By Cylinda Walker, CMCA, AMS, PCAM, GRI, Westwind Management
If you are like me, you are happy to have the calendar budgets completed and a new year ready for great things with your Associations! Working through your budget for 2020 and using the reserve study to aid in factoring the projects needed and available to do for the upcoming year for the Association can make you feel accomplished. But how do you begin to determine which projects happen at what time and how they will be implemented?
In Colorado, we are certainly at the mercy of the seasons. However, we can’t simply just turn over the project plan to our business partner and say run with it, there should be a level of strategic planning for each project you choose to implement. Start by creating objectives for each project and keep them SMART. SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time Based.
We all want to believe that we tackle each project in a SMART way…but do we? Let’s take an example of asphalt work for an Association. How would we implement the SMART goal theory with this type of project? Let’s list the goals below:
Now that we know what our SMART goals should be for the project, let’s determine what our timeline for this project will look like:
Although I have chosen to use an asphalt project for this example, these tools can be used for any projects you have for your Association. The key is to get in front of each project by using SMART goals and project timelines to ensure success for all stakeholders.
Cylinda Walker CMCA, AMS, PCAM, GRI is an Association Business Manager with Westwind Management. She has been serving Associations since 2004 and has a Master’s degree in Strategic Organizational Management.
By Suzanne M. Leff, Esq., Winzenburg, Leff, Purvis, & Payne, LLP
Community association declarations may seem like template documents—and often they are. But not all covenants are created equally, and each community’s covenant needs are unique. Anyone shopping for homes in different covenant-controlled communities (and inclined to read the documents) will run across declarations that contain the same general terms. Those general terms tell a familiar story: a common interest community is created, owners must pay assessments, the association will take care of some things, owners are required to do other things, certain things no one can do, and owners may change things if enough people agree. Beyond the general terms, the nuances of these recorded declarations impact the lives of homeowners within individual covenant-controlled communities. The ways in which covenants affect owners can sometimes warrant review and revision of the documents. Even though recorded covenants function like mini-constitutions for the communities they benefit, and, thus, are hard to change, communities should consider getting a vote of the people to change the covenants in the following circumstances:
Mean What You Say and Say What You Mean. Sometimes the law changes, but a community’s governing documents do not. An example of documents not updated to align with new mandates involves budget approvals. In 2018, the Colorado legislature extended a requirement for budget meetings and owner votes on board-approved budgets to certain communities formed prior to July 1, 1992. These communities must now comply with the state statutory requirement for budget approval by owners even though their documents do not give any indication that the requirement applies. While a board serving in 2018 may have received educational materials about the change to state law, newer board members may not have that same resource and may not understand the association’s legal obligation because the documents themselves give the board sole authority to adopt the budget.
An amendment to the bylaws or declaration to include the statutory budget procedures would help to ensure that the association operates in accordance with state law on an ongoing basis, without requiring board members to read and apply state statutes on their own. Other examples within this category include covenants that prohibit satellite dishes, clotheslines, or solar panels or restrict the size of families living in a home: various laws preempt the covenants in these areas and, without amendments to the declaration, may result in legally actionable missteps by association members who think they can enforce what the covenants say.
Keep Up with the Joneses. Trends happen in the world of covenant-controlled communities. When one community can do something desirable that a nearby community with the same market-base cannot do because of what the covenants say, word tends to travel. Owners may advocate for trending changes to the covenants, and community association managers and association attorneys also recommend them in circumstances where amendment trends serve to solve common problems without the need to reinvent the wheel.
This type of amendment may relate to architectural control issues and restricting or allowing certain types of improvements, like fence styles and trash enclosures, or may concern use restrictions related to parking or leasing. Trends may include provisions that disclaim an association’s responsibility for mold when owners fail to report and mitigate leaks or, as seen in mountain condominium communities, require owners to permit inspections or access by management to help reduce costly insurance claims resulting from thermostats left too low and broken pipes. Other trends—for older communities especially—involve changes to insurance coverage requirements for associations and owners and allocation of insurance deductibles and removal of caps on how much an association can charge in annual assessments.
Clean Up Messes. Simply put, some documents get recorded in a half-baked state and do not serve communities well from the outset due to imprecision, inaccuracy, and mistake. When a declarant remains on the scene, the declarant can amend the documents to correct certain types of problems. But declarants do not hold the keys to all document problems and may require owner participation to amend the documents. Other communities do not come to understand the messiness of their documents until years after development is complete.
Examples in this category include those documents brought to Colorado by developers from other states without attention to compliance with Colorado laws, and declarant use of the same documents as a neighboring community without asking legal counsel whether the terms apply to the current project. Sometimes a planned community gets a document made for a condominium and vice versa. Documents may not properly allocate owner interests or may not include reference to parcels intended as part of the common interest community. Amendments alone may not suffice for some of these scenarios. Association legal counsel can help identify whether owners can control the outcome through a vote to amend or if a court must assist.
