- The Washington Times - Friday, September 6, 2002

I once saw the president of a condo association escort a young child out of the pool area where the child was attending a birthday party. Such action usually is reserved for children who cannot follow the pool rules you know, no running, no shoving, no fighting and so forth. In this case, however, the child was paying for the sins of his parents they were behind on their association dues and had lost pool privileges and, according to this hard-nosed president, so had the child even for a birthday party.

There are 231,000 homeowners associations (HOAs) across the country, according to the Community Associations Institute in Alexandria. Theorganization serves 16,000 members nationwide.

Most HOAs operate with voluntary boards of directors who are elected by the HOA members. While most of the HOAs operate professionally, there are many where the board is more interested in personal control than the corporate good. Also, with the complaints I've received over the years, it appears that many HOAs don't know where their powers stop. Some have passed rules that violate local, state and federal laws, such as in the area of fair housing.

If HOAs overstep their boundaries, who brings them back in order? Worse yet, if a resident finds himself on the bad side of the HOA board of directors, how can he defend himself against harsh treatment, such as blocking of services or association-mandated fines?

Fortunately, most states have laws that govern homeowners and condominium associations. For a list in your state, check out www.condolawyers.com/nationalaw.htm.

If you have volunteered for or recently been elected to an HOA board of directors, one of your first duties as a representative of your constituents (your neighbors) is to comply with "governing documents and applicable laws," according to Jeffrey A. Goldberg, one of the on-site attorneys for CondoLawyers.com.

Unfortunately, there are times when the board thinks the most important task at hand is keeping residents in line.

Keeping the peace between quarreling factions and political battles can overtake the true purpose of the association, which is to maintain and nurture the physical plant and culture of the community. The key here for association leadership is to remember that its "constituents" shouldn't be looked upon as "them" because the constituents, after all, are neighbors.

If you're wondering what the role of an HOA board member is supposed to be, CondoLawyers.com lays out a "Primer on Duties and Authority of Association Boards." Here's the abbreviated list of duties:

• Compliance with governing documents and applicable law.

• Maintenance of common areas/building exteriors.

• Originating andmaintaining budgets.

• Monitoring reserves for emergencies, capital expenditures and deferred repair or replacement, and bad debt.

• Assessment collection.

• Exercising business judgment.

• Adoption and enforcement of rules.

• Annual elections, board meetings and appointment of officers.

• Representation of homeowners/insurance/property rights.

• Books and records.

• Emergencies.

• Human rightsand accommodations.

Of course, when quarrels rise up, it's not always the board's fault. Sometimes the residents cry foul, when in reality the HOA is only doing its job within its limited powers. Take a few minutes to visit CondoLawyers.com if you're new to an HOA community to find out your duties and responsibilities. A few more resources include:

• Condo Management Online (www.condomgmt.com) is the Web site of Condo Management magazine the nation's largest condominium management magazine.

• Community Associations Institute (www.caionline.com), which has plenty of useful information, including guidance on ethics issues and a useful Q&A section.

• RealtyTimes.com (www.realtytimes.com). Simply search the site for HOA.

• National Association of Attorneys General (www.naag.org). Click on the master list of attorneys general link to find your state attorney general and search for state HOA/Condo laws.

M. Anthony Carr, director of communications for the Northern Virginia Association of Realtors, has written about real estate for more than 12 years. Reach him by e-mail ([email protected]).

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