Training Board Members How To Manage HOA Politics

Like it or not, there are politics surrounding the operations of being an HOA board member. In addition to the time and effort it requires to participate in the role, there are additional aspects that are important. Sometimes, this can even lead a person to resign from their board seat or other board and community members calling for a board member’s removal.

We have compiled information that will be helpful to you and your fellow HOA board members in navigating certain processes that will be expected of you as an active participant in your community.

Board of Directors: Positions and Duties

As in corporations or governmental congress, the board of directors within an HOA community board is made up of various positions, each with a set of responsibilities. CC&Rs, bylaws, and state statutes help define each duty and role. For additional clarification, and to maximize the effectiveness of each board role in your HOA, a management company is a great resource. As every board member identifies and actively participates in their role with the board, your community can maximize its operations and functionality. The roles of the board include:

  • President: An HOA president functions as executive officer. The president’s responsibilities include officiating at meetings, creating meeting agendas, and signing association-related legal documents and contracts. They work in close conjunction with your community’s property manager. The president is generally the main source of contact when using a professional management company.
  • Vice-President: This role may vary from community to community based on needs. However, one constant responsibility of the vice-president is to take the place of the board president when that member is not present.  And, as with other positions within the HOA board, the role of vice-president can be as engaging and effective as the participant is willing to be.
  • Treasurer: The main role of the treasurer is to oversee the association’s finances. Developing a budget, as well as supervising the financial operations of the association, are key components of the treasurer.  When there is a finance committee within a community organization, the treasurer usually leads that committee. Having previous experience in finance, accounting, or business is highly recommended for this position. Additional support can be provided by your HOA management company to ensure the financial operations of your HOA are properly cared for.
  • Secretary: Another important member of the HOA board is the secretary. Working closely with the board president and vice-president, the secretary focuses on setting the agenda for any meetings and accurately recording the minutes at those meetings. This is to ensure that the community’s quorum and recording keeping requirements are met. The secretary is also responsible for notifying homeowners of such meetings and giving adequate notice for the community members to participate, in order to comply with state laws and CC&Rs. An additional responsibility of the secretary is to maintain records of the association. As a result, they may be asked to sign documents for corporate resolutions or bank transactions. Some of these respective duties can also be completed by the property management company, but the HOA secretary would oversee these operations in accordance with the community governing documents.

The roles and responsibilities of each board member may vary from one association to another, but there is one important key that remains true regardless: an effective board member always has the best interests of their association at heart: to enforce the rules fairly and equally, to take their fiduciary duty seriously, and to maintain their role for the benefit of the community.

Conflict Resolution

In order to survive the political environment that resides within an HOA board, you must understand its hierarchy.  It’s also necessary to clearly understand the operating processes and make improvements. This understanding resides in conflict resolution. From board decisions to difficult homeowners, conflict can and will exist for various reasons and must be dealt with in the most appropriate manner possible. Conflict can create an opportunity for you to build trust and develop relationships as you learn to handle it effectively. Here are a few ways you can deal with conflict:

  • Acknowledge the individual’s expression of concern and their perceptions. It may be necessary to bring the matter out into the open and give them an opportunity to explain what they’re feeling. Try to examine the root cause of the conflict, not just the symptoms that may be on the surface. Ask questions and uncover details to appropriately identify what the main issue is.
  • Once you’ve acknowledged the conflict, apologize. While you may not feel at fault, you can still sincerely say you’re sorry for any misunderstanding, and that they are feeling frustrated and angry. You’re not taking blame for the issue, but allowing the space to find a resolution.
  • Listen to what they have to say either as an active or reflective listener in order to clearly understand the situation. By being an active listener, you give them time to talk without being interrupted. It is also important that they feel you are focused on the conversation and not distracted by looking at your phone.  Jumping to conclusions or making assumptions about their position will only deepen the frustration; you may repeat some of the things you’ve heard from them in order to allow additional clarification. Be mindful of their words and body language.
  • Determine what necessary action must occur to resolve this concern. What will it cost you and your HOA to make this person happy? What is the potential long-term result of resolving this issue? What value does it bring to this individual and/or the community? The answers to these questions can help you find a solution that will work for you, your HOA, and any others that may be impacted by the conflict. It is critical to consider prior decisions and future precedent as it is critical that your decisions are consistent and fair.
  • Confirm the issue has been resolved by acknowledging your appreciation for this individual and their feelings. Finish strong and convey your interest in this person’s needs being met while simultaneously dealing with a conflict that strengthens the community.

