Best Practices for Enforcing HOA & COA Rules

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It is crucial for all homeowners to understand their CC&Rs and for property managers to assist board members when violations occur. Keeping lines of communication open between all parties will keep the peace, and help keep property values where they should be.

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Our lives are governed by rules. Whether it’s stopping at a red light or remaining quiet in a library, many rules are a “given,” while others are learned along the way. When you purchase your first home, aside from reading the “Don’t” signs posted in the development, it’s general practice to learn from the HOA Property Manager or from CC&Rs as far as what is acceptable and what is not. Many rules stem from municipal codes, while others apply common sense solutions for keeping property values stable and keeping homeowners safe.

Maintaining Home Aesthetic Appeal

If a neighbor paints his home lime green, what recourse does the homeowner next door have? It goes without saying that while living under the auspices of an HOA, every homeowner must consult the Property Manager and the Board regarding major updates, such as paint, adding to structure, windows or landscaping. It makes sense to keep property aesthetics consistent, and if a specific paint color is required, every homeowner should adhere to this rule.

Property Managers should remind longtime homeowners too that they must consult their governing documents, the Board, and the Property Management company before any work is done on the exterior of a townhome or a single family home. If a homeowner decides, against the rules, after consulting with the Property Manager and Board, to paint his house a non-conforming color, he or she may be on the receiving end of a warning letter asking them to paint the home an acceptable color or face a fine.

It behooves the Property Manager to keep a list of each development’s requirements, as well as colors, manufacturers, materials, and contractors. Armed with this information, homeowners will be well informed about the kind of updates they can make. Association rules, in keeping with municipal codes, may also contain curfew regulations on days of the week and times of day when contractors are allowed to work. For example, if your city code stipulates that there should be no contracting begun before 7 am, and your workers begin work at 6 am, a neighbor may be within his rights to call the police, and either you or the HOA may be cited.

Health and Safety Rules

While aesthetics are important to property value, maintaining the health and safety of the development is equally important. Many cities already have codes limiting smoking, for example, and even provide HOAs with signs to place property-wide to remind residents and renters that they may not only face fines from the HOA but from the city as well. City codes governing smoking are especially critical in high fire danger areas, where an errant cigarette carelessly tossed can cause great property damage.

Other HOA health and safety rules include the following:

  • Pool use rules
  • Recreational facilities rules (rec room, gym, playground)
  • Common area uses (picnicking, pets, children)
  • Trash removal (limits on what is allowed, and weight thereof)
  • Laundry facility (hours, capacity limits and restrictions on how many can be used at a time)
  • Fire hazard mitigation (storage of toxic materials on or behind property or in front of parking spaces)

Enforcing Security Rules

For gated communities and complexes, security is an especially important function that not only ensures that residents sleep soundly at night, but is a property enhancement that adds to the home value. Many developments have rules regarding visitors, usage of designated parking spaces, keys and key cards, and leaving security gates ajar. Many others employ security guards whose job it is to maintain visitor flow and remain vigilant for rule breakers. In the event of a security rule being compromised, the Property Management company may consult with not just the Board, but with law enforcement authorities as well. It is especially helpful when making the case to warn or fine a residentto know the time of day and date when the violation occurred and use the HOA on-site security camera system to corroborate findings.

Property Management Company and Board Enforcement Strategy

Most property management companies and HOAs use an escalating strategy with regard to rules enforcement. First, there must be proof that rules are being broken by a specific homeowner (word of mouth, eyewitnesses, security camera footage). Once the Board, through its members, consults with the Property Manager to write a warning letter, the homeowner will be apprised of the penalty they should expect if the behavior is not corrected.

If the rule violation continues, fines will normally be assessed on a monthly basis, with the amount displayed in the monthly association dues statement. This serves as an ongoing reminder to the homeowner that the fines will continue to mount if there is no course correction.

In cases of egregious repeated violations, the homeowner may be the subject of a lien. This is an absolute last resort, as a homeowner may view this kind of action as discrimination or harassment. Lawsuits involving HOAs and homeowners yield inconsistent results and involve a lot of out-of-pocket expense, much of which can be avoided with a more comprehensive strategy involving all parties. In one circumstance at a California HOA, a homeowner found fines for storing in front of his parking place discriminatory. He indicated that Board members were harassing him to move items elsewhere. He was not only breaking HOA rules but in violation of municipal code. In order to prevent a threatened lawsuit, the Board settled on a 50% payment of dues assessed, payable at any time before the property sale.

Consistent enforcement across all rules for all homeowners is vital in order to prevent expensive lawsuits. This is why it is crucial for all homeowners to understand and read their CC&Rs and for property managers to assist board members when violations occur. Keeping lines of communication open between all parties will keep the peace, and help keep property values where they should be.

How to Maintain an Orderly HOA Board Meeting

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While discussing important agenda items is vital, keeping a debate moving on to the next agenda item and keeping a discussion on the topic is crucial.

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How to Maintain an Orderly HOA Board Meeting

HOA members, regardless of the size of the association, are busy juggling many responsibilities. Work, family and home improvement take up most of the time that is not devoted to sleep. With that in mind, directors should remember that while they are the decision makers, they and all their fellow members are human and occasionally display their shortcomings at board meetings – even when meeting rules are in force.

Whether your association has 20 homes or 2,000, respectful conduct and order should be maintained at board meetings. But we are human, and there are times when frustration and impatience take over that meetings can become sources of contention, especially when a member is dismissed out of hand, or feels his or her concerns have been ignored over a period of time.

Challenges Facing Smaller HOAs

Smaller associations without rec rooms or meeting centers generally are more informal, with meetings held usually at one of the director’s homes. Decorum is generally looser since the association members are tighter knit and members are almost always on the same page when it comes to knowing issues that should be addressed in the short term as well as long term. With intimacy, however, comes occasional controversy and contention that can arise during the course of a board meeting (or in the common area before a meeting). Because smaller sized HOAs have a comparatively limited number of directors, the effect of a disruptive member is more immediate and should be addressed without delay.

