Adapting and evolving: How leveraging technology can better serve the communities you manage
During the COVID-19 pandemic, there are sure to be many HOA questions about what changes will be implemented to keep the community safe. Communication and transparency within businesses and community organizations, such as HOAs, are crucial. As we all try to navigate the challenging, fluid, and sometimes catastrophic nature of COVID-19’s effect on our daily lives, maintaining order within our communities stands to be one of the most effective ways to keep some form of normalcy. Navigating the HOA-related challenges that COVID-19 creates means making sure everyone, from the board members to the residents, is on the same page with expectations and limitations the HOA must enforce and abide by during the course of the pandemic.
Residents and board members in an HOA surely have plenty of questions that need answers regarding the pandemic. In this article, we hope to answer those questions and hopefully offer a few solutions that can help find any answers that have left you scratching your head. It's important to remember that while we cover several of the main contention points within HOAs, it’s always encouraged for residents to seek out their respective board members for clarification and help on their particular HOA’s COVID-19 guidelines as well.
One of the most prominent concerns among all HOAs is how the HOA board adheres to and enforces CDC social distancing guidelines within the community’s common areas, such as pools or recreation areas. However, the answer is relative to what your HOA board decides. Almost all HOA common areas must abide by the six feet social distancing rules and other protective guidelines such as mask-wearing or strict sanitation rules. These are likely to be non-negotiable standards within HOAs as long as the pandemic continues roaring.
For outside areas, such as the community pool, this means socially distancing pool chairs and tables, limiting capacity or pool hours, or even requiring masks to be worn at any time in which residents are not in the water. However, if these guidelines can’t reasonably be met, we can see that it is in the board’s best interest to completely shut down the amenity or common area if procedures can't be followed. While pool areas may not be a concern in the winter months, indoor spaces within the HOA pose a more significant problem.
Regarding these common indoor areas, such as any recreation centers, clubhouses, or offices, COVID restrictions will more than likely be even more restrictive and diligent whilst adhering to protocols. One trend seen recently is board members reasonably limiting any community events indoors to strict capacity limits and designated social distancing guidelines or outright event postponements until further notice. This can also apply to office hours and board meetings for HOA board members as well. Specifically, board members need to make a concerted effort to work virtually as much as possible.
We have all had to pivot and adapt to the monumental changes COVID has inflicted upon us through our workplace changes. HOA board members must also adjust accordingly and begin working on ways to continue meeting virtually to conduct business. The easiest way to implement that strategy is for board members to designate a Zoom or Microsoft Teams service to schedule meetings. Using these services, the board maintains consistent communication without pause for the duration of the pandemic and resolves any HOA questions or conflicts that arise without interruption.
Arguably one of the most critical HOA questions residents are sure to ask: understanding where and how homeowners can effectively communicate with their respective HOA boards during the pandemic. What board members must establish is which outlets for virtual communication are the most effective for their particular community and how they can effectively implement those forms of communication immediately.
Luckily, there are numerous options that not only fit the socially distant models necessary during the pandemic but can be easily accessible and relatively cost-effective for any HOA board to utilize. Board members have created social media groups or used video conferencing services that deliver essential community updates to all residents able to join. Communication apps designed to streamline HOA-specific information, such as TownSq, are also beneficial. While sacrificing much of the in-person interface that can help with resident-board interactions, online communications can still allow homeowners to feel connected to their HOA leaders.
What remains crucial with implementing these online communication tools is for board members to ensure that access to these devices is communicated quickly and coherently. Many homeowners may be stuck inside or removed from their communities in ways they had never anticipated. Because of that, it’s essential from day one that board members work to provide access to those tools for residents immediately, but quickly enough to where they can access them without too much trouble.
Within the TownSq app, residents can ask important HOA questions to other neighbors and board members or managers. The community leaders can easily communicate and keep everyone informed with announcements and places to store important documents.
This is more than likely the trickiest of HOA questions to answer fully and one that depends heavily on each HOA. However, the best answer to give homeowners unsure of how their monthly or yearly HOA dues will be affected is to reach out to their board for clarification immediately.
One of the hardest parts about the COVID-19 pandemic thus far has been its impact on jobs and household incomes. One way that impact ripples out is through dues payments that many families within all types of communities typically owe. The financial instability many of us face right now means that for residents, securing a complete and comprehensive understanding of what their HOA’s dues policies are going forward is crucial. Residents need to know if or when their dues might be affected or if their HOA offers any deferment plans for those financially impacted by the pandemic and how they can be expected to continue paying their dues.
For board members, transparency is vital, and anything less than consistent and clear information is unacceptable. Using the aforementioned online communication channels to reach residents, board members should be updating this information daily if needed and reaching out to every homeowner who is unsure of where to turn. Although HOA financial budgets are typically very tight and established before the start of the next calendar year, now is the time for board members to be transparent about supporting homeowners during these times. It’s vital for board members and management companies to be setting expectations for what residents can expect to owe their HOA.
One area in which residents expect to maintain consistency is maintenance and third party services hired by the HOA. Because many of these operational budgets and contracts with these companies are typically put in the budget before the year in question, most services such as community areas and amenities maintenance services have continued to operate as usual. Although the perception of which jobs are considered essential services might be a state to state issue in the long term, in terms of conditions under stay-at-home orders, most of these services provide essential services necessary to keep HOA’s running smoothly. However, in extenuating circumstances, this is another area that homeowners can look for clear and consistent guidance from their respective board members.
The answer here should be a resounding yes as long as the proper communication channels and virtual event planning are put in place to follow CDC guidelines but still engaged in the community. Whether or not there are setbacks to the elections procedures falls primarily on the board’s shoulders, yet setting up a system for board elections should be much more feasible when taking into account a well-run online communication system where board members set up ways for residents to vote.
Due to the fluid nature of this pandemic, this article can’t answer every single question viably homeowners or board members might have. Yet, there are several resources at community members’ disposal to help answer any further questions they might have. For instance, last year, TownSq published an entire Ebook focused on communications during COVID-19 and how board members’ responses to the pandemic have been thus far. This can be useful for both residents and board members alike.
If applicable, HOA members should also feel inclined to continue reaching out to their board members or property management companies for any further guidance on anything from payment concerns to community health protocols.