By Bob Gourley
For years, I have been writing about the importance of communication as it relates to community association living. I have stressed how important it is that you tell your story well and that you tell it often. Newsletters, letters, websites and any other tools used to communicate need to educate readers about what is happening within their associations and why.
As recently proposed legislation across the nation has shown, there has never been a time when communication and education efforts between Board Members, Property Managers, and unit owners have been more important. Community Association Volunteer Leaders at recent programs in my state of Connecticut have indicated there seems to be a vacuum of education between Board Members and unit owners regarding the responsibilities of each as it pertains to creating and maintaining a healthy and vibrant community association.
Let’s Begin at the Beginning
Educators have long asserted that the learning process begins at birth. The birth of a community association resident begins when they purchase a unit within your association. What can we do to begin the education process when a community association unit is put up for sale?
Currently, there are few or no regulations requiring the education of realtors as to the rights and responsibilities of folks who choose to live in community associations. In their profession, realtors are compensated in the form of commission which is only earned upon the successful completion of the sale. They are not required to notify the potential buyer of their rights and responsibilities prior to the completion of the sale.
Potential buyers are generally interested in the appearance and upkeep of the unit and the overall look and feel of the community. Again, there are no regulations regarding their education about their responsibilities once they become unit owners. In fact, as is often the case, their first dose of education often comes when they violate a rule or regulation resulting in a violation letter or fine. In a worst-case scenario, this can create a potential long-term conflict between the community association and its residents. At the very least, it can create a poor start to a new unit owner’s experience.
If a community were to adopt practical guidelines and distribute them freely to realtors and potential purchasers, I think many of the problems that surface because of poor initial education efforts could be avoided. As a disclaimer, CAI says: “Like many worthwhile endeavors, community living cannot be free of conflict. Utopia does not exist. With all of their inherent advantages—and there are many—community associations often face difficult issues. While adopting Rights and Responsibilities will not eliminate all conflict, its adoption can stimulate communication, promote trust and cooperation, clarify expectations and build a greater sense of community. CAI urges you to take advantage of this opportunity.” And so do I.
Education is an Ongoing Process
Education, by its very nature, never ends. It is an organic and ongoing process. It also takes work and commitment. As a leader within your community, one of the worst mistakes you can make is to assume that all of your community members are educated as to the efforts of the Board of Directors and/or Property Manager. In fact, it is far better to assume that they don’t know what decisions you are making or why. Educating them as to what is happening and why is an excellent use of your time.
Recent regulations are aimed at providing unit owners access to the business proceedings of the Board. I suggest you take it a step further and engage your fellow unit owners with education about the challenges facing the Board and the decision-making efforts being made on their behalf. Dedicate a portion of your newsletter and website to education on a regular basis.