These key steps to resolving conflict require personal relationships and interaction with your HOA community members. Developing relationships of trust and having real conversations where you and others can share feelings, provide feedback, and reach an agreement that is mutually beneficial is ultimately effective for maintaining relationships.

Improving the Process of Making Decisions

Doing your best to avoid conflict in the first place is also part of the problem-resolution plan. Improving the way you and your fellow board members work together in making decisions can help to prevent conflicts in the future. So, how can you improve your board’s decision-making process? Here are a few tips to consider:

  • Following the necessary requirements for issuing notices in your association’s governing documents is very important. Proper notice to members about meetings being held will let homeowners know that there won’t be any action taken or decisions made without the proper community representation being present. The specific requirements are identified in the CC&Rs for your community and state statute. If action is taken improperly, those decisions are automatically invalid, and any enforcement relying upon an invalid decision is fruit of that poisonous tree and therefore invalid, too. 
  • Avoid serving alcohol during board meetings. Some members might think it’s appropriate to serve beer or wine; however, alcohol impairs decision making ability and is a liability risk.
  • Sometimes, the best solutions come from a network of ideas. Allowing people who are present at meetings to contribute in the discussion can be helpful.  However, you, as a board, have the authority to limit speaking time. Preventing any contribution from membership can cause conflict later on, so be sure to allow your members to participate at the appropriate time during your meetings.

If the problem hasn’t been checked by following the above decision-making tips, consult with your community management company for direction or advice. You may also form committees to work together to find solutions that can be considered by the HOA board. You may also need to seek professional guidance from an engineer or attorney, depending on what the issues may be. Don’t hesitate to ask a professional in order to get a full picture before taking action.

Ready to Resign

Whether someone is moving or no longer has the time to dedicate to the position, there will be a time when someone needs to resign from serving on the HOA board. There is a proper procedure when it comes to resigning, and it should be followed appropriately.

First, the board member wishing to resign should write an official notice of resignation, which may be a print letter or an emailed message. It should state the date in which your resignation will be effective, but it does not have to identify any personal reasons for withdrawing yourself from a position. Keep the notice concise and polite.

Next, your notice will need to be distributed to the community. The notice may also be posted in a community center area on a bulletin board or web page. As an HOA board member, you represent your community, and notice of your resignation should be communicated to all homeowners.

Lastly, assist your HOA board through the transition. If your resignation notice leaves you with weeks or months before its effective date, you can assist by training an interim board member. It’s important that you provide the necessary tools for your predecessor to succeed and not leave your fellow board members and community overwhelmed in your absence.

Calling for Another Person’s Removal

The most effective way to remove an HOA board member is by a membership vote. It’s important to be familiar with how this process works because the community members may decide to initiate this process on their own, and this process varies (if available at all) by state. Additionally, be sure to check your governing documents to ensure compliance. Be familiar with how to implement this process according to your association’s bylaws. The bylaws offer an explanation for removing acting board members by a vote of the membership. In most cases, the bylaws do not require members to give a specific reason for the removal; they may be removed with or without cause. There also may not be a special meeting required in order to remove a board member, but it is most likely necessary.

Typically, once you’ve established a vote for a specific board member’s removal, draft a petition to call a meeting in order to remove the board member. Based on your association’s bylaws, there will be a specific number of signatures required for the removal to take place. Also, verify with your particular state whether there are any rules regarding petitions that pertain to removal. Once you’ve compiled the required number of signatures, send notice to the community membership that includes the time and place of the removal meeting.

Notify the board member in question that a meeting is being held in order to vote for their removal. While this letter may be difficult to write, consider the overall community that is being impacted by the problems at hand. Include any information that may be pertinent for this board member to defend themselves, if they choose to do so. At the meeting, allow discussion and vote on the individual’s removal from the HOA board. When conducted correctly, it can be done with few, or negligible, issues. But, be sensitive to the outgoing board member and their reaction to this process.

In summary, HOA board members are there to provide value to their community through volunteering their time and expertise. The jobs and duties associated with each role are not easy, but understanding how they operate, how to properly resign, and how to call for another person’s removal can help to simplify the otherwise complex process of operating an HOA board.

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