Condominiums, Cooperatives and other kinds of homeowner associations have similar obligations and problems. This first article discusses resident participation in homeowner activities.

Hands-On Homeowner Association Democracy

Homeowner associations offer their membership one of the most accessible forms of democracy around, if they choose to use it. But most folks don't have much experience with hands-on democracy so they tend to treat the HOA like the county, state or federal government. The approach boils down to "take as little of my money as possible, handle it and leave me alone." While this attitude is understandable when dealing with nameless bureaucrats in an incomprehensible tangle of laws and regulations, HOAs provide a whole different mix: neighbors controlling their own neighborhood with plenty of say in how it's done if, and only if, they choose to participate.

Most don't participate, preferring to leave their destiny in the hands of the Board. The Board is a select group of well intentioned folks who are doing their best with limited information and experience. But all's not lost. The Board, fortunately, is not expected to know everything. Seeking wise counsel is not only an option, it's mandatory to produce the results the members deserve. The wise Board selects good people and lets them do the work they are being paid for.

Still, the fact that many in the HOA choose not to take advantage of their democratic rights, the Board can coax participation by keeping lines of communication open.

1. Running open meetings is a must. Symbolically, it demonstrates the Board has nothing to hide and is open to member input.

2. Whenever a new policy is being considered, member review prior to adoption builds trust and cooperation. Newsletters keep members in the loop about important information and provides a mechanism for recruiting volunteers.

3. Distributing meeting minutes keeps members abreast of the latest financial and maintenance issues.

Each of these mechanisms is designed to attract participation by an otherwise disconnected group. It also builds trust and makes the Board's job much easier. Hold it, circulate it and distribute it and they will come. Just give them a helping hand in how democracy works.

by Richard Thompson, March 3, 2004