Thursday, February 16, 2012

What is a Newcomer's First Impression of Your Community?

At some point, we were all the "newcomer" in our communities. Can you remember back to the day when you first moved into your condominium, cooperative or homeowners' association?

Your first introduction to your new neighbors might have come in the form of an application and a subsequent interview. Depending on how easy that application was to fill out and the nature of the person or persons who interviewed you, your impressions of your new community might vary widely.

The old saying that you only get one chance to make a first impression is particularly true when it comes to community associations. The approval process for new purchasers and renters as well as the first few weeks and months in a community, can set the tone for an enjoyable future that might include volunteering for the board or a committee or they can be unnecessarily traumatic.

In business, new hires are subjected to an "on-boarding" process in order to ensure that the new employee understands his or her job requirements and the company's expectations. A successful on-boarding process also is designed to teach the new employee a little bit about the company culture and to get them excited about the future and the opportunities it can bring.

I am always a little disappointed that more community associations don't approach the newcomer experience with that same approach in mind. This is your first opportunity to let new people know what is so great about your community, create a sense of excitement as well as inclusion while also letting them know "how things are done".

My first entree into the community association lifestyle was in a condominium association in Miami straight out of law school. The application was no problem at all. As a student, I was used to filling out form after form. The interview was a little trickier. My husband and I were scheduled and re-scheduled several times with little advance warning. When the day finally came, we met with only one member of the board and the least hospitable one at that. He looked at us both sternly and said, "If I like you, you will get to live here. If I don't, you won't."

Needless to say, our knees were both shaking but I suspect now that this board member was just having a little bit of fun at our expense. We were "approved" and went on to live in the community for 4 years. We had nice neighbors but we were left to meet them on our own. My husband went on to serve a term on the board but meetings were poorly attended and maintenance and management problems plagued the community.

My second act with community association membership came when we moved to a Broward County HOA. This time around, things were a lot more organized. The interview went well and was accompanied by a beautifully bound package containing the governing documents and branded rules and regulations. Within days of moving into our new home, we were greeted by a Welcome Committee with a nice basket of muffins and invited to a Newcomer's Social. This community has now been our home for almost two decades. There continues to be a strong sense of community and the thought that goes into welcoming and incorporating new members is evident.

Think back to your first days as a newcomer to your community and ask yourself what could have been done better. The answer to that question will help your community go on to create the newcomer protocol that can make the difference between a good community and a great one.

This work by Donna DiMaggio Berger, Esq. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Generic License.


  1. I agree with your philosphy in that the interview committee should present a positive portrayal of their community. Is there a recommended guideline of information one should present in order to protect ourselves from litigation should we not approve a person? What are acceptable reasons to deny a person from renting within a community?

  2. Denying applicants for sale or lease without having the authority to do so in your governing documents can expose an association to liability. The starting point is to review your governing documents (specifically your Declaration) to see if (a) you can deny an application at all and (b) what, if any, parameters are laid out for such denial. You must also look back at previous boards' handling of sales and leases to be sure that none of the rights you wish to exercise in this regard have been compromised by previous boards. Lastly, speak with your association attorney if you wish to "beef up" the reasons that you can rely upon to deny purchasers or lessees in your community.