Vail Daily column: Creating the right culture for your HOA
Power over our own destinies is inherently circumscribed by the matryoshka dolls of governance that preside over our existence. From the complexities of international diplomacy to our national sociopolitical boondoggle to the more specific doctrines emanating from state houses and county buildings, we are subject to enormous levels of outside influence. Here in our fair valley, the homeowners’ association is the most local of our governments. In contradistinction to the remote authority exerted from Denver or Washington, HOA boards and their constituent homeowners are in close physical and communicative proximity. They are thus granted the opportunity to fix issues without the enmity that characterizes governance on a larger scale. The chance to create a positive culture should not be squandered.
Involved with HOAs personally as a homeowner and professionally as an HOA attorney, I have seen patterns emerge that define the difference between a place in which you are proud to live and a complex that tortures you with every waking day. Often, the distinctions between the two are subtle: a tweaked policy here, a helping hand there. But, the small changes are nonetheless powerful.
Serving the community
Success in this area is predicated on a simple, but critical, mutual recognition. On the one hand, the members of the board intuit that they are there to serve the entire community and not simply their own interests or those of their friends. Conversely, each homeowner sympathizes with the difficult task that the board has and is thankful that there are neighbors willing to serve where the homeowner was not. Empathy on both sides creates a harmony where board efforts and homeowner compliance are equally appreciated.
Upon this bedrock, the idyll’s building materials can be assembled. The framework is a set of governing documents that strike the correct balance between permissive and authoritarian. Nobody’s interests are aided by anarchy. But, an oligarchical dictatorship is not any better, and perhaps worse. If rules are implemented in a manner reminiscent of a police state, then there is every possibility that resistance will arise. The war that will follow, hopefully proverbially in court, and not literally in the streets, will reduce the finances, if not the physical plant, to rubble. And, even if that eventuality is avoided, the tension and distrust make living in the community a miserable affair. Unless prodded with a bayonet in their posterior, very few citizens have pleasant things to say about totalitarian rule.
Reasonable rules should be coupled with direct, open communication between the HOA and the homeowners. Suspicion arises when homeowners have the feeling that a crafty cabal is operating behind the scenes. While not every decision or discussion is appropriate for public consumption, a robust and regularly-updated online presence will keep homeowners informed and engaged in a way that will likely forestall any larger problems.
While more information necessarily flows down from the board, owners also need to do their part to engage in helpful dialogue. Repeated minor complaints stated in rude fashion are not considered constructive commentary. Silence is also harmful when a board is trying to elicit suggestions or information from the owners. Cooperation and mutual respect are keystones of a successful community culture.
Best of friends
Not everyone in a community will get along. But, people need not be the best of friends to coexist. Social interactions, both formal and informal, can go a long way to developing community spirit. This shared essence will either inspire further improvements or at least create a psychological barrier to curtail disputes. Board members and owners who go out of their way to say hi to a neighbor, to watch their cat, to help them shovel snow, serve as exemplars for what the community could and should be. Less spontaneously, the HOA could organize a holiday party or a community cleanup or a neighborhood hike. The resultant bond will reinforce the concept of community.
Even with these features in place, things will not always go smoothly. When a homeowner commits a transgression, the Board must apply the rules in a consistent, firm, but compassionate fashion. Every party to the proceedings is a human worthy of humane treatment, even if they screwed up. This is equally true of attitudes toward the board: they are not calling a homeowner to account just to be vindictive. Owners need to take responsibility for their own actions and omissions.
We circle back to my favorite theme: treat your community the way you would like your community to treat you. If we can create an embracing culture here, then perhaps we can set our sights on a seemingly more intractable goal: repairing the divisions that are cracking our country apart.
T.J. Voboril is a partner at Reynolds, Kalamaya & Voboril LLC, a local law firm, and the owner and mediator at Voice Of Reason Dispute Resolution. For more information, contact Voboril at 970-306-6456, firstname.lastname@example.org or visit http://www.rkvlaw.com.
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