As an example, one such smaller association (14 units) had had a persistent problem with residents placing belongings in front of their parking places in the property’s underground parking lot. This behavior is against CC&Rs and monthly penalties are assessed for the repeat, persistent violators. One homeowner was warned on several occasions that his renter needed to stash his belongings elsewhere, as not only was this against rules, but it was also a fire department violation that could incur fines against the HOA upon inspection. The behavior continued, penalties continued to pile up, and the homeowner, who never attended board meetings, decided to finally attend, and during the open forum portion of the meeting, launched a 15 minute invective on the unfairness and excessiveness of the penalties assessed against him (approximately $2000 over the course of 18 months). Despite attempts to forestall him, he continued virtually unabated, in an effort to have the entire debt scrubbed from his account. Having done little to further his cause, the board later met in executive session to reduce it somewhat, with the stipulation that, if the debt was not resolved by the homeowner in a timely manner, it would be resolved once his home was sold. During that executive session, the directors also decided upon future rules of conduct, limiting individual open forum time and that any lengthy issues be addressed in writing to both the management company and to the board.

Averting Disruption at Larger Association Board Meetings

Larger HOAs face a different set of challenges altogether. These communities have a board with several more members than a smaller HOA, and with the more expansive board come more potential disruption problems during meetings. In order to encourage attendance and to keep a healthy turnaround of directors from year to year, it’s important to nip these issues in the bud as soon as they begin.

Instead of the collegiality of a smaller HOA, where members, while adhering to rules of order, meet more casually, larger association meetings are more formal, employing stricter time schedules to keep meetings from becoming marathon complaint sessions. It’s also important to encourage deliberation amongst the directors, should an agenda item come to a vote. Members feel confident with this level of transparency, however, if the agenda item is particularly contentious and requires a great deal of discussion time, directors may experience difficulty maintaining control. While keeping the meeting on a schedule is important, it’s critical that members’ issues are reasonably vented for further consideration, which may mean a longer time block allocated to a specific agenda item, or to the open forum. Directors should remain mindful regarding open forum time to make sure that homeowners are able to air their comments and that their comments are committed to meetings notes recorded by the board secretary.

Remain Focused and Timely

Directors should always make the assumption that their fellow members have a family and work life and do not wish to spend 4 hours at an HOA board meeting – no matter how important the issues may be. While discussing important agenda items is vital, keeping a debate moving on to the next agenda item and keeping a discussion on the topic is crucial. At this time directors should exercise diplomacy and keep members aware that agenda items should be discussed in an orderly manner, one at a time, on topic. Should any member become disruptive, use your better judgment to diffuse the member, from initiating a vote on an agenda item to asking the person to leave. If any items remain unresolved, they can be tabled to the next board meeting or, if urgent, handled via committee through email or a subsequent committee meeting that reports its findings to the board at large at a subsequent meeting.

Long meetings may appear productive because of the length of discussion, but they also can lead to imprudent decision making by fatigued directors, and an equally tired membership that veers off the agenda to points unknown. To avoid these problems, keep your agenda simple and make sure directors read associated agenda materials ahead of time (whether via hard copy or email). HOA members in attendance do not want to wait for directors to read through a 10-page construction bid during the meeting and then vote on it.

Ultimately the board must build a trust between itself and the membership to help ensure that, while bad behavior is discouraged, disagreement is not. With constructive disagreement comes learning, and the realization that when the decision making process involves the general membership, a better result can be achieved. The outcome: a more harmonious community.

How to Hire and Fire HOA Vendors

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Property management companies can help steer HOA boards through the complicated and tedious steps involved in selecting the best vendor.

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How to Hire and Fire HOA Vendors

How Important is Choosing the Right HOA Vendor?

Recruiting and hiring new vendor partners for an HOA vendor list is a vital responsibility of the property management company. Choosing vendors means fewer headaches for the HOA and a sense of calm for both the management company and the board that a quality vendor contractor will mean a job well done. On the other hand, without a fully-vetted vendor list, an HOA may be left in the precarious position of hiring less than qualified contractors. In this scenario, property managers must intervene to assist board members in finding the right vendor for the job. It can be a time-consuming endeavor,but it can also save a lot of future headaches and potential legal problems.

The property management company has the ability to introduce its HOAs to vendors with whom they have established long-standing relationships, but choosing a specific vendor / contractor should be done with care, as every HOA has specific needs, and one vendor that would fit a larger community may not be the right choice for a small condo complex. An HOA’s board of directors has a fiduciary duty to conduct business thoughtfully, with the best interest of the community in mind.

Choosing HOA Vendors to Fit the Property

Property managers may oversee several properties, so what process should they follow to select the appropriate vendor for the job? When choosing a vendor, the choice made isn’t just a matter of the partner with whom the management company has the best relationship, but the one best suited for the job. As an example, a commercial landscaping contractor accustomed to grooming acres of lawn and trimming dozens of trees would not be an appropriate landscaper for a 14 unit condo complex with no lawn and a handful of trees. Larger contractors require more expansive jobs to cover overhead; smaller companies may have far fewer employees, less equipment, and far less overhead as a result.

This is not to say the smaller company is less qualified to do the work, but many certifications and licenses required for larger communities are not necessary with smaller complexes. At a minimum, however, all vendors should have business licenses and/or insurance coverage as required by law. Should an accident occur with the vendor at fault, the association may be forced to use its own liability insurance, hence the vigilance and essential “checking off” of qualifications before the vendor is hired.

Property Managers: Get the Board Involved

The property management company can help steer the board of directors through the complicated and tedious steps involved in selecting the best vendor, but, before you get started, keep these rules of thumb in mind:

– For larger jobs, such as deferred maintenance projects, obtain 3 bids. If the property manager does not have 3 appropriate contractors for the project on his or her preferred vendor list, then it’s time to research. Invite the board of directors to assist; they are valuable assets in determining what is best for their property.

– When you receive an estimate/bid, make sure that what is being offered is what was requested. At times, contractors may be tempted to pad their costs because of ancillary work that they believe could be beneficial (but not necessarily crucial). If the board and property manager believe the additional work is not critical to the project at hand but could be performed at a later date, ask the potential vendor to create a separate bid to be done at a later date. Ask for an expiration date for the bid. If the vendor does not honor a bid within its prescribed timeframe, find another vendor.

– Make sure you check qualifications. If it is a new vendor, ask for references and call the references. Obtain photos of their projects (before and after photos are particularly helpful) and see whether they have received positive reviews online.

– After all the steps above have been followed, the board should schedule a meeting with the vendor. This is particularly important with new vendors, and those whom the HOA will entrust with a large maintenance project. If the vendor is professional, on time, and forthcoming with providing all business references, licenses and insurance, then there is a good chance he will perform to expectations.

