September 30, 2019
Effective communication is essential in governing your association. Most conflicts arise when homeowners are ill informed or feel unheard. Transparency and establishing clear expectations are essential ingredients in establishing trust between all parties.
Boards communicate with 3 groups: their property managers/management companies, their homeowners and amongst themselves. Here are some helpful tips to establish effective communication habits and alleviate conflict.
Communicating with other Board Members
- Educate yourself by reading and understanding your governing documents. Know you’re your responsibilities and limitations as a Board member to properly and legally govern your association. Conflict can arise when homeowners feel boards are acting outside their decision-making jurisdiction.
- Schedule the required number of open and closed board meetings as indicated in your master deed. Post the dates of these meetings with a set start and end time, agenda and handouts.
- Practice responses to hot topic items
- If discussions get heated, take a time-out. Short breaks or adjournments can allow for additional info and/or calmer demeanors.
- Agree to disagree. It is important that you present a united front when addressing homeowners.
- As a last resort, removal of a Board member may be necessary. It is important that you contact your attorney and/or refer to your governing documents to ensure proper and legal protocol.
Communicating with Homeowners
- Schedule open board meetings (a minimum of 1 per year) selecting an appropriate location, start and end time with a set agenda communicated at least one month in advance. Serve refreshments and provide handouts. Begin each meeting with POSITIVE statements. It is important people at the meeting are comfortable and in a positive mood before the start of the meeting. Make sure your property manager is in attendance.
- Select a chair that will keep agenda on tract and control loud mouths. This chair needs to be the right person, not always the President. If no one feels comfortable leading, your property manager should step in and run the meeting.
- Refer to the Bylaws and Master Deed, not Board opinion, as often as possible. It is difficult for homeowners to argue with ‘the law’.
- Allow for open discussion at end of meeting only. Retain control while ensuring all opinions are being heard.
- If necessary, legal representation at meeting. Remove disruptive individuals.
- Meeting minutes, broadcast messages and community newsletters help keep owners informed. You can’t do this enough! Keep a record of this communication in case there is confusion or misunderstandings. An association website provides you the ability to archive.
- Not everything should be discussed in an open forum. It is important to be transparent, but not every detail needs to be shared with all homeowners. As a board, agree with what will be shared, and what will be kept private.
Communicating with your Property Manager or Property Management Company
- Understand your contract and what costs are included or excluded from your monthly fee. Many conflicts arise when associations don’t completely understand their contract, and feel they are over charged for every extra service provided. Generally, monthly fees that are lower may have additional fees not included such as paper, postage, insurance audits, capital project management etc. Higher monthly fees may include those services. As a Board it is best to discuss which contract type your association is most comfortable with and which is most cost effective. Most property management companies will work with you on negotiating a fee structure that serves you both well.
- Designating one Board point person helps eliminate confusion and streamlines communication.
- Know who to call. You and your homeowners should have the Property Manager’s direct number, the management company home number and the emergency after hour number. Some boards distribute magnets or postcards for homeowners to help them keep this info handy.
- A live customer service department is helpful in assisting homeowners and board members in a timely fashion. Not all management companies provide one, so it is best to do your homework when interviewing for new companies. When trying to reach your property manager directly, expect timely but realistic response time. Remember, if they are not working on site, they often juggle multiple properties.
- Technology and transparency are important. A robust website, monthly reporting of financials, collections, outstanding projects and maintenance tickets should be provided by any good management company. Some may even allow for boards to approve bills before payment, or at the very least upload actual copies of invoices for your review at month end.
- Set clear expectations with your property manager. Provide regular feedback and determine the best communication methods between you.
- Escalate concerns when needed. If an issue is not being addressed to your satisfaction, reach out to senior management or supervisors.
- As a last resort, ask your property management company to replace your manager with someone who may be a better fit for your community.
Most importantly, listen to understand, not just to reply. As the diverse community we all now live in, it is necessary to try and understand where another person is coming from, and what their motivations are. Direct and respectful tones ensure even the worse news be better received.