HOAs & Owner Involvement: An Oxymoron? (part 1 of 3)

guest blog by Deborah Goonan

Let’s get real!

One of the most common laments of HOA industry professionals is this: “Owners are apathetic. No matter what we do, we cannot get them involved in governance of the community.”

I have previously blogged, tongue-in-cheek, about the tendency of Boards to cultivate apathy. Today I will explore the issue in more depth.

Is it realistic to expect widespread participation?

Historically, few people actively participate in city, town, or county government, so what makes anyone believe that there would be a higher participation rate in HOAs?

Consider that HOAs (and especially condo associations) are marketed as carefree, low-maintenance lifestyles, often including amenities that owners do not have to personally maintain. HOA homes are not explicitly disclosed as what they are: shares in real estate investment, almost always part of a corporate entity. And, even if we could enlighten buyers and owners about the need to protect their investments in their HOAs, how many would take active roles? After all, most people with retirement accounts tend to put their money into funds managed by financial professionals – few actively monitor their funds.

Does HOA governance structure encourage or discourage participation of residents?

Some critics of HOA governance have suggested that Boards should allow residents to actively participate at meetings, with the ability to present ideas, make motions, and vote on resolutions directly affecting them.

But I doubt we will see such change, because CAI – and most governing documents written by attorneys for developers – promotes policies that give the Board broad authority to act on behalf of the association.

Refer to page 30 of Community Association Living: (Emphasis added in bold)

“Board members and committee members are volunteer leaders who meet regularly to discuss pertinent details about running their community. A board meeting at a community association is comparable to a town council meeting of a municipality. The basic authority in a community association lies with the owners. However, the owners elect a board of directors to act on their behalf. Usually the governing documents delegate almost all of the association’s decision-making powers to a board. This leaves the owners with very few direct powers. Typically, owners have only the voting power to:

  • Elect and remove directors
  • Amend any of the governing documents, except board resolutions

Occasionally, owners will approve the annual budget for their association. But all other decisions are usually left to the board. As a result, if owners are unsatisfied with a board decision, they usually do not have the direct authority to “veto” or “undo” its action. Under such conditions, their only remedy is to elect a new board to represent them.”

Clearly, the status quo discourages active participation of owners, exacerbating apathy. See Part 2: Reality Check


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Ward Lucas is a longtime investigative journalist and television news anchor. He has won more than 70 national and regional awards for Excellence in Journalism, Creative Writing and community involvement. His new book, "Neighbors At War: the Creepy Case Against Your Homeowners Association," is now available for purchase. In it, he discusses the American homeowners association movement, from its racist origins, to its transformation into a lucrative money machine for the nation's legal industry. From scams to outright violence to foreclosures and neighborhood collapses across the country, the reader will find this book enormously compelling and a necessary read for every homeowner. Knowledge is self-defense. No homeowner contemplating life in an HOA should neglect reading this book. No HOA board officer should overlook this examination of the pitfalls in HOA management. And no lawyer representing either side in an HOA dispute should gloss over what homeowners are saying or believing about the lawsuit industry.

2 thoughts on “HOAs & Owner Involvement: An Oxymoron? (part 1 of 3)

  1. Cynthia

    Honest, credible, law abiding, bill paying, rule following, kind, compassionate and caring homeowners who are involved and do lend countless hours to their associations and their neighbors, being on a board when no one else wants the job, have their lives, families, and finances devastated, their lives threatened and their property routinely destroyed by owners, or neighbors who will have no accountability. If that is not bad enough, then they are set up by other boards on the property who apparently are doing something unethical, illegal, or other so they can steal their homes and equity, while dragging them through the worst legal abuse and criminality imaginable! The courts in many locales could care less and will violate every right of the innocent homeowner, ignore the laws, and favor the perpetrators of these crimes.
    Not every HOA is this abusive, or practices such horrific acts, but the overwhelming numbers that appear to be are growing and growing. Apathy is not the problem. The existing HOA boards and the power they have amassed make it nearly impossible for homeowners to have a role and a say in what is taking place within their communities and their lives.

  2. melody

    Occasionally? Approving budgets? Boards are supposed to take votes on approving budgets from the members at the annual meeting all the time. That is the members one right that is not one of the board’s powers. I have never seen where governing documents use the word occasionally.


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