Put Out Fires. Sometimes associations get sued and an option for resolving the dispute requires an amendment to the declaration. For example, a party may assert easement rights across association property. Depending on the powers granted to the association under the documents, the association may not have the ability to enter into a settlement agreement related to easement rights without amending the declaration to gain that authority.
General Housekeeping and Updating. A well-maintained 1960s bathroom can function for all intended purposes, but that bathroom’s bubblegum pink porcelain fixtures may not appeal to every owner. Similarly, covenants recorded in the 1970s may continue to serve a community on many levels but also draw criticism for their out-of-date status. Many modern communities like to review their declarations after all development ends and the declarant no longer holds power under the documents.
Common housekeeping amendments involve scrubbing references to the declarant and development rights from documents and removing provisions related to initial purchasers of units. While other circumstances may prompt these housekeeping and update amendments, they often get included when other amendments are undertaken.
While no hard and fast rules apply to when communities should amend their covenants, any of the situations listed above should at least lead to consideration of a document amendment project. Boards that identify the need for amendments must look beyond the substance of what the association may amend in the declaration and determine, minimally, whether the community can (1) bear the expense, (2) give the time and commitment to the process, and (3) ultimately gather sufficient owner approvals to make the efforts worthwhile. In other words, knowing that a document needs fixing does not mean it will get fixed—or that it will get fixed in the way the board wants.
Document amendment projects typically cost thousands of dollars for attorney drafting and meetings with the board and owners to educate each other on the issues and tailor covenants to community needs within legal parameters. This process for a complete amended and restated declaration can easily take a year’s time and requires devoted leadership to shepherd the process on the community side. Early discussions about any document amendment project must consider the realities of the membership’s willingness to support the requested amendments. Community covenant amendments necessitate board and volunteer involvement akin to a political campaign. Those seeking support for the amendments will need to understand the substance, anticipate vote counts, and work to gather approval from other owners.
With an understanding of the substantive need for amendments and the process required for owner approval, boards can better answer the question “Should the declaration get amended?” for their own communities. Professional management and legal counsel can assist with tailoring document amendment projects to the specific needs of a community while educating on options for how to navigate this process.
By Patricia A. Book, Ph.D.
Our community is self-governed by an elected Board of five members with staggered three-year terms. We are guided by our Declaration of Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions (C, C&Rs), By-Laws as amended and Rules, Regulations, Architectural Guidelines, Enforcement Policy and Procedure. These are published on our Website and importantly define the notice and information sharing requirements between the Board and our homeowners. We have processes for any changes in these documents with a very high standard of community participation in any proposed changes in our C, C&Rs. Our Board has set transparency as a high priority in carrying out our fiduciary duty to our community.
Creating Opportunities for Engagement
We have formally chartered a Pond Committee and a Social Connections Committee to engage additional volunteer expertise in our community in addition to our established Architectural Control Committee (ACC). There is a Board liaison to our newly chartered committees as well as a Board liaison with our landscape contractor. The meetings of our Board and Committees are open to all homeowners and minutes are published on our website.
The Pond Committee’s purpose is to develop a recommended management master plan for the Association’s pondin part to mitigate sedimentation with an eye to delaying or deferring costly dredging. Volunteers have expertise in pond management, engineering, and related fields and have become “pond stewards” as well, visible with their blue vests educating homeowners about the pond, catch and release fishing, fish species, etc.
The Social “Connections” Committee's purpose is to facilitate interaction among Willow Spring homeowners through a variety of planned social events designed to appeal to a wide cross section of the Willow Springs residents. The intended result is improved neighborhood camaraderie, fellowship and sense of community. Pool parties, garden tours, neighborhood day out, and a host of activities are developed by this Committee to have neighbors get to know each other and have a good time.
The Pond and Social Connections Committee have now formed a bond, co-organizing a Fishing Derby for youth in our neighborhood.
These opportunities for community engagement go beyond the specific events and tasks the Committees are charged with undertaking. We believe they provide opportunities for neighbors to get to know each other, open communication channels, share resources, and improve overall sense of belonging. We believe, for example, that the results could affect behaviors of speeding on the neighborhood streets—when you know the kids and the retirees and families in a neighborhood, aren’t you less likely to speed by them on your way to work or to an important engagement? Another benefit of community engagement is that we do want our homeowners to hear from their volunteer board and their neighbors about the good things happening in our community. We don’t want to be perceived as the police or tax collectors only heard from at a time of violation or when assessments are due.
