who get involved in their community association may be able to influence how budgets are spent and what choices are made.

Utilizing Experts

Many associations operate much like businesses, with boards controlling budgets and making strategic decisions to run the community as efficiently as possible. Boards have a tough task; theirs is to optimize budgets, minimize risk, invest in the community and create a desired lifestyle for residents — all while being fiscally responsible and socially aware of community dynamics.

Just as leaders for top corporations know the importance of bringing in experts to manage their company’s capital, the same holds true for association boards that turn to property managers.

Professional property-management firms work to provide peace of mind for residents, offering a host of services and resources that improve home values and boost lifestyle experiences. But many don’t understand the distinction between the association board and the property-management firm. As Regional President, South for FirstService Residential, I often encounter this misperception.

The association board makes the primary decisions and sets the rules and regulations governing the community. Because the board has a fiduciary duty to ensure these are enforced fairly, associations may partner with a professional property-management company to serve under direction of the board for this purpose.

A qualified property manager best serves as a trusted adviser, bringing expertise to help associations address issues that arise within managed communities. In this role, a property-management firm acts similarly to other professionals that provide guidance to associations, such as a CPA for financial issues or an attorney for legal ones. Each party can suggest its best counsel respective to their professional competencies, but the final say always rests with the board.

The leadership that the board provides, combined with the capabilities, depth of resources and best practices a property-management company brings, should work in tandem to serve the long-term best interests of the community at large.

Action Protects Your Community

The expression “a few bad apples spoil the bunch” unfortunately applies to a handful of the 325,000 homeowners elected to serve on Florida’s association boards. Instances of egregious abuse of power, fraudulent practices or blatant disregard for (or ignorance of) state laws regulating a board not only occur, but often make the news. However, most boards are run by honest neighbors who volunteer to safeguard the value of the community and have only the best intentions for the place they also call home.

It’s simple enough, but the best way to minimize the chances of your association running amok is getting to know who is on the board, who your property manager is, attending monthly meetings and expressing your concerns. Or run for a board seat yourself. You can even lobby legislators to enhance resources for state oversight agencies that protect against board injustices.

Find a community people want to live in, and chances are there’s a board working diligently to promote all of the positive aspects of quality of life there. The strongest communities don’t happen by chance — they develop and thrive when everyone, from homeowners to boards to managers, actively does their part.

*Source: Foundation for Community Association Research National and State Statistical Review for 2015

Monday August 01, 2016