The ancient proverb "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" states that it is easier to forestall a disaster than to deal with it. This is important advice for condominium associations who are not only plagued by owners with delinquent special assessment and monthly maintenance fees, but by apathetic residents. Uninvolved and disconnected unit owners in a common interest community may frustrate the other residents who are unable make their voices heard about issues affecting the common elements. Apathy creates an environment where incompetence, greed, fraud and lawlessness are permitted to grow undetected.
Many apathetic communities are run by homogenous, static, or even vacant boards. Some board members serve for years without ever having to re-apply for their position, while other communities cannot even find enough people to serve on their boards. Unit owners may live outside of the common interest community, miss board meetings due to incompatible schedules, and/or miss the board elections, allowing the same people to repeatedly be elected (or appointed) year after year. This can foster a sense of entitlement amongst those long-serving board members, who can be seen using their power to repair their own Units before, and sometimes exclusively of, others in the community, as well as hiring vendors based on who will do their bidding most efficiently, rather than those who may be best for the community. In some cases, important decisions about common elements are made months before the other unit owners are aware of the changes. These boards know that few residents will question the decisions they make, and even fewer owners will show up to open meetings to publicly voice their concerns. Apathetic communities may amass large unpaid debts from unit owners who are delinquent in their HOA fees, monthly maintenance fees, special assessment fees, and other condo fees, because they will not put in the time or expenses needed to chase down delinquent residents. Other common interest community boards violate the law by charging extremely high, and in some cases illegal, late fees. Board members have been convicted of fraud for stealing from their Association’s funds, some caught years later once other residents finally paid attention to what was happening within their community.
Apathetic communities usually lack the representation of Unit Owners who actively voice concerns and demand change. Associations may be unable to amend the governing documents or conduct significant repairs on construction defects in a timely fashion because they can’t get a quorum of unit owners to vote at the meeting. This impedes on the ability of the board to act quickly and efficiently to deal with a problem or opportunity. In extreme cases the State, or an appointed receiver, must take control of the Association when none of the other unit owners were willing aid in the decision-making process.
Common interest communities can prevent many of the above issues by encouraging residents to become more active in the Association. Unit Owners can read and gain a better understanding of the governing documents, attend open board meetings and, when unable to attend, ask for copies of meeting minutes, complain about issues and suggest specific ways to create change, ask productive questions, volunteer to create or chair a committee, make educated votes for board candidates, and encourage the competency of management and counsel. The presence of unit owners through written and verbal correspondence sends a message to the board that the community residents are engaged and involved in the decision-making process. Associations can prevent many issues with the help of Unit Owners who give a small investment of time to be active in their communities.