Transparency Creates Support
The Board meets bi-monthly at our Club House but calls special meetings of the community to get feedback on a range of issues, from review of a draft Reserve Study, to traffic calming, or what to do about emerald ash borer treatments. We conduct surveys gathering information about perceptions of the quality of life in our community and beliefs and attitudes about a host of issues that come to the Board’s attention from individual homeowners. We share these results and use them to form plans and set goals for our community. We send out email blasts to alert the community to mosquito spraying, e.g., or upcoming events. We post signage to announce events. We conduct periodic Reserve Studies or Reserve Updates and share these with the community and revise them based on feedback received.
We called a special annual meeting to explain to the community our need to contribute more to our Reserves. Our prior Reserve Study (2015) had us at 23% funded, a poor condition. At regular annual meetings, we started to build the case for future needs of what is now an aging infrastructure with comparative bids explaining large ticket items for future planning. These include pond dredging, irrigation pump replacements, fencing maintenance and replacement, pool resurfacing, among other capital projects. The Board wisely took the time to educate our homeowners about future needs, explaining how to interpret an appropriate level of Reserve funding, and provided a five-year budget plan on what it would take to achieve a stronger Reserve foundation. We also did an annual assessment benchmark study of comparable communities that showed our assessments were on the low side for the amenities we enjoy. Because of the communication, information sharing, and transparency, the community overwhelming voted for a one time assessment increase of 20% (using the process required in our C, C&Rs), followed by four years of 6% increases (the maximum permitted in our C, C&Rs) to achieve a stronger Reserve and to maintain and preserve our community common elements to a high standard. Our 2018 Reserve Study Update had us at 47.4% funded, a much improved medium condition.
In summary, we follow our governing documents, communicate plans and decisions, and engage our homeowners in major decisions affecting our community. The Willow Springs Community is much like other self-governed homeowner communities in Colorado. We have a high level of satisfaction with the quality of life in our community and the Board enjoys considerable support from the community. It’s a two-way street. The community also expects us to enforce the rules, fairly and without prejudice. We’ve hired a professional management company to enforce our community standards with good result. A community as large as ours requires, and can afford, contracted management services to support the administrative, financial, and legal issues Homeowner Association (HOA) Boards face. We were careful to choose a management company that has achieved "Accredited Association Management Company" (AAMC®) designation from the national Community Associations Institute (CAI) with licensed association business managers. The Willow Springs Executive Board now holds Board membership in the Community Associations Institute—Rocky Mountain Chapter (CAI-RMC) as part of its commitment to ongoing education to better enable us serve our community.
“Patricia A. Book, Ph.D. is President of the Willow Springs Community Association Executive Board in Fort Collins, Colorado. Willow Springs has 460 units—single family, patio homes and condominiums—with 33 acres of green space, over 500 trees, a pool and club house, tennis courts, playground and pond stocked with fish for catch and release recreation. The community was established in 1995.”
Homeowner Leader Q&A - Legal Experts Answer Your Questions!
Q: I have asked to inspect records of my association multiple times. When I do, I'm met with this utter exasperation as if my request is the end of the world and I'm a huge pain in the rear. I know it's within my right to inspect records and I go about it the right way. Why then would the manager and the board of directors do everything they can to make it difficult? Are they afraid I'll find something out? I have to make a formal request (which seems silly in the first place) and then we have to schedule a time and a place and someone has to watch me. Shouldn't records be readily available and easy to access? Why the hassle?
A: As an owner you have the right to inspect association records. However, what constitutes association records is specifically defined by state statute and in some cases by the governing documents, so not everything you request may be a record that is available for review. Often times managers and the board of directors will have to reach out to the association’s attorney to determine what are association records and what can be turned over to an owner. Because the association is in possession of information regarding owners that may be personal and sometimes private, it may seem like a manager or the board of director’s is being difficult, when in fact they are simply making sure they follow the law and protect individual homeowner’s privacy. If an owner is requesting something simple like a copy of the Declaration or the Rules and Regulations then the manager should easily be able to make those documents available. However, if an owner wants to know if other owners have received fines or are delinquent, these are records that state statute specifically allow the association to withhold. While we know it can be annoying or not as convenient to have to schedule a time and place to look at the documents the association is simple following the state statutes and making sure that the association is protecting all homeowner’s information in a consistent manner.
Q: We just hired a new management company and I want to make sure that we're not going to fall into the same situation that we did with our last. As a board of directors, are we supposed to be "hands on" or do we simply back off and let the manager handle everything? We like to know what's going and we've been told that we micromanage too much. For me, I love the community which is why I'm on the board. I don't think that asking for summaries and follow-up is too much. It seems like we simply don't know how much we should ultimately trust our manager. I don't want to end up with things falling apart or not being done because we didn't want to annoy our manager or management company.
A: First of all, thanks for your service on your community association board. As you know, being on a community association board is a lot of work (even with the assistance of professionals working with your community) and to volunteer your time to ensure that your community is prosperous can sometimes feel overwhelming. The short answer to your question is that while a qualified and experienced professional manager can certainly go a long way to guide a board of directors, his/her job is not to handle everything for the association.
