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Getting the hang of community living

Ah, condo living… walking distance to everything, great places to go day and night, yeah there’s club noise, but water damage, reserve funding and board meetings – oh my!   Who knew that dutifully doing your part meant becoming an officer of a potentially million-dollar nonprofit corporation benignly called the “homeowners association”? How is one supposed to navigate that?    It might be helpful to have access to publications like “Choosing a Management Company” or “Insurance: How Community Associations Protect Themselves”.  How ’bout a couple manuals for the various positions of Treasurer, Secretary or President?  If you want to tackle this challenge head on, you can find those publications along with seminars and more are available through the Community Association Institute.

If you’re a larger building you might have a property manager who is a member, but you can join the Washington State chapter as an individual or as an association. Dues are reasonable and they seem to have a large number of local events, which are also networking opportunities to develop that file full of contacts of lawyers, mold & water damage specialists, reserve study specialists and everything else that can leave a condo association scratching their collective heads.  I attended the “Law Day” last weekend and an assortment of helpful sessions for the new board member: “Legal Issues Boot Camp”, “Money, Meetings, Minutes and Minutia”, “Me, My Insurance-Appointed Defense Attorney and… Who?”. It was mostly interesting to be with 250 people and realize how the challenges that seem bewildering and intimidating to a new board member are totally common. 

I picked up some good tips for a well-run board meeting:  try a timed agenda to keep things moving. It works best if board members come prepared and can have short discussion and make decisions.  It’s not legal to make formal decisions by email, so have a standing agenda item to review all the decisions you probably did make by email and officially ratify them.  Board meetings are required by law to be open, but that’s for observation- not comment.  So run the meetings w/o homeowner participation and have a homeowners forum at the end where homeowners can ask questions or make comments. Make sure you’re giving proper notice for all your meetings, make sure you’re documenting quorum, and when you make decisions as a board use resolutions, vote and note the results in the minutes.  You can delegate things to committee, just do it with a resolution.

Some more experienced friends attended a session on “Strategies for Managing Change and Guiding your Association Through the Storm” that talked about how we’re in a period where lots of change is happening in property ownership and management: energy efficiency, green materials, urban food production.  As a board of volunteers it’s easiest to just say “no”; how can you instead to allow motivated neighbors to do research and take the lead for the benefit of the community?  It sounded like a good session, the suggestions my friends passed on include: try allowing limited experiments, or get fellow homeowners to show some amount of interest or support by getting 10 or so neighbors to sign a petition for a project.

The Washington State CAI serves both condominiums and non-condo homeowners associations.  Their next big event is Community Association Day on September 24th, I encourage folks to check it out. You can expect sessions appropriate for everyone from new board members to professional property managers.  You can learn more on their website at http://www.wscai.org

On a less formal scale, downtown condominium presidents (or their designates) can participate in casual tip trading the first Saturday of the month as part of the Downtown Condo Presidents group run by Watermark president, Linda Mitchell.  You can email her as linda on lindamitchell.com for more info.   Here’s to community living!


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