It’s never fun when winter weather causes damage to the interior or exterior of your home or condo unit. Coming home to water leaking into your comfy space can send you into a panic. What do you do first? To discuss the best course of action, I spoke with Gregg Gerelli, president of Gerelli Insurance Agency, Inc. of Cold Spring, New York.
It’s no secret that communicating effectively with association members is a vital part of managing any community. But in today’s digital world, methods for communication are ever-changing. So, what works and what doesn’t? We spoke to Nancy Hastings, Regional Vice-President of Associa’s Eastern Region, to find out her perspective on association communications.
By Michelle Tomko
Clearly, the founding fathers, and mothers, of association boards everywhere did not anticipate needing to address what members do on the internet in their bylaws. But that is exactly where the future may be heading. Just because one resident on the board may still have an old clamshell phone, it doesn’t mean another member doesn’t have a few thousand followers on any variety of social media platforms.
The ease with which board members and other residents can share information, express opinions, and post photos makes electronic communication and social media very enticing even to a Luddite. However, from a liability standpoint, associations may find themselves in sticky situations if personal data or misinformation gets posted in a reckless or malicious way. They may even have a breach in security altogether if they are not careful.
So what are associations supposed to do? How do you sift through the legalities of controlling something that is not even on property? To answer that question from a legal perspective we spoke with attorney Tana Bucca, a Shareholder and member of Stark & Stark’s Community Associations Group in Cedar Knolls, New Jersey.
We asked Bucca if it is advisable for associations to have their own social media pages or accounts? “Residents utilize technology to obtain information related to their community events and important notices,” said Bucca. “While technology is a very useful tool, there are also some drawbacks. You need to be mindful of the issues and be ready to deal with them before you start to use social media.”
What are some of those issues from a legal perspective? “Number one, you need to make sure that you have a secure website with a password. So then no one can hack your account and obtain confidential information related to the association,” she warned. Many websites have a “Members Only” area where sensitive information like contact information is stored. Even though the site is public, the general web surfer cannot access this area of the site.
But in regard to social media platforms, Bucca had a specific recommendation. “I think all associations need to have a policy concerning use of social media websites,” she said.
But does an association really have the reach to regulate what an individual posts on their own account? “Depending on the language of the association’s governing documents, an association should be able to adopt a policy concerning board member conduct as it applies to social media,” said Bucca.
Like everything else, Bucca said that associations have to learn to grow and move with the times. “Twenty years ago we might not have had a policy concerning ‘no cell phone video at the meeting.’ Now everyone’s phone has a video camera and we need to have those rules. We need to amend constantly. It’s constantly changing and evolving,” she said.
This territory is not all that new, at least in the business world. So it is not out of line for associations to act in the same way. “An employer would have a policy,” said Bucca. “For example, you can have a social media page. But the employer’s policy may be ‘don’t post anything on your own personal social media page about the company’.” Why would a company go to the expense and bother to regulate the personal social media activity of their employees? “Generally speaking, corporations don’t like to be tied to an individual’s own personal social media page.” Why is that? “Because people might post things like political views that you can’t restrict. But you also want to stay above the fray as a corporation,” she said.
If an association does decide to write a document concerning social media, Bucca suggested that associations consult with counsel to have it done correctly. She went on to list three main considerations for this policy. “One, if individuals can use their own personal pages to advertise, publicize or spread the word about the association’s business. Two, whether or not the association should have its own social media page. And three, who should be the authorized users on the association’s page?”
Authorized users are people given special administrative access to the association’s social media site. They are responsible for the content that is displayed on the page.
Bucca then shared a common problem with the day to day maintenance that having an internet presence creates. “Associations want to have their own social media page. They want to have their own website. But no one wants to take on the responsibility of updating it. If someone on the board is very computer savvy, very good at social media and takes on the responsibility, and then resigns, no one takes it over. How can you guard against that? You need to have a policy in place that’s going to say who is going to do that,” said Bucca.
Another great piece of advice from Bucca — something she always recommends is to have more than one administrator. “You can’t just have one person as the administrator,” she said. “Imagine what would happen if only one person has all the passwords and then he or she severs the relationship with the association. It’s a corporation. These are things you need to think of.”
What methods of communication present the least liabilities for associations? “Putting information out onto social media is probably not necessary if the association has its own website. There might be information the association wants to disseminate that’s for members’ eyes only. These could be notices of meetings, notice of the events, copies of bylaws, copies of regulations and directories. Something like that would be on the secure website where there’s a ‘Members Only’ login.”
