As homeowners associations (HOAs) in south Texas recently discovered first hand, it doesn’t always matter what kind of preparation your community makes before a powerful hurricane strikes. The effects can still be devastating – even after the storm loses strength.
Depending on where you live, the destruction that Hurricane Harvey inflicted on your community may be significant. The cleanup is expected to cost billions of dollars, with an estimated 13,500 homes completely destroyed and upwards of 200,000 homes damaged. Many communities also continue to deal with environmental threats ranging from contaminated air and drinking water to excessive mold.
If you are on the board of an HOA in any of the affected areas, you have a huge job ahead of you. Your neighbors are counting on you to get your community functioning normally again. But now that the storm is over and the flood waters are finally receding, where do you even begin?
Prioritizing the work ahead is crucial to the recovery of your community. Rebuilding may very well take a long time, and it can all seem quite overwhelming. If you’re working with an experienced community association management company, rest assured that you’re in capable hands.
Your management team should have the resources and the best practices already in place to assess the damage, file insurance claims, help you obtain needed financing and make repairs. By streamlining the recovery process, your management team will have residents back to a normal way of life as quickly as possible. Below are five helpful steps to consider as you begin to work with your management company to pull together resources and address the most important aspects of the cleanup.
1. Establish communication with residents.
Disorganization and confusion are common after a catastrophic event, especially if residents have been displaced. Needed services may be functioning sporadically, or they may still be completely down. Having a communication plan in place can make a huge difference at this difficult time. Your management company should be communicating with the board regularly to keep you informed and also assisting in alerting residents of important updates.
Hopefully, your community has a resident alert system that you were able to use during the storm. If not, plan to get such a system in place soon. It will enable the board or your community manager to quickly send out alerts to all residents in your HOA by automated phone calls or texts. Use the system in the aftermath of a storm to continue to keep residents informed.
Post notices throughout your building or community as well to keep residents in the loop. Include warnings (for example, if drinking water needs to be boiled), describe the immediate actions that your board and the management company are taking and provide any other instructions residents should be following. Once electricity, internet and other services are up and running, take advantage of digital communications – email updates, website notifications and online newsletters, among others – to get information out quickly.
2. Handle the most pressing issues quickly.
You or your management company should already have good relationships with contractors who can remove debris, pump water and repair immediate hazards. To mitigate the extent of any damage, these issues need to be addressed as quickly and as efficiently as possible. Have your maintenance or engineering specialists assess the damage at your property as soon as it is safe to do so, then obtain estimates from your vendors for the most critical work. Be sure to have someone onsite to oversee the work when it begins.
3. Contact insurance and get the work started.
If your board has been well advised, you should have the insurance coverage you need to pay for storm-related repairs. Flooding, however, is one of those natural disasters that may be an exception. If you have damages not covered by insurance or want to get started quickly, your community management company should be able to connect you with short-term emergency financing
to begin repairs while waiting for insurance funds to be realized. FEMA and SBA loans are also available to homeowners associations, so be sure to explore those resources as well.
Again, strong relationships go a long way toward getting your community prioritized, especially since adjustors will have a massive number of claims in your area. You can assist your community manager by taking photos and documenting damage information. This will make the process as accurate and efficient as possible. With the right information, your community manager can make sure your claims are filed promptly and correctly, and work with the adjuster to ensure that your HOA gets the most favorable settlement possible.
Before beginning repairs to your property, be sure to review your governing documents. Texas state law and the community declaratory documents dictate the process that must be followed to contract for remediation and rebuilding, as well as the allocation of insurance proceeds or other short-term financing needed to fund these activities. To be safe, check with your association attorney and discuss the process with your community manager.
4. Get the help you need.
With everything that has to get done – managing onsite workers, making phone calls to providers, locating and securing needed financing, establishing schedules and photographing damage, among others – it can be too much for just a few board members to handle. Don’t take on all the work yourselves. Remember that “many hands make light work.”
Lean on your management company who should have a depth of resources to make sure the right contractors are hired, stay engaged and complete the work quickly. Larger management companies with regional and national reach can provide added benefits such as offering additional support services to the local team, who may also have been affected by the storm. Help with important functions such as community finances, architectural requests and simply helping to maintain business as usual can make all the difference for your association.
It’s also ok to request that committee members or someone from your management team be available to answer questions, communicate the progress and help with smaller community challenges. Having everyone pitching in will go a long way in helping your community feel whole again.
5. Follow up.
After the work is done, document everything with “after” photos. Work with your management team to make sure that your community has received all the insurance payments you are entitled to receive and that contractors and vendors have been paid appropriately.
Now that the community is fully restored, you’ll want to share the good news with your residents. A final communication with photos and maybe even a reopening party for amenities would be a great way to get residents excited about the renovations.
We know Texas communities will come back from this storm stronger than ever. Still, we recognize that those of you impacted by Hurricane Harvey have suffered devastating losses. At FirstService Residential, we are dedicated to doing everything we can to help the communities we manage, our Texas colleagues and everyone else affected by this storm. That’s why we’ve donated $100,000 to the American Red Cross to help with the relief efforts and have set up a donation-matching program. Read more about what we’re doing for the victims of Hurricane Harvey.