Homeowners should be mindful of their CC&Rs regarding contracting independently without board approval. Contractors without the proper business documentation can open the HOA to legal action, but if the work they perform is counter to covenants and restrictions, the aesthetics of the community are undermined. When the board becomes involved after the fact, it could result in the homeowner having to spend more to undo what his contractor has done.

When to Fire an HOA Vendor

Vendor relationships develop over time. Property managers and boards come to count on go-to vendor partners to perform well and at a reasonable price. When relationships sour, it can be for a number of reasons. If a preferred vendor begins to turn out slapdash work, issues estimates past set deadlines, or suddenly starts issuing change orders, if you have an established affiliation, it may time for a talk with your contractor. Reminding them that yours is a long-standing alliance is never a bad idea, but remember that they could be undergoing management changes, financial difficulties, or other business setbacks that affect the quality of their processes as well as their work. This is why it’s important to discuss these issues before they destroy a vendor partnership.

If your vendor is fairly new and has left unfinished work, necessitating phone calls and emails for them to return to finish the job, add them to your list to not rehire. Property managers should remind HOA directors with job approval and payment authority that it is appropriate to hold back a final progress payment for a large project if the work is not complete. Once the walk-through is done and the board has done its assessment of work performed according to estimate, the progress payment can be released. It’s not appropriate for a vendor to contact a board member directly regarding payment; if the contractor proves to be valuable, the property manager (or the board member contacted) should remind them of the protocol.

It’s prudent, albeit time-consuming, for a property manager to check existing vendors’ licenses and insurance periodically. If a vendor has supplied, for example, proof of Workers Compensation insurance, but that coverage expires during the course of work, look for another vendor. Even if your vendor does exemplary work, it is never worth sacrificing the financial security of the HOA when he has not done his due diligence as a business owner.

Best Practices to Protect HOA Property Values

With a regular maintenance plan and a reasonably funded reserve, each homeowner’s property condition will contribute to keep property values consistent with the neighborhood.

The primary purpose of a Homeowners Association is to preserve property values so owners can enjoy a consistent lifestyle quality. In an HOA subdivision, it’s important to keep grounds well maintained to help keep property values at a level relative to others in the neighborhood. Naturally, there are other factors that contribute to property values when compared to others in the area, property availability, the community’s economic wellness and number of foreclosures, but the aesthetics will make your development not just look well cared for (a positive reflection on the HOA) but a more livable place for all homeowners.

Deferred Maintenance Fiscal Considerations

A vital component in keeping a well-maintained property is having reasonably well-funded association reserves. Annual budgets will include items for deferred maintenance and it is vital to have reserve funds to carry through with budgeted projects. Deferred maintenance is the difference, for example, between tree trimming and gardening: tree trimming is generally done annually or semi-annually, while gardening is done monthly or even more frequently. Tree trimming would be considered deferred maintenance because the cost is significant and it may or may not be an annually budgeted item. If tree trimming has been budgeted, but you have a sewer blocked by tree roots, that “tree trimming” line item in the budget may be eaten up by the removal of the one tree, with trimming the remaining trees needing to be deferred to next year’s budget, or later the same year if reserve funding allows for it.

A well-funded reserve is generally between 70 and 100%+, though it is not unusual for many HOAs to have reserves between 30 and 70%. If many unexpected expenses begin to deplete the reserve funding, it may be necessary to have a one-time special assessment to help make the reserve reach a healthier level. Just like esthetic appeal and “comp” valuations in the neighborhood, the property value is affected by the level of reserve funding.

Depending on the size of your development or complex, deferred maintenance can mean a number of items that require repair and replacement over time:

  • Lighting: street, common area, and pathways
  • Landscaping, tree trimming, and removal
  • Painting and exterior repairs
  • Parking space and road striping
  • Roadway repair: Speed bumps, stop signs, potholes
  • Concrete maintenance: sidewalks, crack repair, elimination of uneven surfaces, pressure washing
  • Recreational areas: Pool maintenance, spa and deck area, tennis courts, golf course maintenance, trail maintenance, rec room cleaning and maintenance
  • Laundry room maintenance
  • Roof maintenance and repair
  • Plumbing: Common sewer line repair and replacement
  • Security: Entry and parking lot gates, security systems and call boxes

The HOA property management company helps enforce standards when it comes to the outward appearance of homes, garden and patio areas as defined in the association’s covenants and restrictions. The property management company also keeps common areas maintained throughout, including entrances, median strips and roads, and in some cases aesthetic landscape and recreational features that require regular maintenance, such as lakes, walking paths and woodlands.

Addressing Disrepair

Essential solutions to addressing deferred maintenance are often overlooked because boards become reactive rather than proactive. It is vital for boards to adopt strategies not only during annual meetings but at every meeting that will put an HOA back on road to financial and aesthetic well-being.

Ultimately, because they represent the interests of all the owners, boards must seek agreement on HOA priorities. By keeping improvements and maintenance of the property in focus, the board helps ensure that all residents enjoy higher property value and better quality of life. When conflicts arise between boards, managers, and residentsthey generally center around setting priorities, especially when deferred maintenance involves specific properties, not the subdivision as a whole.

While it is crucial for the board to be able to juggle as many balls in the air as is humanly and fiscally possible, it’s also important to understand that individual homeowners’ deferred maintenance must be addressed because of initial discord that may erupt into legal action. So if your homeowner suspects termites are causing rain to filter through his exterior wall into the lower floor of his townhome, it’s imperative to have estimates done and a board vote is taken to correct the damage as soon as possible. Otherwise, the HOA may face a lawsuit for negligence and lack of action in responding to his needs – especially if action is deferred through several rainy seasons that compound interior damage (for which the homeowner can claim against the HOA insurance). Lawsuits (or liens) for any reason can also affect a property’s marketability to render it virtually unmarketable, hence unsellable, which makes resolution of outstanding maintenance issues even more critical. These deferred maintenance issues are why funding the reserve is vital; delaying or ignoring major deferred maintenance can create higher insurance premiums for the HOA, repair costs become higher with time, and the risk of lawsuit increases.

