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by Richard Thompson

When homeowner associations engage professional management, there is a general expectation of the manager handling business professionally. As time passes, those general expectations can become specific concerns when performance is questioned for things like:

  • Complaints about manager attitude

  • Maintenance isn't completed on time

  • Maintenance quality lacking

  • Site inspections infrequent

  • Phone calls aren't returned

  • Collections are unresolved

The Management Agreement should be detailed enough so that both the Board and Manager understand what is expected. An Agreement that is too vague will ultimately set the stage for conflict and dissatisfaction for both parties. The Board has a right to expect professional performance for the services contracted and the Manager is entitled to limit the scope of work so the job is manageable. There is plenty to do with routine tasks and managers that aren't careful about the kinds of services offered will soon be overwhelmed. For both party's best interests, clearly identifying those tasks that need to be done is imperative for a lasting and gratifying relationship.

The scope of work varies substantially from HOA to HOA based on the amount of ongoing maintenance, meetings, phone calls, correspondence and other demands. The management cost paid by the HOA is directly related to the scope of work. Some HOAs help control costs by engaging volunteer committees to do some of the work like maintenance and contractor quality checks, work order screening, changing light bulbs and trash patrol. Those committees communicate with the manager as needed to advise of issues the manager needs to follow up on.

Many HOA management companies provide in-house handyman services since it's too difficult to find outside contractors interested in doing small jobs. By having maintenance employees that do this kind of work, the HOA pays only for the hours it needs and doesn't have to subsidize a full-time employee. Maintenance personnel should be trained and experienced to operate without supervision. If the quality of work is substandard or the time it takes to get the job done too long, this is definitely a cause for concern. The Maintenance/Grounds Committee should perform quality checks at the time of service to determine if the problem is widespread or isolated to an individual.

HOA managers are invaluable for dealing with difficult tasks like collections and rules enforcement. In those circumstances, it's likely that some of the people being leaned (or liened) on won't like it and may complain to the Board about the manager. As long as the manager is following established policy and is respectful in the execution, getting complaints runs with the territory.

If the manager is being overbearing or rude, that's another issue. But the Board needs to be careful to understand the basis of complaints received. The Board should support the manager in dealing with difficult tasks but never endorse unprofessional behavior. So, are the complaints widespread or isolated? If most residents are up in arms, there probably is something to be concerned about.

One common area of manager performance is how soon maintenance gets done. The manager's job is to manage HOA maintenance efficiently and cost effectively. This requires small jobs to be accumulated and turnaround time may be several weeks or longer. Most HOAs can't afford to do otherwise. So other than emergencies, residents should understand repair requests could take some weeks to accomplish, more if special materials are required.

Does your Board get frustrated with delayed newsletters, correspondence, financial statements and other administrative business? Frequency of newsletters and financial statements should be calendared while other business needs more flexibility. For example, it's not unusual for lenders and title companies to place an urgent demand for information the day of a home closing. The manager is not responsible for this poor planning and can't necessarily drop everything to respond. The Board needs to consider the manager's workload in assigning special tasks as well. Most managers want to please but there are only so many hours in the day to get things done. If, however, the manager is committing to a deadline and not performing, there is a problem that needs to be resolved.

Visiting the manager's office to get a handle on how records and files are maintained can be enlightening. Inquire how, when and who does the filing. If the office is in disarray, it could account for the manager's inability to get work turned around. If the manager can't locate information quickly, tasks can drag on or not get done at all. Unorganized people don't generally become organized easily. If the systems aren't already in place to process work efficiently, it's best to find a company that has them and knows how to use them.

Personality conflicts can interfere with good communication even when the manager is competent. Most companies have several managers and you may be able to solve the problems by changing managers within the same company rather than changing companies.

If frustration level with manager performance is growing or reaching critical mass, issues of concern should be documented in writing with specific examples to back them up. There should be a specific expectation associated with each issue and a time frame for correction. The manager should be allowed to meet with the Board to discuss the issues and reach a compromise if possible. All HOA managers and management companies have strengths and weaknesses so moving to another company may not solve your problem and actually result in a worse situation.

The Board and manager should always work as a team. The Board adopts rules, enacts policy and approves the budget. The manager executes the Board's plan in conjunction with the governing documents and state and federal law. Communication should be clear and frequent. Dealing with small performance issues will prevent them from escalating to crisis proportions.

For a checklist of HOA management tasks and a Sample Management Agreement, see "Manager Issues".

Published: May 26, 2004


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