Sensationalism and abuses of power are what makes headlines. Exposing alleged corruption, dishonesty, and oppression of the little guy sells ads. When was the last time you read a newspaper article or watched a television news story about how members of a homeowners association came together to assist a family in need, or when a board member or manager went above and beyond for the benefit of the community as a whole? Positive stories simply don’t make news.
Unfortunately, these negative stories are often born with a grain of truth and then portrayed in the most negative manner imaginable. Rarely are both sides of the story fully told. Coverage that is “fair & balanced” simply doesn’t exist when reporting on homeowners associations. If it did then there probably wouldn’t be a story in the first place. We’ve all heard the stories about the veteran who received a violation letter for having a Marine Corps emblem on his car window, or the homeowner who received a warning letter for flying an American flag on an unapproved flagpole, or the elderly homeowner about to lose his home to foreclosure because he couldn’t pay their assessments?
All too often these stories are only possible because either the board or the manager was inflexible in their enforcement of the community’s covenants and/or rules & regulations. The exercise of a little common sense by those in power will usually prevent these situations from escalating to the point of drawing negative media attention. And on those rare occasions when a poor decision by a board or manager leads to a potential media problem, then the responsible individual(s) needs to immediately and sincerely admit to a lapse in judgment and correct the problem. People are human, and they will make mistakes. Simply take responsibility for the problem, and fix it. You really don’t want to be the one named in the story as “board member ________ had no comment to this story”, or even worse “repeated calls to board member ________ were unreturned”.
The challenge for board members and community association management professionals is to avoid situations that might reflect negatively on the association. Decisions must always be well thought out, and all possible consequences fully considered, especially on controversial issues. That is not to say that boards should never make the tough decision when absolutely necessary, but rather they should always remember that they are the elected representatives of their community and as such their decisions directly affect the homeowners who have entrusted the overall welfare of the community to them. Board decisions directly impact the policies of the association, upkeep and appearance of the common areas, and ultimately the quality of life and value of everyone’s home in the community. The homeowners should expect the board to act honestly and fairly, just as homeowners should be expected to abide by the governing documents for the community in which they purchased their home. And all should remember that when necessary and possible, compromise, reasonableness, compassion and flexibility on everyone’s part will help to make community association living enjoyable and beneficial for all.