You may have heard that the board operates in a fiduciary capacity for the homeowners, and as such, has a fiduciary duty. This simply means that the board has an ethical and legal obligation to make decision in the best interests of the entire association. And in doing so, the board has an obligation to be “hands on.” You have the obligation, as a board member, to protect the association’s assets, budget responsibly, plan for the future, invest wisely, etc. And while you may have a community association manager that can aid the board in furtherance of these obligations, the board is ultimately responsible for the oversight of association operations. The manager works closely with the Board – as an advisor – not a board member or decision maker.
So don’t be afraid to run your business (because the association is a non-profit corporation!) accordingly. You have the right to request summaries and follow-up about community business – your board shouldn’t feel like pests in doing so!
By Pamela Babcock
From online meetings and electronic voting to tablets and do-it-all management software, technology is transforming the way associations operate. There's something out there for every community—even those most resistant to change.
Major traffic jams often greeted everyone entering Kiawah Island, S.C., as renters in the community association and guests of the neighboring resort queued at the gatehouse. The experience raised residents' ire and created a negative first impression for visitors.
Jimmy Bailey Jr., CMCA, AMS, chief operating officer of Kiawah Island Community Association, collaborated with the resort to set up a system so guests and renters could download and print gate passes in advance, allowing most drivers to sail through with ease.
"Implementation of this simple step—much like printing a boarding pass before going to the airport—dramatically improved gate operations and virtually eliminated long summer lines," says Bailey.
When Lee Ann Weir, CMCA, AMS, general manager of Lionsgate at Woodmont Corner in Bethesda, Md., wanted to gauge owner interest in renting underutilized areas of the condominium garage for storage, she simply clicked the survey link on the community's BuildingLink website interface and fielded a poll. Within minutes, her inbox was growing with numerous responses.
And Fripp Island Property Owners Association in South Carolina recently paid $8,000 to upgrade its boardroom audio-visual system, saying goodbye to a dated setup with blurry images and garbled speech, giving both the local and long-distance audience a much-improved experience.
Community associations increasingly are leveraging technology to improve operations, governance and management using the latest tools, including devices, hardware and software. Some are arming managers and board members with tablets backed up to the cloud, while others are exploring new ways to hold online meetings, engaging owners with electronic voting and more.
Yet there are many community associations today that are behind the technology curve. Some don't have the budget, know-how or interest in adopting the latest and greatest tools and features. Failing to at least explore what's available could be a mistake, according to experts.
"As technology has evolved, there's really killer software for everything from a 10-unit condominium to an association with 30,000 doors," says Bruce R. Gran, CMCA, AMS, PCAM, president and CEO of Gran Community Association Consulting in Scottsdale, Ariz. "If you're not leveraging technology, then you're out of the game. It used to be optional, but it's not anymore. Technology is your starting point."
Gran says many owners today want association technology to feel just like the experiences they have with other types of technology as a consumer.
"I'm looking for my association to give me the same experience I get from American Express or Chase or Bank of America," explains Gran, adding that all have excellent websites. "Residents expect to be able to make a payment on their phones. If they have a violation, they want to look at it and be able to respond online. And they want to be able to do pretty much everything on a phone or tablet."
Stephen R. Gothard, vice president of Advanced Technology Group, a King of Prussia, Pa., provider of community management software, says the biggest trend is technology for smartphones and tablets.
The devices can make board members and managers more efficient since they allow an entire library of an association's history to be available in perpetuity, says Blake Morlet, CMCA, senior manager of The Avalon Management Group, AAMC, in Temecula, Calif., which manages about 30,000 units in Los Angeles and San Diego.
Such devices are a particular boon for board members who spend a majority of their time off-site or travel frequently since they can participate in meetings remotely via video chat. Meanwhile, managers can gain efficiencies as they prepare for each board meeting by creating content and delivering it digitally.
The upshot? "Managers who have more time on their hands can provide better service," observes Morlet.
Avalon uses Apple's iPad and applications such as Google Apps for business e-mail and Google Drive for storage and information distribution. Implementing technology in association management has been so vital to Avalon's growth and effectiveness that the company offers only technology driven digital management services to new clients, Morlet says.
Gothard notes that adequate cell or wireless Internet coverage is often a stumbling block for associations and their residents. A property's size and location—and a resistance to installing cell towers or wireless networks—can impact what associations offer and residents' experience on their smartphone or tablet.
"You may have Wi-Fi in your house. But what do you do when you're down at the community pool?" Gothard asks. "People want to be connected."
THE VIDEO AGE
Although tablets are not yet de rigueur for board members at Kiawah Island Community Association, technology increasingly is being used in many facets of operations. Since only 15 percent of the community's 8,272 owners live on the property full-time, webinars, video calls and electronic communication are all part of regularly doing business.