Create a Maintenance Plan

Even if the development or complex is not in a dire state of disrepair, a comprehensive maintenance plan should be part and parcel of the HOA annual budget. When faced with balancing reserve funding against considering maintenance needs, with a current, accurate reserve study, associations can plan for future expenditures by implementing a fiscally responsible funding plan – even without being 100% funded. This plan should include a percentage of the total of HOA dues and assessments being deposited to the reserve account. It may also mean that at the annual meeting, a dues increase must accompany the maintenance plan, to cover planned costs while adding to the reserve. While homeowners may be resistant to a dues increase (or assessment), with the quality of life in mind, it is a necessity for keeping the property appropriately maintained, and to keep property values at a level that corresponds to surrounding properties in the neighborhood. And that, ultimately, makes homeowners happy, despite the short-term belt-tightening required after dues increases.

As a homeowner, it behooves your HOA to maintain property condition to the best of its ability in order to keep property values consistent with the neighborhood. With a regular maintenance plan and a reasonably funded reserve, it can be done. Your home will not only keep its value but when the time comes for you to sell, it will also be the perfect fit for its next occupant.

The Pros and Cons of Short-Term Rentals for HOAs

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With the positives of short-term rentals come negatives, not just for the homeowner but for the HOA community as well as the community at large.

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The Pros and Cons of Short-Term Rentals for HOAs

Short term rentals and their impact on communities have recently attracted a great deal of attention – and controversy. While homeowners enjoy the income created by renting out their condos or homes, there may be issues involved that they may not have considered before taking this step. For the HOA property as an entity, transient renters can create noise and security problems as well as increased maintenance and administrative expenses.

Pros for Homeowners (and Community)

Many investors purchase properties in areas frequented by tourists specifically to profit by encouraging short-term rentals. In the case of a homeowner renting a room in the home, the extra income can mean the difference between being able to enjoy retirement in his home or having to move because he no longer can afford to live in a home he has occupied for decades. In general, the pros can be:

  • Greater income for the homeowner
  • Generation of tax revenue to the local economy
  • Personal income tax advantages / deductions for needed property maintenance / upgrades
  • Supplement to retirement income

Cons for Homeowners (and Community)

With the positives of short-term rentals come negatives, not just for the homeowner but for the HOA community as well as the community at large. Police departments in high tourist areas generally have more critical issues to address, rather than policing HOA communities because of short-term renters creating a nuisance.

  • Safety and security risks
  • Greater maintenance costs for HOA (common and recreational areas)
  • Noise pollution
  • Trash overflow / extra collection
  • Homeowner exposure to illegal activities
  • Homeowner liability
  • Impact on property value
  • Assessments from HOA to help defray costs of maintenance

HOA Board Considerations

Rules governing short-term rental platforms such as Airbnb. VRBO, Booking.com, Expedia, and HomeAway may or may not be contained in community homeownership documents, simply because the rise in popularity in these platforms is relatively recent. HOA rules generally will limit leases to either a minimum of 30 days or 1 year, restrict “hotel-like” operations or running a business out of the home. Occasionally an HOA will add an assessment to rentals of any kind of a specified dollar amount per year to cover any maintenance incurred by the rental. (damage to common areas by skateboards or scooters, for example). Additional rules do not mean amending CC&Rs is necessary; the Board will usually have the authority to vote on changing rules to benefit the HOA community.

If an HOA does not have an airtight prohibition or specific restrictions in its documents regarding short-term rentals, it is wise to address them in an open Board meeting to solicit feedback from residents, then subsequently address feedback and concerns in an Executive Session of its Directors. Assistance of legal counsel may be required, especially if the end game is to prohibit the practice altogether. Many municipalities in tourist areas have outlawed or severely limited short-term rentals altogether. The Board should seek information from its property management company or city officials about prohibitions or restrictions. Potential lawsuits by homeowners against the HOA can be costly, so it’s best to address all these issues head-on proactively.

Assistance from the HOA Property Management Company

Based on its experience handling other HOAs under its umbrella, the HOA property association management company can provide valuable source material on how the Board can craft language in its rules to restrict or prohibit the short-term rental activity. The management company can also help with surveying the community at large for feedback, to further help create rules that best benefit the community. The more “community-centric” the rules, the more beneficial in keeping the community safe, and the less the HOA will be open to lawsuits from homeowners that wish to flaunt the rules. Once the rules are in place, the HOA property management company can help disseminate them and train homeowners on the do’s and don’ts.

How to Address Violators

Once your rules or amended CC&Rs are in place, the Board must remain vigilant for violators. If a neighbor complains of a homeowner using their place of residence for short-term rentals, it may be easier to go to the web, find the address on a rental site, and approach the site management regarding the listing being in violation of HOA rules. A reputable site will understand restrictions placed on residents of HOAs and remove the listing.

It may be useful for HOAs to assess fines for violators to prevent repeat occurrences. Because short-term renters can create security problems for the community, it is a good idea to make all homeowners aware, and to also bring them up to speed about fines incurred should they be in violation of the newly-amended rules or CC&Rs. The property management company is an essential advocate in this situation.

Homeowners must also remain vigilant regarding long-term tenant behavior. A recent incident in a Southern California community revealed a lessee renting a room through an online short-term rental website. Another homeowner in the community saw the listing and the renter was subsequently warned. The lease in this case specifically prohibited short-term rentals, with a clause making it mandatory that the lessee inform the absentee landlord of family member visits and duration of stay.

Ultimately, the homeowner is responsible for activities in or around his home or parking place(s). As members of the community, whether absentee landlords or primary residents, homeowners are liable for any violations, such as noise or nuisance, or property damage from negligence, misuse, fire or flood. The most important point of agreement is that the HOA maintain a happy, healthy and prosperous community whose homeowners/landlords are contributing members to the greater community.

Is It Worth My Time to Attend HOA Board Meetings?

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Involved members can become excellent future Board members because their participation helps them learn the intricacies of being a Director and how an HOA Board operates for the betterment of the community.

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Is It Worth My Time to Attend HOA Board Meetings?

While it’s not always possible for busy homeowners, it’s recommended for HOA members to at least occasionally attend HOA board meetings because it is the best way to learn the business of your association. Members can, of course, request meeting minutes and the agenda will generally be mailed or emailed to each member before the meeting, but receiving minutes and actual attendance are on an entirely different level because there is no substitute for participation.

Because HOA’s are non-profit corporations, they rely on volunteers among the community members to become directors who oversee that everything runs smoothly. And because those directors may not know everything that goes on – especially in larger communities – they depend on individual members to keep them apprised of issues that may be occurring on the grounds or items that are of concern to members.

