Passing special assessments can be very stressful on board members. They can be a tough sell and cause a lot of anger and bad feelings among owners.
QUESTION: I am on the board of a 40-unit condo association. We need to put a new roof on and have voted to special assess each owner $5,000 to pay for it. This has proved very unpopular. Owners are complaining. I get stopped all the time and owners complain they don’t want to pay the assessment. They call me at all hours of the day to complain. What should I say?
ANSWER: Passing special assessments can be very stressful on board members. They can be a tough sell and cause a lot of anger and bad feelings among owners. It is important not to let such situations get out of hand. There are two components to passing a special assessment – legal and political. Condo boards have the legal authority to pass a special assessment.
But their responsibilities do not stop there. They also have an obligation to sell the assessment to owners – i.e. the political component of passing an assessment. Your board evidently failed in this regard and now you are facing a mutiny. You need to right the ship as quickly as possible. Downplaying the politics of a board’s decision can be perilous to the health of a community association.
Communication and transparency are key. Start talking early. As soon as the building component shows problems, start talking about it at the next board meeting. Keep talking about it as the board investigates the problem, solutions and costs. It’s difficult for owners to be critical if they are brought into the discussion early.
Communicate extensively. Don’t wait until you have the solution figured out. Keep owners informed throughout the process, not just at board meetings and in minutes, but also send out a letter from the board to all owners about the problem and how the board came to its decision. Include photos that show the extent of the problem. Invite owners to a meeting with an expert who can answer their questions.
The board should also offer owners payment alternatives that give them time to come up with the money – for example, an installment plan. Finally, give owners plenty of notification about the assessment and payment plan options. Some owners may want to take out a home equity loan because the interest is tax deductible and may need a few weeks to complete this process.
Most are broad minded enough to accept that the repair is necessary as long as people have the facts, are informed and feel included in the process.
Linda Goodspeed is a longtime real estate writer and author of “In and Out of Darkness.” Email her at: firstname.lastname@example.org.