"Rarely do we hold a committee or board meeting without someone participating via video," notes Bailey.
Kiawah Island has used commercially available platforms Skype and GoToMeeting. However, their effectiveness has varied, particularly because of sometimes spotty Internet connections. "We have looked into the possibility of using something more robust and sophisticated but have not yet pulled the trigger, primarily due to cost," says Bailey.
Several of the community's seven board members use personal tablets for board meetings and to download meeting materials, but it's not required. Some of Bailey's board members still use spiral-bound notebooks and mechanical pencils. "It sort of runs the gamut," he observes.
In 2009, the community began using BigPulse online voting software; owner participation has increased each year, reaching as high as 39 percent in the last election.
The association also communicates with owners using e-mail, text messaging, social media, video, its website and a mobile app that resembles the website and was developed last year by a Charleston, S.C.-based technology firm. Kiawah Island uses the app to send notifications to residents about things like traffic and gate information, weather alerts, voting or other time-sensitive notices.
BuildingLink, the web-based platform used by Lionsgate in Bethesda, Md., combines everything from communication tools and an ability to report maintenance issues to incident reports, package delivery tracking and more.
A resident might notice crumbling concrete in a common area, snap a photograph and upload the report directly to the manager, explains Robert Garcia, a D.C.-area representative for BuildingLink. Maintenance tickets are centrally located, meaning board members and managers can pull up any repairs within the past month, for example, and track who got the job—in-house staff or an external contractor—and how well the job was done.
BuildingLink, used primarily by condominiums, also offers a resident discussion board that goes beyond a simple listserv. Discussions can be controlled by the association, which means it can be kept "clean and useful" with posts like "who knows a good caterer?" or "I'm forming a walking club," Garcia explains.
Associations also can track various logistics, including permission-to-enter slips for real estate agents and preventative maintenance schedules that provide alerts when something needs to be done.
The 158-unit Lionsgate has been using BuildingLink and its mobile app since 2010.
Weir says the community was able to customize fields for bicycle storage, pet information, and parking space and car identification. Lionsgate even used the system in conjunction with security cameras to help solve a case involving minor damage from a hit and run. Another plus is a secure key drawer that opens with fingerprint identification technology, Weir adds.
Kate Hines, AMS, LSM, PCAM, general manager of Fripp Island in South Carolina, says the community of 2,167 homes is always looking for ways to do things better and smarter and also to save money where it can. As the association learned, the transition to technology isn't always seamless.
The community held its first online board election in February through Votenet.com, a voting platform that cost the association about $1,300. The move saved $2,500 in printing and mailing costs. Unfortunately, owner response wasn't as great as expected. The association sent several e-mail blasts announcing the change, but only 21 percent of owners cast ballots compared with an average of 36 percent in previous elections. A couple of owners were mailed a paper ballot because they didn't want to vote electronically.
Fripp Island is hoping to find a better way to market the online voting by working with the board's communication committee. "We're not calling it quits," Hines says. "Votenet could not be simpler."
In February, the community switched to MailChimp, an e-mail management and tracking system, to send a bi-weekly newsletter to owners. Owners love the change.
"It's professional, attractive and easy," says Hines. "We're getting a lot of compliments."
The association spends about $50 a month to send an average of three e-mails to about 2,000 addresses. Hines loves MailChimp's ability to provide a report on each sent message, tracking how many people received it, how many people opened the e-mail, the links that are being clicked and more.
In April, an urgent e-mail about a security incident during prom week garnered a 67 percent open rate within 20 minutes. MailChimp also tracks whether a message is read on a smartphone or computer—valuable information as the community continues to ponder additional technology upgrades.
In January, Fripp Island began using GoToMeeting, at a cost of $400 annually, for board meetings. Half of the community's 10-member board are nonresidents. The association previously used Skype, which often was glitchy due to Internet connections.
"The voices are clear, the people are clear, and we don't have the screw-ups we had with Skype," says Hines.
The association also upgraded its audio-visual system in April, installing speakers and microphones in the ceiling and a much bigger video screen on the wall.
Gothard believes there will be many technological innovations for associations in coming years. He points to rapid communications as an example. Some communities are already employing emergency broadcast texts and targeted notifications, such as package-delivery alerts.
Through new software updates and a better understanding of a community's data, Gothard thinks there will be even more targeted messages, such as, "The plumber was in your home from 10:23 to 11:50 fixing your leaking faucet."
And as vehicle manufacturers continue to develop technology for cars, Gothard envisions a day when a manager drives through a neighborhood and conducts inspections right from the car through a grill-mounted, rotating camera controlled from the center console.
"Imagine having those images and the resulting inspection details sent immediately back to the office, and the necessary letters merged and printed in minutes rather than days," he says. "The same technology could be used for maintenance purposes. A manager takes a picture from his car of a broken fence or downed tree, fills out the details and in minutes sends maintenance staff or a vendor a work order."