It behooves members to attend board meetings because important issues are discussed, as well as decisions made. The decisions made at board meetings involve virtually every critical issue affecting the homeowner’s association:

  • Association budget
  • Community maintenance
  • Property management company
  • Emergency repairs (plumbing, pest, construction)
  • Security
  • Choosing directors

Because decision making at board meetings may affect property values, it behooves homeowners to attend. If you want your voice heard, it’s a must to be involved. There are different types of HOA meetings, some of which members can attend, others not. Most meetings are announced in advanced within time frames pre-ordained by either the association itself or its jurisdiction (generally, the state in which the HOA is incorporated).

Annual Meeting

The Annual HOA Meeting is arguably the most important, albeit the least frequently scheduled, of the various meetings. During the Annual Meeting, membership votes on a new Board of Directors, the annual budget is unveiled and voted upon, and if an increase in monthly dues and/or assessments are deemed necessary, it is decided at this time. With the highest attendance expected at an annual meeting, it’s a good time for homeowners to bring up items that may otherwise fall through the cracks if no other homeowners have come forward with these concerns at previous regularly scheduled meetings.

Board of Directors Meeting

Depending on the rules in a development’s documents, a Board of Directors meeting may occur quarterly, or more frequently. It is expected that a quorum of the Directors be present during these meetings because, as with the Annual Meeting, it is a forum where decisions are made. Without a majority, decisions should be left until a time when a quorum can be reached unless the decision involves an emergency situation.

Board of Directors meetings are announced through postings easily viewable throughout the development, generally 2-5 days in advance. Announcements can also be made using mail or email, and they should include an agenda. If there is any Board business transacted during the meeting, the agenda item must be on the public announcement (or included in the mail or email). Otherwise, the vote must be made at a subsequent meeting. Documentation of the agenda items should be presented at the meeting, if possible.

There should always be an agenda item for “Members Forum,” where homeowners can voice their concerns about specific issues. This is also an opportunity to discuss the status of projects that have previously been placed on hold, but homeowners wish to revisit. The Secretary should carefully take minutes at all times, but because the “Members Forum” portion of the agenda may become an active agenda item for the next meeting, taking accurate, detailed notes during this section of the meeting is particularly crucial.

Special Meetings

In the case of an extreme emergency, the Board can make a decision outside the auspices of a formal meeting, as long as a record is kept of the vote. If a sewer pipe has flooded several homes, decisions need to be made quickly. Typically, the President calls either an informal Executive Session or conducts business via email, copying the management company and Board members in the process. A vote then can proceed for the vendor to begin his work expeditiously. Because this is an emergency, it does not fit the conventional definition of a “Special Meeting.”

A “Special Meeting” is typically called for reasons other than maintenance-related emergencies. A special meeting, or executive session, is held with Board members in attendance and selected invited homeowners, attorneys, or other experts, if appropriate. It is not open to the entire membership and must be announced 2 days in advance (though homeowners do not attend unless invited). If a homeowner is summoned, it may be for several reasons. It may be to discuss delinquency, to discourage behaviors detrimental to the community, or for a variety of different reasons.

Why It Is Important to Be an Involved Homeowner

Homeowners will, on occasion, join their community Board of Directors because they have a “pet” project they wish to further during their term. It’s unfortunate, but it does happen. At other times, when homeowners feel they are not being listened to, they will lobby to add their names to the ballot – and subsequently come to understand just how much responsibility these volunteer positions carry once they become Directors, between emergencies, budgeting, raising assessments and lending an ear to homeowner complaints.

Members genuinely interested in the inner workings of their community begin to realize that their continued participation in Board of Directors meetings makes them more valuable members of the community. They contribute to its health and well-being by making the Board and other members aware of, for example, security problems (which could lead to the installation of a security system) or leaky pipes (the replacement of which could forestall a severe flooding problem). Involved members can become excellent future Board members because their participation helps them learn the intricacies of being a Director and how an HOA Board operates for the betterment of the community.

Top-3 Traditional Strategies to Collect Delinquent HOA Dues

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Owners who do not pay their association assessment in a timely fashion become a time-consuming headache for the management company, creating extra tasks and legal expenses. This is why HOAs need Sperlonga’s help. Together with Equifax and TransUnion, Sperlonga’s patent-pending technology assists associations with the process of attaching a late assessment payment to a homeowner’s credit score.

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Top-3 Traditional Strategies to Collect Delinquent HOA Dues

Collecting delinquent HOA dues is not only a time-consuming task for the property manager, but for the HOA board as well, primarily if the delinquency covers a significant stretch of time. Let’s face it; most property managers will never know a time when 100% of homeowners are on time with their payments; a full 12% of homeowners nationwide are currently behind in their dues and assessments. That’s 1 of every 8. If property managers and boards spent as much time as necessary to have everyone current, they would have no more time to attend to other important HOA issues. It’s even worse during an economic downturn when homeowners (and associations) are pinching every penny.

The Most Common Collection Strategies

Strategy 1: Late Payment Reminders / Warning Letters (Combined with Credit Reporting Information)

The first strategy combines a letter with the late payment fee added to the HOA’s monthly billing statement to the homeowner. Most HOAs charge between 5 and 10% late fee for a delinquent assessment. When combined with a statement in the letter regarding the potential negative impact on a homeowner’s credit rating if a payment is not received in time, the association will see a marked increase in on-time payments. This strategy is straightforward, low-impact (concerning time and stress) and yields high returns (more promptly paid assessments).

If a homeowner has not paid his debt within a prescribed time frame, the HOA may not only report them to the credit reporting agency but begin formulating a series of warning letters. The first letter may once again include the fact that the homeowner has been reported to a credit reporting agency, creating the first strike against them. This may be all it takes before the attempt to collect moves on to a second warning letter. At this point, the HOA may inform the homeowner that a lien may follow until such debt has been resolved. The homeowner would then not only need to settle the debt but the price of placing a lien on the property. If a third warning letter is necessary, it usually includes language regarding the consequences of non-payment: legal action, and, as a last resort, foreclosure.

Strategy 2: Collection Agency

In an effort to avoid costly legal fees, homeowners associations have had to become increasingly more “creative” in how they collect late assessments and dues. When you are a board overseeing a large community with hundreds of homes or condos, AND you have 100+ homeowners not paying on time, your association will begin seeing cash flow issues, which will, in turn, create maintenance and bill paying problems. No board wants its association to be unable to pay vendors, or even come close to the edge of bankruptcy.