The advantage to social media over the website, according to Bucca, seems to be speed of dissemination in case of emergency. “By the same token you might want to have access to certain information like emergency information or snow removal. Social media is a good tool to get that out quickly. Things that shouldn’t be posted on social media are items of information that are not to be disseminated to the general public. Things like that, send via mail, email or post on the secure website,” she said. “Also keep in mind that providing notices via social media (like a notice of election) will likely not satisfy the requirements set forth in your governing documents. While it may be a quick way to spread the word, you need to be mindful of proper notice requirements.”
How can associations protect themselves from “rouge” social media pages and web pages set up by residents? “They can set their own social media page, and give all residents notice of the site.” According to Bucca, associations have the authority to write policy on these matters as they develop. “Your association’s governing documents give the board the authority to promulgate rules and regulations with respect to the association.”
Governing documents may require some amending to catch up with the times based on the year they are written. This is due to the obvious fact that the technology just wasn’t there. “This is emerging. This is new. Most governing documents don’t note that members can receive notice by email. Because there was no email when some documents were written,” Bucca said as an example. “Likewise, you may also need to update and amend your rules. Policies are constantly changing.”
Bucca explained that these regulations are like rules composed by the board members concerning behavior while in the common areas. “With respect to the association policy, my recommendation would be to include policies regarding board member conduct on social media. A lot of associations have policies and procedures concerning members’ conduct on the association property. For example, you can’t smoke at the pool. You can’t shout at the meeting. These are part of the association’s rules,” she said.
If an association chooses not to have its own social media page, but then residents choose to create one anyway, is there anything an association can even do to stop this? “If they violate the association’s rules while on social media, they can,” she said.
She goes on to give some practical advice. “There’s a couple things you need to be mindful of. You don’t want to interject yourself into something where there’s no need for you to interject yourself, thereby creating vast rules and policies. Bucca pointed out that there is no use for a policy if it has no teeth.
“Using social media is a great tool. But you need to be mindful of the pitfalls and put in place procedures to avoid issues,” she said.
This time of year, many association managers are getting ready to present their budget drafts to their communities’ boards of directors. That is, if the association’s fiscal year is the same as a calendar year. However, no matter what the fiscal year schedule is, it’s important that mangers take certain steps to keep the budget process on the right track all year long.
One of the more challenging tasks an association board faces every year must be their annual budget. Requiring the number-crunching aptitude of skilled accountants, coupled with the board’s clairvoyance to predict not only repairs needed in the year ahead but also global inflation, budgeting is not to be approached without careful introspection into the facts and figures of the community. We spoke with John Grady, CPA of Bogush & Grady CPAs, LLP in Rhinebeck, New York for an accountant’s insights on this topic.
Let’s say, hypothetically, an association begins to consider the installation of security cameras in its common areas in order to protect residents. The board noticed a dramatic increase in crime in surrounding neighborhoods, so they felt this would be a good decision for community. However, if they install this system, are they opening up their association to liabilities it didn’t previously have? What are the best practices for an association to follow when using and installing security cameras?
Unpaid assessments can create a great deal of stress for an association, leaving both management and boards feeling helpless. However, an association is not helpless. Attorney David Byrne, of Ansell, Grimm & Aaron, PC, shared two recent scenarios where associations were able to recoup monies lost and ensure payment of ongoing assessments, all without breaking the bank, or in this case, the budget, by using creative and smart efforts.
Newsflash readers — we do get out! In addition to providing publications and an informative website, Brainerd Communications, Inc. produces events branded under our trademark, AssociationHelpNow™ to educate and facilitate discussions on many condo and HOA-related topics. On September 26th, managers and board members, many from high rise buildings on the coast, gathered at Ocean Club Condominium, a thirty-four story luxury building on the Atlantic City Boardwalk, to network, learn and tour the building. Managers in attendance earned 2 CEUs toward their professional designations.
Excerpt from AssociationHelpNow™ Condo/HOA Primer by Raymond Dickey
Author Note: With hurricane season on the horizon, we thought this chapter from my book would be useful to our readers.
What happens when a property damage disaster occurs in an association? What steps need to be taken at the time of the disaster and afterwards in order to restore the property to its pre-disaster condition? Who is responsible for taking the necessary actions, the residents or the association? We spoke with Tom Licciardi of Accurate Reconstruction in Somerville, New Jersey to answer these questions.
You own a 300-unit condominium and you want to inspect your building’s façade in the most efficient way. You’ve heard drones can be a great resource, but you don’t know what to look for when hiring a drone pilot. How can an association ensure they are hiring both a licensed and insured professional, as well as a company with the expertise to interpret data?