Gothard is excited about how technology can continue to improve associations and thinks board members and managers should be too. "I think we will see things we've never thought of come to light and technology that we cannot even imagine," he says. "As software developers, we strongly believe that if you don't dream it, you can't develop it."
Even communities resistant to technology should explore how technology can help improve operations, governance and management. Association leaders should take the following steps:
Tablets often are the easiest way to get started, according to Blake Morlet, CMCA, senior manager of The Avalon Management Group, AAMC, in Temecula, Calif. They can become your go-to source for all association information, including e-mail, board packets and financial statements, governing documents and contracts, minutes, resolutions, legal opinions, education information, guidebooks, site plans and maps.
With a tablet, you can carry around years' worth of documents as well as quickly review homeowner requests and photos, for example. In addition, tablets make it a lot easier to pass community history on to subsequent boards.
Once an association decides which equipment and services it will purchase or rent, Morlet recommends the board establish policies for appropriate use, repair and replacement. —P.B.
Pamela Babcock is a freelance writer in the New York City area.
By Andy Pendl, Vice President, ARE Solar.
When talking about solar, the biggest questions tend to be about upfront cost vs long term payback, overall durability of the product with the weather we experience in Colorado (hail and blizzards are top of mind), and how we store the energy that's being produced. While each of these questions have unique points to consider, the rate at which communities are installing solar panels is a good indicator toward figuring out whether it is going to be beneficial in the long run. Solar panels have made a quick transition from being a luxury feature on a few homes, to a commonality in new builds. Many largescale home builders are including solar panels as a stock part when building new HOA communities, where every home sold includes solar. In today’s world, you're just as likely to get solar panels as you would a master suite and granite countertops.
There are many benefits to installing solar for both the HOAs and individual homeowners. The first, and most obvious, is that the long-term cost of electricity is offset from day one, and the savings is easy to see on the utility bill. This can benefit individual owners if they have panels on their roof, or the HOA if they put solar on their community resource building, pool house, or another neighborhood amenity. By offsetting the electricity rates now, consumers can lock in their price and mitigate against the inevitable rate increases. Typically, we find that consumers will to see a return on their investment in under 10 years, sometimes much earlier. If financing is used, the cost of the monthly payments is likely at or below what the utility would have charged for the same amount of electricity.
Regarding durability, we've found that panels hold up very well against the Colorado weather. Each system is designed with the assistance of a structural engineer to ensure that the wind and snow loads for each specific location are considered. If any special considerations need to be addressed, the engineers will point that out as part of the design and permit process. Snow is only a concern in that the panels are covered, so they can't make electricity; however, it tends to melt off quickly and the calculations used for total output takes into account any estimated snow days. Wind can be a larger concern, as nobody wants to have damage caused by something being ripped off their roof; This is always reviewed during the design process to ensure that even the worst winds will not affect the structural integrity of the panels. Here in Colorado, it's reasonable to worry that the panels could be damaged by hail. It can certainly happen, but in our 10 years in business only one storm has ever been able to break panels. The storm that closed the Colorado Mills mall for almost 6 months damaged some panels at the nearby National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL)*. But of the over 3,000 panels on the building, only ONE sustained damage to the point that it needed to be replaced. What is much more likely is that the roof itself will have hail damage and need replacing. In this instance, the panels will have to be removed temporarily while that work is performed.
The last question that inevitably comes up during conversations about solar is how we store the energy. The reality is that in most cases, we don't! The meter on the building is a “net” meter and can run backwards. Because of this, the times when your system is making more electricity than the home is using, the meter goes backwards and credits you with the excess energy. Then, in times that the building is using more electricity than it's making (nighttime, or when the AC and other large appliances are all running at the same time), the meter goes forward. We try to size the system to get as close to 100% of the building’s needs as possible. If it's sized right, in the spring and fall, the system will usually make more than the building needs, and then the energy bank that is stored would be used up in the winter and summer months. There really isn't any need for a battery unless there is a specific requirement, such as keeping medical equipment running in the case of a power outage.
Solar will continue to grow as more individuals and communities realize the financial benefits and understand how the systems work. Solar energy is no longer a new technology, but a proven way to save money and ensure that electricity rates of the future don't break the bank. If you're considering whether your HOA community should go solar, the answer is yes, and the time is now.
Andy Pendl is the Vice President of ARE Solar. ARE has been in business for 10 years serving the front range of Colorado. They have worked on many high-profile projects, including the Greenbox Storage Facility across from Coors Field, and work with the West Metro Housing Authority on affordable housing projects. ARE Solar works in both residential and commercial areas, and an array of property types including apartments, warehouses, and office spaces.
