Hell in a Very Small Space

Because some zoning ordinances permit a greater number of condominium units per acre than townhouses, even though there is no structural difference, several years ago developers rushed to use small shards of property within city blocks to build tiny condominiums. My plea to planning officials everywhere is that the laws, regulations, and personalities involved in a condominium are so complex that a condo association cannot operate efficiently with only 8 or 10 units. That is especially true where the condominium is constructed for the purpose of squeezing in a max number of low-end units on a small parcel. The people who buy those units are destined for unavoidable heartache trying to run a miniscale condominium association. The bureaucracy is overwhelming.

Some Churches and other non-profit organizations convey an analogous lesson known by all lawyers. Over time their books may be poorly kept, and often their income and expenses will be only occasionally documented. During their initial years everyone will be friends. Before many years some of the members will fade away, and new ones will come. Even if every member is completely undemanding in personality, (and that will never happen), there will eventually be questions about who owns things, who is counting the money, and where did it all go. Those questions will challenge the integrity of the people involved, and shake the very core of the organization. The only way to avoid that is to be precise and complete in every form of documentation, including money received and spent. A condominium is only different because such associations have a legal power of assessment of its members.

There are countless reasons condominium and homeowner associations (HOA’s) should not be self managed. I encourage each of the associations our office represents to find a CAM [a licensed Community Association Manager]. I encourage the CAM to work out a practical and reasonable charge that depends on the size and purpose of the association and the degree of work involved. Every association will find that it helps to have an outsider call a miscreant member who is disrupting the community, either by driving too fast down its roads, by making too much noise, abusing common facilities, or acting in any one of the countless other ways that they will. A licensed CAM can convey a message gently, (but sometimes firmly) without pitting one owner against another. Those messages are sometimes far easier to receive from an outsider then from a neighbor.

Associations are small communities. Whether they are a condominium, an apartment, or a single family subdivision that has the right to assess its owners, they are all controlled by statutes, regulations, by their own creating documents, and, to make it more confusing, by case law. Associations need to be run by professionals. That is the reason the law was passed that requires a CAM to hold a professional license much like a realtor. A CAM who is serious about his or her profession and practices it daily will understand more about the law of running an association then a lawyer who does not practice in that field on a regular basis. The CAM cannot legally file liens or practice law, but can administer the association far better than any member is likely to do on a consistent basis.

I have two messages to convey: to those living in any association, talk to a CAM to see whether an affordable relationship can be made, even if it is only as a consultant. The money you save will likely far outweigh the expense, in my opinion.

To all professional CAMs, you will work with lawyers who work in your field everyday. You will be most productive if you operate as a team, giving the attorney all the information you have and letting the attorney know as specifically as possible the questions presented. If that lawyer does not specialize in association work, start with the assumption that the lawyer has the confidence of his client and is doing his or her best to do the same thing you are. He or she is attempting to answer questions and resolve problems as quickly and efficiently as possible. The client’s continued esteem for both his lawyer and his CAM will likely be affected by their ability to work together.

To those associations that value their lifestyle and time of all members, hire a CAM.