The upcoming November elections provide our annual opportunity to elect leaders at a local, state and federal level. While we may not always celebrate our choices on the ballot, voting is a critical means of not only promoting accountability in our political process, but it is increasingly critical to protect the viability and autonomy of your community association.
In 2015, all 50 states will hold legislative sessions. Believe it or not, community association issues are topics that state governments love to get involved in. One would think the fact that community associations save all taxpayers money. They do this by assessing themselves for goods and services, that would fall on state or local government.
This would be a reason for politicians not to kill the proverbial golden goose. Yet despite the many benefits provided by community associations, legislators frequently target our industry for additional regulation. In some cases, such regulations can be helpful. In other cases, the legislator’s actions make it more difficult for your elected board to do its job and protect the value of your home.
In 2013 for example, there were more than 670 bills introduced in state legislatures that would directly impact community associations. Legislation ranges from beneficial bills which require buyers to be made aware of association rules prior to purchase, to more controversial provisions that limit the ability of associations to enforce assessment obligations. Some legislation, while well meaning, borders on the absurd.
In Georgia for example, there is a bill that has been introduced in various sessions which would allow homeowners to opt out of assessments if they didn’t feel their elected board was doing its job. The bill has yet to pass committee when it is suggested that the provisions be expanded to state government officials as well.
One issue that is seeing widespread debate across the country is the issue of late assessments and collection costs. Community associations have expenses that must be paid to protect the value of all properties in the community. Common area maintenance, landscaping, insurance and other expenses need to be met to protect the value of homes in the community. When a resident refuses or can’t pay their assessments, it increases the costs to all other homeowners.
Many states are looking to limit the ability of the community association to enforce association assessment obligations. These limits can include forcing the community association to bear the cost of collecting past due assessments, to capping the amount of fees and past due assessments that can be recovered. This is an issue that is critical to all community, and especially condominiums as federal mortgage rules set limits for the amount of past due assessments that are acceptable.
The Federal Housing Administration for example requires that a condominium association have no more than 15% of units 60 days late in assessments. Thus, finding common ground to ensure the ongoing financial viability of the community is a critical matter for anyone living in an association.
Another area where legislators love to intervene is the ability of a community association to set reasonable rules for how the community should be governed. Hot topics on this front include removing the ability of the association to regulate everything from political signage, landscaping, clotheslines, solar panels and amateur radio antennas. It’s not that any of these areas are not worthwhile, but removing the decision on how the association chooses to deal with these issues undermines association autonomy in governing the look of the community, a critical factor in property values.
Voting for your association board, county supervisor, state representative or provincial officials and federal office holders is important. Each day in 2015 important decisions that impact your community will be decided, and voting for candidates that support strong community associations is an easy way to protect the investment in your home and your neighborhood. Most importantly with the control of state houses and congress handing in the balance and many polls too close to call, every vote will be critical.
By Andrew S. Fortin
Senior Vice President External Affairs