By Josh Pangan, Director of Business Operations at Optimal Outsource - Community Mailing Specialists
While walking through the airport or clicking through your television, you may have come across a promotion from the United States Postal Service regarding “Informed Delivery.” Simply put, Informed Delivery allows homeowners to see what's in their mailbox from their email inbox. So what is this new feature from the USPS? Clairvoyance? Magic? Or, is it a welcomed response from a time-honored service striving to turn a corner with technology? My vote is it's welcomed, and very cool!
Typically, my neighborhood mailman delivers to my mailbox around 2 p.m. while I'm at work. However, like magic, I've known since 8 a.m. what was to arrive that afternoon.
Every morning I can preview my mail scheduled to deliver that day via email notification, online dashboard, or mobile app. Users also have the ability to interact with digital content provided by business mailers (e.g., special offers, related web links) directly from Informed Delivery! So when my HOA assessment statement arrives, I'll not only see an image of the envelope but also, I may be able to click a link that leads me to anyplace relevant to that envelope, like my community association's website.
Email is the dominant communication platform for most individuals; however, regular mail is still a daily part of all of our lives. USPS set out to integrate the two worlds by bridging a homeowner’s need to interact digitally without losing the importance of their physical mail. The USPS was already digitally scanning the front of all letter-size mail pieces to assist in the sorting and delivery of mail. With their existing technology, it was a logical transition to display those same images to homeowners in advance of the delivery of the physical mail.
Informed Delivery is completely free and safe. The USPS Information Security program and the Inspection Service monitors the network for unusual activity to ensure that your information is kept safe. It is available nationwide to eligible residential consumers as well as those with a PO box in an eligible zip code. During the sign-up process, homeowners will be prompted to complete an identity verification process to confirm their home address.
If you are interested in Informed Delivery, please visit informeddelivery.usps.com to sign up. Follow the on-screen prompts to check if your individual delivery address is eligible for the feature. Once opted-in, enjoy the service and be on the lookout for what's next!
By Miles Buckingham, Shareholder, Nemirow Perez, P.C.
Imagine the worst thing that a Board Member ever wrote or said out loud.
Now imagine that same thing read out loud to a jury. Seem uncomfortable? Remarkably, that is actually preferable to having the Judge tell the jury how communications of the Board were deleted, lost, or destroyed. When documents which should have been preserved were not, the Judge may tell the jury that they should assume that the lost email would have been very, very damaging to the Association. Saying things in writing that are not well thought-out can be very harmful. Deleting evidence can be worse. It is better to avoid the whole situation by being smart, starting now.
Welcome to the world of preserving and producing documents. The law requires the preservation and protection of a broad scope of communications, writings, documents, and materials against deletion, loss, or destruction. That duty exists even outside of actual or threatened litigation. In the face of a likely or threatened claim, the duty to preserve materials grows.
Standard Document Requests
Making association documents open and available for review and inspection facilitates transparency and good governance. Even so, responding to, and meeting the obligation of demands for records can be expensive, onerous, and fraught with potential exposure and liability.
When it comes to record requests for documents reflecting actions taken by the Board without a meeting, virtually everything is fair game. A very ordinary exchange of emails about renewing a contract or a contentious design application may have to be turned over, completely. Now, in lightning-fast emails and texts between Board members, someone inevitably interjects a comment or a joke into the thread. Even if that is embarrassing, in bad taste, all of it- the good, bad, and ugly parts of the exchange are available for an owner to demand and review.
In Colorado, owners have the right and ability to demand quick access to a wide-ranging set of association “records.” Under 38-33.3-317, C.R.S. broad categories of materials can be requested by owners and must be made available in as little as ten (10) days. This law is to be read in conjunction with the association’s document inspection policy, which can promise more information in even less time. See 38-33.3-209.5, C.R.S. A demand for documents need not be made only on the form created by the association for facilitating a request. Instead, a demand for records may be buried within a dozen-page letter of complaint, creating opportunities for claims of illegally withheld information and materials. Everything from owners needs to be read.
The process of obtaining emails or texts for production can be expensive and time consuming. Board members who use emails or text systems which are not dedicated to HOA business find themselves having to surrender access to their personal email accounts, or explaining to employers that their email system will have to be accessed just because the board member could not be bothered to check two different email accounts. In the financial, or medical industries, these intrusions could mean a person’s job.
Having a dedicated email for HOA matters can be invaluable. Dedicated email accounts where the manager has password access or is automatically copied on all emails are even better. A segregated email account prevents your Board from the embarrassment of having their personal matters reviewed for a document demand. And while applications like Boardroom check a lot of boxes, the system is not easily accessible to counsel in case of a suit. There is also the issue of who owns, and is preserving, the data being created by that application. If it disappears tomorrow, so too do the documents the Association is obliged to preserve.