A worthwhile alternative to issuing increasingly drastic letters may be to submit the debt to a dunning collection agency. This type of agency has a high success rate, costs little, and does not buy the debt. However, this strategy cannot be implemented until a homeowner is seriously delinquent. The collection agency will not only issue letters to the homeowner but make phone calls to the homeowner as well. The substance of the phone call generally includes informing the homeowner about the amount of the outstanding debt, and the damage to their credit report the late payment causes. Many HOAs have been wildly successful employing this strategy because it is far less costly than using an attorney, and gives the board a break in not having to foreclose on a neighbor’s property. The delinquent homeowner gets the nominal collections agency cost added to his debt – a price that is far lower than that of either a lien or the beginning stages of property foreclosure.

Strategy 3: When All Else Fails – Legal Action and Negotiation

Above all else, the board must do its due diligence in helping maintain (and increase) its operating reserve, and delinquencies are a prime reason for not keeping up with proper reserve funding. In fact, when many homeowners are delinquent, it may create the necessity for a special assessment. In truth, the remaining members of the community are covering for those who are having trouble paying their monthly dues.

If warning letters and a collections agency have not yielded the desired results, it may be necessary to involve an attorney. While the HOA can place liens on properties and begin the foreclosure process (both of which create much expense), when legal costs are added to the delinquencies, it creates a situation where the homeowner has even more of a problem being able to pay the debt. In this circumstance, it behooves the homeowner to negotiate in good faith for a payment plan to eventually become current. It may create a temporary squeeze in the homeowner’s budget, but the results will be well worth it: no more lien, no more impending foreclosure, no more debt, AND a credit score that can then begin the rebuilding process.

Learn How Delinquent Payments Can Affect Homeowner Credit Scores

Owners who do not pay their association assessment in a timely fashion become a time-consuming headache for the management company, creating extra tasks and legal expenses. Late paying homeowners do not, however, realize that their tardy assessments can be reported to a credit reporting agency, and subsequently result in a lower credit score for them. This alone provides an incentive to maintaining on-time future payments.

So this is why HOAs need Sperlonga’s help. Together with Equifax and TransUnion, Sperlonga’s patent-pending technology assists associations with the process of attaching a late assessment payment to a homeowner’s credit score. Conversely, on-time payments will lift credit scores, so when issuing a late payment letter, it’s best to include both the positive and negative aspects of assessment payments. In fact, it would behoove a property management company to send an email blast to all homeowners to inform them of how timely payments affect their credit score, for good or for bad.​​

Why Do HOA Dues & Assessments Always Go Up and Not Down?

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Fees are rarely reduced as prices on services and utilities increase from year to year. With additional services come higher monthly payments.

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Why Do HOA Dues & Assessments Always Go Up and Not Down?

Today, 68 million residents live within an HOA governed development. Whether it’s a large luxury development comprised of condos, townhouses, and single family homes, or one building with just a few units, HOA assessments can be composed of anything from monthly dues, to special assessments created for many reasons.

Usually, HOA fees are adjusted annually at the beginning of a fiscal year. For over 60 percent HOAs, that fiscal year begins on January 1 so many assessment changes will occur in January of each year. Decision making, however, may be done during the board’s Annual Meeting, when officers are elected (generally, October of the prior year). The reason for this is that in most cases, the HOA property management company representative will present the newly elected board with its annual budget for the upcoming year. Based on the new budget, the HOA board of directors may adjust monthly dues accordingly. Occasionally, a board may need to increase its dues at a more significant percentage than what is normal, which could mean the fee increase would require a vote of the entire HOA membership, not just its board of directors.

How Are HOA Dues & Assessments Determined?

Ordinarily, the HOA board of directors will divide the total expenses allocated in the budget by the number of homes in the community to set its monthly dues. Since individual properties are of varying sizes, association dues may instead be based on square footage or a similar measure prescribed in the HOA CC&Rs. Fees are rarely if ever, reduced, as prices on services and utilities increase from year to year. With additional services come more monthly payments due to the number of service providers, examples of which include the following:

  • Internet (for security system)
  • Phone land line (entry system)
  • Gardener & Tree Service
  • Water
  • Electricity (lighting, parking gate, maintenance personnel)
  • Gas (common area barbecues)
  • Maintenance (handymen, pool, golf course, roofers, painters; concrete, door and building surface repairs)
  • Exterminators (rodents and insects)
  • HOA property management fees
  • Taxes

All Homeowners Must Do Their Part for the HOA

Just because services aren’t used by an individual homeowner, it doesn’t mean your fees will be reduced. For example, in the case of property taxes, you are not given a break on school assessments simply because you do not have children; as a homeowner located in your state, county or municipality, you are expected to pay property taxes towards the common good of your community. Likewise, every homeowner is expected to pull their weight and pay for the good of everyone in the development. Each homeowner must make monthly (or other preordained time) payments throughout the year or face penalties or foreclosure for nonpayment.

Special Assessments

When an HOA decides that specific special projects are necessary for the community, such as painting the exterior of the buildings or repairing flood damage not covered by HOA insurance, the association may require all owners (perhaps after a community vote) to pay a special assessment to cover the cost. As an example, a small HOA had undergone several wood siding replacements on exterior unit walls over the course of a decade (due to termite and water damage). As a result, the HOA’s board of directors decided that it would cover the cost of replacing stucco, while homeowners covered the cost of the new windows and sliding glass doors required to complete the repair. Homeowners rebelled at the high price, so a compromise was reached for a lower assessment of each homeowner affected.

The following year after existing siding began causing leakage, the HOA board of directors voted to increase its monthly association dues by 10%. Because reserves were negatively impacted by the high cost of this work, a subsequent 10% increase in monthly dues was necessary to bolster reserves and protect the HOA from not being covered for future emergencies. Keep in mind that board members are homeowners themselves, so they too must pay the fee increases just like other association members. On the other hand, homeowners who are not aware of the critical nature of expenditures and reserves believe that every minor issue should be addressed, while sometimes budgets may not allow for it.

Sometimes, special assessments raise more money than needed to fund the project. Occasionally, homeowners challenge the HOA assessment and can take the matter to court. If the over-budget amount raised is not excessive, the board (or entire membership) may vote to place all the money into reserves. When unforeseen accidents such as plumbing emergencies cause flooding, it’s even more important to have a well-funded reserve to keep additional special assessments at bay.

