Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Cleanliness is next to Godliness-especially in a community association!

The fear of this century's next pandemic has increased with the recent media coverage of the growing spread of Ebola. Even without the risk of a highly contagious and fatal disease like this one, most of us already know that contact with crowds and multiple surfaces do increase our odds of becoming ill with any number of viruses. In some communities with retirement-age populations, even everyday illnesses can pose serious health risks. However, when was the last time your community association board discussed what can be done to keep your residents a little healthier?

Here are some basic ideas to consider:
  • In multifamily buildings, it makes sense to install hand sanitizer dispensers or wipes in high traffic areas such as the elevators and front desk. This is also true for homeowners' associations with recreational amenities like clubhouses.
  • Reach out to local healthcare providers and arrange for flu and pneumonia shots to be given inside the community as well as for mobile health screening units to make regular visits. Also, invite medical professionals as guest speakers to attend board and membership meetings and/or to distribute pamphlets and other wellbeing material.
  • Review your protocol for on-site association employees to consistently maintain cleanliness and hygiene standards both in terms of maintaining the association premises as well as expected personal employee hygiene and practices. A security guard constantly handling identification material from people entering the community should routinely clean his or her hands and the surrounding surfaces.
  • Consider adding recreational amenities and services to your community such as a weight room and trainers.

Naturally, for communities who do not wish to fit the aphorism of "no good deed going unpunished", the proper release forms should be obtained from owners for some of the foregoing activities. So, why should your community care about these kinds of preventative health measures?

The most obvious answer to that question is that this community is your home and you either live there with your family or your family and friends visit you there. Your staff's health should be of importance not only because it is tied to productivity but because you care about them. Lastly, the epitome of neighborliness is looking out for each other and one of the best ways to do that is to employ best practices when it comes to common health concerns.

Monday, October 13, 2014

How can your attorney help build your community's brand?



My last blog discussed the importance of building a brand for your community association. Many of you may have agreed with the concept but struggled with the idea of how to achieve such branding for your community.

The obvious people to assist you in this endeavor would be a Social Media specialist, website guru and a graphic artist. However, you may be surprised to learn that an experienced and knowledgeable community association lawyer may be your very best asset in terms of establishing and safeguarding your community's unique brand in the marketplace.

Let's look first at the branding for a typical retirement community.  In order to promote that brand, it would be helpful if there exists an active social structure with abundant recreational activities.  Your association attorney could help create that infrastructure with recommendations for various standing committees, committee structures, Board resolutions creating same, as well as policies and best practices for members of those committees.


As far as fiscal issues are concerned, is your community perceived as doing things as cheaply as possible or as one which spends wisely and delivers value for the assessment dollar?  My law firm, Becker & Poliakoff, is one of the founders of the Communities of Excellence program which spotlights Florida communities and managers who "get it right".  Many of the communities who receive awards for innovation, 

Are your community's rules too loose or too restrictive or your governing documents out of date?  We can look them over for drafting, legality and whether they actually accomplish your goals and bring them up to date with the law.

Are your dispute resolution processes civil and fair or rigid and heavy handed?  We can help set up templates for demand/notice letters and resolutions for fines and suspensions.

How do approach communication at board meetings, between board meetings, between board members, etc.?  Nothing does more to set the tone in the community than open and transparent operations, and that requires a commitment to communication.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Does your condominium, cooperative or HOA board know if and when it is appropriate to grant a hardship exemption?

I am often asked by boards for whom I am rewriting or amending governing documents to include the right to grant hardship exemptions for a variety of use restrictions. Typically, boards want the leeway to grant exceptions when it comes to leasing or selling units, altering units  or limited common elements, performing maintenance and allowing certain types of architectural changes or improvements.

What many boards fail to understand is that any time an exemption or exception is granted, they are creating a precedent which may render their restrictions unenforceable in the future.

If there is no mention in the governing documents that a board has the right to grant an exemption then a board should not even contemplate doing so.

If the documents do provide such authority, a board still needs to discuss with legal counsel what the pros and cons are when it comes to exercising that right. Often this right to grant an exemption is tied to the perception that the owner is experiencing a hardship of one sort or another which can be a highly subjective matter.

A classic example of a situation where a hardship exemption might be equitable would be when an owner's tenant dies two weeks into a lease term in a community which restricts leasing to only one time in any calendar year. A board may very well feel that the intent of the restriction to keep the community safe from transient rentals will not be accomplished by applying the restriction under those circumstances.

Boards get into very murky waters when the hardship exemption is being granted to a fellow board member or an owner who is seen as a "friend of the board".

The better course of action when it comes to granting hardship exemptions is to clearly identify in your documents which situations would be eligible for such exemptions.

For example, in terms of leasing and sales restrictions, you might want to clarify that the following situations are eligible for an exemption:

-adding a family member to the deed for estate planning purposes
-heirs taking title to a unit
-death of a tenant within a certain time period after signing the lease
-abandonment of the unit by the tenant within a certain time after signing the lease
-a casualty event rendering the property uninhabitable for a time

These types of exemptions should be identified for other use restrictions and your governing documents amended to take the guesswork out of what does and does not qualify for a hardship exemption.