Being able to quickly access, search, and produce records should be a primary goal of any system used by Boards to communicate or share HOA matters. If each member of your Board is not using a dedicated email address which can be accessed, searched, and archived by management (or two members of the Board of Directors) at any time, you have a problem on your hands even though you may not know it for a few years.
Litigation-Based Document Requests
In this era of technology, electronic documents have become the same as hardcopy documents. As such, they must be preserved properly. In lawsuits, a much broader scope of materials can be demanded from managers and the Board. If materials have not been preserved, there is a very real risk of very real consequences from the Court. From the moment that the Association, or any member of the Board or Management have a credible and reasonable belief or expectation that a suit may be filed, any archiving or deletion of communications needs to stop. Not just emails, but all text messages having anything to do with anything even touching an aspect of the suit need to be saved. All emails need to be preserved too. This can take disabling the auto-archiving default processes of an email program used by Board members. Taking affirmative steps to preserve everything in the face of a claim is not enough: Being able to prove that these steps were ordered, and actually taken, is important as well.
What to Do
If your Board of Directors tolerates Board members using personal emails for HOA business, stop that right now. Collect and save the HOA emails the Board members have to date and preserve them all in addition to those communications on a dedicated channel going forward. Create a document retention plan for both non-litigation scenarios, and possible litigation scenarios. Educate your Board members (and managers) as to the level of intrusion which is possible just using the Common Interest Ownership Act. Get them to appreciate that virtually everything that is done as a Board member is open, and available for review. Talk to a lawyer to get help preparing to meet these challenges.
By Amber Wood, City & County of Denver, Energy Program Administrator
Denver’s Green Buildings Ordinance developed from the citizen-led Green Roof Ordinance that provides flexible compliance options while honoring the original vote. The Ordinance requires all existing buildings over 25,000 square feet to install a cool roof at roof replacement and choose one of five compliance paths including green roof/space, pay for off-site green, solar, certification, and the Energy Program.
Green Buildings Ordinance Options for Existing Buildings
The Energy Program is one compliance path for existing buildings and includes flexible energy efficiency and renewable energy options. The program allows a building to take advantage of recent energy improvement projects and have up to 5 years to comply with the Ordinance after enrolling in the Energy Program. The Energy Program helps owners and managers lower energy expenses, increase building valuation, and there are many benefits from living in an energy efficient residence.
Owners and managers can enroll a building in the Energy Program prior to or at the time of roof replacement. To enroll early in the Energy Program, you simply need to complete an online form. You can submit your early enrollment Energy Program Form online here. Enrollment applies to a building for 20 years or through one roof replacement, whichever is longer.
Enroll before it's time for a roof replacement so that your building can:
Your building may already meet the energy savings needed! Look-up your building on the Energize Denver Benchmarking Map to determine if the building complies with the Energy Program. Your building already complies if:
Annual reporting is required for each option in the Energy Program via the building’s annual energy benchmarking report sent to the city via ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager. Full details are available on the Energy Program’s website. You can also contact us via email at email@example.com or give us a call at 720-865-5451!
By Daniel Brannigan, CEO Insights
Association websites can be a tremendously valuable portal for management companies that want to provide 24-hour communication with owners. A strong association website allows management to communicate with association residents, prospective buyers, service providers, employees, media and the public. An effective website can disseminate important information to each group in one complete package that can be updated as necessary.
“Websites allow management companies and associations to be accessible on the resident’s timeframe. So often, people in communities are volunteers so they tend to do things ‘off hours,’” says Susan Sanders, Vice President of AtHomeNet, an Internet development and hosting company.
Many management company and association websites list community descriptions, contact information, and some might even have community documents posted, but Sanders says most aren’t taking advantage of the available technology.
“Management companies and associations need to use technology to their advantage. Automate as many tasks as possible; only use human resources where they can truly have an impact,” says Sanders.
Including services such as online payments, amenity reservations, and even a frequently asked questions section can significantly increase management efficiency. Every question answered or service available to residents on a website is one less task that a manager needs to address.
Drew Regitz, president and co-founder of AssociationVoice, also an Internet development and hosting company, explains that websites need to have useful and useable information.
“It’s not necessarily if you build it they will come. It’s not the ‘Field of Dreams,’ so to speak,” says Regitz. “You’ve got one chance to make an impact with your site. First impressions count. If you don’t have useful and usable information, they won’t return.”
Some of that useful and useable information includes a calendar of events, an online survey, a chat room for residents, an intranet component—so employees and associations can communicate and share on their own site—and vendor portals where request-for-proposals can be posted and vendors can respond directly.
Several service providers specialize in creating and maintaining websites specifically for community associations or management companies. Cost typically depends on the size of the site and the features involved.
Some services even help place your site high in search engines queries. However, once you get visitors there, you’ll want the features to keep them coming back.
Daniel Brannigan is editor of CEO Insights.
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