Leverage the Power of Committees in Homeowners Associations

When you’re shopping for a new place to live, you probably consider a lot of factors – location, schools, taxes, and the community itself. You’re essentially interviewing the neighborhood to see if it’s the right fit for you. But once you move in, it’s easy to feel disconnected from the association that helps run your community. You might not know what’s going on, or how decisions are being made. Over time, this can lead to a sense of cynicism and disconnection. One way to prevent these problems is by involving more members in the association and giving them a chance to shape the decisions that impact their homes.

  1. THE POWER TO APPOINT COMMITTEES

Community association governing documents typically specify that the board may create committees among its various powers and duties. This often includes the right to appoint persons to the committees for implementing the community’s administration and to delegate to the committees any functions or responsibilities which are not by law or by the documents themselves required to be performed by the board. As indicated and unlike the board, which is elected to their positions by the membership, committee members are appointed to committees by the board and hold their positions at the pleasure of the board.

  1. MUTUAL BENEFITS FOR COMMITTEES AND BOARDS

Residents leery of the time constraints and demands made of the board may find it more attractive to serve the association as a committee member, rather than run for election to the board. In turn, the board may enjoy having certain projects off its extensive list of duties by delegating tasks to committees. In an environment comprised of volunteers, having more help may help alleviate burnout from the board and help channel member ideas into action for the community.

  1. TYPES OF COMMITTEES BOARDS CAN UTILIZE
    1. Welcoming Committees

An example of engaging new residents involves forming a welcoming committee for new members. For someone moving into a community, there is a learning curve for acclimating to the new environment. First, they are the fresh faces on the block, and they may feel like outsiders among well-established groups of friends. Second, there is no guarantee new residents are fully aware of various restrictions governing the community. Certainly there are recorded restrictions, but they are not often read in detail before purchasing a property. Further, if there are rules and regulations for the community, often the sellers are remiss in passing along that vital information to the new buyers. That, in turn, may lead to negative interactions mimicked in popular commercials villainizing community associations. Before even saying hello to a neighbor, the resident may be facing violation letters, fines and feelings of ostracization.

To combat those types of negative interactions, the welcoming committee can encourage community involvement and create a welcoming atmosphere in the community. Their primary responsibility is to extend greetings and address new residents’ general questions concerning community activities, local amenities and tips for living in the community. The committee can also ensure new residents have up to date copies of the community’s rules and regulations, and any other pertinent documents. So rather than learning from trial and error, which could be at the cost of the new resident if tied to fines or other fees, the association can proactively reach out to new members and give them the information they need to facilitate their acclimation into the community.

    1. Communications Committees

While a welcoming committee can be beneficial for communicating with new members, having a communications committee for routine and continuing communications with the membership at large is another way to promote the community’s health and happiness. Generally, residents gather once a year for the annual meeting, at which time they will get a summary of events from the past year. This one meeting may be the only time the members hear from the board on the community’s administration. Often these annual meetings will have at least one member, if not more, who voice their displeasure that they do not hear anything all year long, that they have no idea what is going on in the community and that they do not know what their assessments are going towards. While there is typically nothing untoward about the operation of the association, facing such outbursts can derail a meeting.

To help avoid these confrontations, boards may want to implement a communications committee that manages periodic updates to the membership. Again, when the association’s administration relies on volunteers that have their own responsibilities outside the association, the expectation that the board alone should be continuously furnishing information and updates may place more stress on the board and discourage others to run for the board. Instead, a communications committee can be appointed to head up the association’s communications to the membership. This can be in the form of newsletters, updating a website or even managing the association’s social media page. Summaries of projects, upcoming events and gentle reminders of restrictions to follow are all beneficial items. If there are any hot-button issues on the rise with the membership, such as critiques of the work performed by contractors, the communications committee is able to forward that feedback to the board for action sooner rather than later at the annual meeting, where it is more disruptive to the community.

    1. Project Committees

Finally, another way to get ahead of criticisms from the membership is to use committees for projects, such as ongoing landscaping needs, new roofs or document amendments and restatements. While it is the board that is ultimately charged with the administration and management of the community, and those decisions are made in the board’s sole discretion, there can be frustrations from members if they feel they are being dictated to, rather than being a part of the decision-making process. For example, the board may believe they are making a decision in the community’s best interests, such as removing decorative cupolas to avoid roof damage, only to then face the backlash of the membership who want to retain the cupolas.

Certain projects, such as document amendments and restatements, benefit from community involvement beyond the board because changes in an association’s governing documents should ultimately reflect the desires of the community at large. Even the best thought out changes can provoke strong reactions from the members. Rather than invest time and resources in drafting amendments, only to have them voted down soundly by the owners, boards can help set up the association for success by engaging the membership early in the process, establishing a committee for the same and working towards a product that is both approved by the board and well received by the community.

  1. LACK OF VOLUNTEERS STILL PROVIDES BENEFITS

Even with the vast benefits there are to having committees, boards may be faced with situations where they are ready and willing to appoint residents to committees, only to discover no one will step up to volunteer. Surprisingly, even these situations can work to the board’s benefit. Outspoken residents that are quick to critique the board and its operations are not necessary as eager to put their words into meaningful action. When given the opportunity to address their criticisms and serve on a committee, these residents may outright refuse. Their refusal gives the board a powerful defense to future criticisms from these same residents as their actions demonstrate that, even when given the opportunity, they are not willing to be a part of any solution for the community and their words may hold less sway to the other residents who see them for who they are – the disgruntled neighbor.

The successful management of a community relies upon individuals working towards a common goal together. While this typically includes the board, there are ways to include additional community members in these endeavors. The use of committees for various needs can promote a happy and healthy community, help alleviate some of the stress and burdens on the board and encourage members to take active roles in the decisions impacting their homes. The use of committees is not always readily thought of by boards and can prove to be valuable resource to use for the betterment of the community. Boards should consider the needs of their community and feedback they have received from the membership, and then consider whether the use of committees can be of benefit.

If your Michigan condominium association or HOA board has any questions regarding establishing committees, one of the experienced attorneys at Makower Abbate Guerra Wegner Vollmer will be more than happy to assist.