Before You Purchase a Home with a Homeowner’s Association

If the home you purchase comes with monthly HOA fees and/or assessments, you or your legal representative should ascertain whether the costs and assessments are within reason (for your own budget, and for the health of the community) and reflect an HOA that has a relatively well-funded reserve. The vast majority of HOAs are not funded 100%, but at least 70-80% is desirable; anything below 40% is a red flag.

If you are interested in buying a home where the monthly fees appear reasonable but many of the owners aren’t paying, the HOA could potentially face bankruptcy. This is a situation in which you’ll need to be informed before you even put down a deposit. If the HOA has not been doing its fiduciary duty by setting aside monies for financial reserves, while the development has gone without maintenance, it is a serious matter for any potential homebuyer (or current residents, for that matter). Before you go any further, ask the property management company if there are any outstanding maintenance issues or new large expenditures. If the property is not being properly maintained, you don’t want to know about it AFTER you have already moved in.

How to Enforce HOA Pet Policies

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Pet waste left uncollected is an unsightly threat to the health of your community. Lack of enforcement of a dog waste regulation in your community affects not only its well being, but also property value.

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How to Enforce HOA Pet Policies

Pets Are Family

Few HOA membership topics elicit more emotion than pet ownership. Pets are truly a part of the family, and current statistics indicate that fully 68% of American households own pets. Every pet owner will extol the virtues of having a furry friend to walk in the mornings, or snuggle with after a hard day at the office. With pet ownership continuing to rise, rules governing pets can become essential board issues. It’s also recommended that any prospective homeowner (who is also a pet owner) check the pet ownership rules of developments he visits to make sure his pet is made welcome by the HOA rules. While pet policies are subject to change, some associations do not allow pets altogether.

Every state has its own statutes concerning how HOAs should handle pets, with several states allowing HOAs to permit outright pet restriction. This, however, may not be practical at the individual HOA level, as total limitation creates a less family-friendly atmosphere, thus lowering property value.

Apply Pet Rules Consistently

While CC&Rs are the ultimate arbiter of pet restrictions in most states, it can be up to the HOA board to set more specific limits or allowances not covered in the CC&Rs. Most of all, pet policy should be clear and enforcement consistent. Homeowners who do not comply may face legal action if they do not follow HOA guidelines for keeping pets. If a board has granted a pass for friends or board members, it may be placing its enforcement power in jeopardy. As an example, if a homeowner is taken to court for a pet policy infraction, he may have a case to overrule the board if its power has been applied inconsistently. Pet policies can change over time. You can easily find out how your fellow members feel about current policies by suggesting your property management company send a survey on suggestions for modifications to bylaws, or how to better enforce current policies. Even a refresher course on pet policy as a whole is a good idea for longtime residents.

Should you decide to implement policy changes that include future restrictions, be sure to allow present members to be grandfathered, should they be affected by new policies. It’s unwise and unreasonable to create a situation where a resident is forced to give up a pet when they had lived under previous rules when the pet was adopted. A pet owner could successfully wage a legal action against the HOA.

Policies Beyond CC&Rs

When applying more specific restrictions, the board may consider types of pets (restricting exotics, for example), the breed or size of a dog. If a municipality has made ownership of aggressive breeds illegal, then those local statutes would take precedence, should a homeowner decide to bring one into his home. The board would be within its rights to ask that the animal is removed, or contact city officials for removal, in extreme cases. It would also be reasonable for them to file a lawsuit if the animal is expressly forbidden by city law. The same applies to leash laws and pet waste regulations. A homeowner must abide by these statutes above and beyond what is specified in CC&Rs, but for the board, it’s not a bad idea to include pet statutes into its overarching pet policies just to remind pet owners what is and is not permissible while on their property or in common areas.

Service and Assistance Animal Exemptions

There can also be exemptions that apply beyond standard CC&R mandates. These may include allowing service or assistance animals, many of which may not fall within the weight restriction guidelines set by the HOA board. This is an explicit cut exemption that is protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The Department of Housing & Urban Development defines an assistance animal is one “that works, provides assistance, or performs tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability, or provides emotional support that alleviates one or more identified symptoms or effects of a person’s disability.” While the ADA specifies “service animals” as dogs with specialized training to perform tasks for a disabled owner’s well being, “assistance animals” may include any type of domestic animal as long as it provides help with the owner’s disability. “Comfort animals” can fall under the definition of “assistance animals.”

The disabled HOA member must, of course, comply with city, state and HOA regulations unrelated to the animal’s being able to provide support (including leash and waste clean-up), but conditions on the type of pet, breed, and size cannot be set as policy or set in CC&Rs.

Pet Waste – Problem & Solutions

Pet waste left uncollected is an unsightly threat to the health of your community. Its proliferation spreads disease and can leach into groundwater. Bacteria found in dog waste can include e.coli, parvo, salmonella and campylobacter, the last of which can cause severe gastrointestinal symptoms among the elderly, infants, and those with weakened immune systems. Lack of enforcement of a dog waste regulation in your community affects not only its well being, but also property value.

The size of your HOA can affect its ability to enforce a pooper scooper policy. Large communities can create a dog park complete with stations having a ready supply of waste bags. But for most HOAs, it may be more practical to employ simple solutions like educating homeowners about the deleterious health effects of dog waste, and how important it is to dispose of it responsibly. Reminders can be posted publicly, mailed, or emailed to members of the community. In cases where these measures are not entirely successful, a cleaning service can be hired. Residents must be made mindful of how harmful negligent behavior can be, to their surroundings, to their families, and to their communities at large.

Removal of an HOA Board Member

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HOAs should consult its bylaws to determine its power to remove a board member, which can be a complicated, expensive matter and may require consultation with the HOA’s attorney.

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Removal of a member of a Homeowners Association (HOA) board is neither pleasant nor straightforward. On a purely human level, it can be difficult just because as an HOA member or fellow board member, it may involve a confrontation with one’s neighbors. It must be done according to each HOA’s individual articles of incorporation and bylaws as well as covenants, conditions, and restrictions (CC&Rs) of the association. It is critical that any such action also is taken within the parameters of your state’s laws to protect the association from potential actions on the part of the potentially ousted member.

Most important to the HOA when a board member is being considered for removal are the 1) reasons for removal and 2) the options available to both members of the HOA and to other current board officers when such action becomes necessary. The process involved when an HOA community member demands the removal of a board member versus a board member removing a fellow elected board member can be drastically different from HOA to HOA, as well as state to state. If a board member is court-appointed, a board may not remove that member.

Membership in an HOA board carries fiduciary obligations and responsibilities that behoove the member to act on behalf of the HOA and do no intentional harm. This requires that board members remain well informed, stay within the bounds of their authority, and ask questions when complicated HOA matters arise (directed to its management company or to legal counsel).

Many HOAs include director qualifications in their bylaws. These may consist of being an HOA member in good standing (including not being in litigation against the association), attending a specified minimum number of meetings, and not being a convicted felon. If a member demands removal because a board member is “unqualified,” he or she may be able to cite the HOA bylaws in this circumstance to back up the case. A recent case study with a board director who was convicted of a felony during his tenure on the board created a situation where the board, while wishing to replace him, was unable to vote him off; board members sought legal counsel, and they were required to instead obtain a resignation from him, either in person or by phone. The director being incarcerated for a serious crime made the board’s ability to get a resignation even more difficult. Eventually, the board was able to obtain a resignation letter, and the board director was replaced by calling a special election. Depending on bylaws, replacement can also be facilitated by the appointment of a substitute by existing board members.

When board members are unable to act in good faith, a member of the HOA at large may call a special board meeting to address the issues that affect the specific board member’s performance, or that member may discuss them at a regularly scheduled Board meeting. Problems that contribute to a potential recall or removal can be many, but the most common involve negligence, fraud, theft, disruption, or not being able to attend meetings. In some states, non-payment of association fees for a specified length of time can expedite removal from an HOA board member. If the board member’s negative behavior does not result in his or her discharge, removing a member from holding an official position may neutralize any conflicts that may occur.

The least disruptive method of removing a member from the board is simple, but it also requires a high level of engagement with other HOA members. That method is to allow the problem member’s term to expire. Most boards have one, two or three year terms. Before an election, HOA members must then become involved in nominating alternative candidates – or to volunteer themselves. Becoming part of the process brings with it not only an appreciation for the work (and learning curve) involved but also much-needed freshness (and new ideas) to a board. Rotation of board members is especially helpful for small HOAs in the event of an illness of a board member; there will always be an experienced member of the HOA at the ready to replace the compromised board member if the need should arise. Member engagement also makes board meeting interactions more productive for the HOA as members become invested in the future of the HOA community.

Although HOA boards are not generally able to remove HOA members, they may have the power to remove one of their officers. This can usually be done by a simple majority vote by members of the board. If however, the vote occurs in a special board meeting open to all HOA members, you may have difficulty removing the troublesome member if your association’s bylaws include cumulative voting. Cumulative voting is a system whereby, for example, if your HOA has 5 board members, during an election or recall, each HOA member has 5 votes that can be spread in any combination such as 5 votes for 1 member, 1 each spread across all 5 members, or any other combination in between (4 for 1 and 1 for one other, etc). Many HOAs no longer use this voting methodology specifically because of the difficulty it can create when a board member removal vote becomes necessary.

Each HOA must consult its bylaws to determine its power under these circumstances. Every state’s corporate statutes address restrictions involved (HOAs are usually nonprofit corporations formed in the state in which the condominium complex or development is located). Many states are very specific in naming the reasons for the removal of a board officer. In California, for example, an HOA board can only remove another officer if that officer is of unsound mind, committed a felony (after an election to the board), failure to attend meetings or lack of qualifications for board membership. Removing an HOA member can be a complicated and expensive matter and may require consultation with your HOA’s attorney, but the end result may prove beneficial to the efficient operation of your HOA.

Say goodbye to collections!!

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Our new management company partner is extremely excited to be able to redirect time and resources from collections to activities that will enhance their client’s experience.

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Say goodbye to collections!!

It’s time to face the facts. Collections is a stressful, agonizing, and thankless endeavor. Why spend anymore time putting your employees and volunteer boards through the torture of chasing after late payers?? Let the U.S. Government backed FCRA and the credit score reporting system do the job for you!!

Another big congratulations this week going out to our friends in Colorado Springs, Colorado!! Welcome to the family!! 9,000 homes ready to begin reporting. Our new management company partner is extremely excited to be able to redirect time and resources from collections to activities that will enhance their client’s experience. Learn how you can too at www.sperlongadata.com.

Credit Reporting In Action

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This community can not be more thrilled with the results!!

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Credit Reporting In Action

Numbers don’t lie!! Here is an amazing before and after graph of the reduction to delinquent balances for an association using our service. Only assessments, special assessments, and late fees are reportable.

I love hearing these quotes from clients!!

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Bragg and Associates Real Estate

We just completed our first month of reporting and we can already see a humongous difference! Homeowners we have not heard from for awhile are all of a sudden calling in to pay their bill. This reporting is amazing!”
-Melissa Fentress, CFO

I love hearing these quotes from clients!! Contact us now to learn more about assessment credit reporting, and our delinquency only pricing.

Congratulations to Washington State!! 10,000 new homes added!!

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10,000 new homes added to our automated credit reporting platform.

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10,000 new homes added to our automated credit reporting platform.

Congratulations to Washington State!! 10,000 new homes added to our automated credit reporting platform!! See how our implementation strategy paired with the cutting edge technology is changing the industry. Average DQ balances were down 27% in October over the same time last year!!

Congratulations Arizona!!

6,500 new doors added to our automated credit reporting platform.


6,500 new doors added to our automated credit reporting platform.

A big congratulations to our friends in Arizona!! 6,500 new doors added last week!! See how automated credit reporting can help you!

Congratulations to Atlanta!!

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4,254 new homes across 41 HOAs enrolled in our assessment credit reporting service.


4,254 new homes across 41 HOAs enrolled in our assessment credit reporting service.

A big congratulations to our friends in Atlanta. We received the contract in last night, 4,254 new homes across 41 HOAs enrolled in our assessment credit reporting service. Automated credit reporting is changing the way the community association industry does business.

8,746 New Families Enrolled

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Helping to protect their home’s property value and improve their credit scores with on-time assessment payments!


8,746 new families across 94 HOAs enrolled in our assessment credit reporting service.

8,746 new families across 94 HOAs enrolled in our assessment credit reporting service last week! Thanksgiving indeed!! Super excited to use automation to help protect their biggest investment, their home’s property value, while helping them improve their credit scores with on-time assessment payments!