HOA’s Harm
Dysfunctional HOA’s HERE’S YOUR SIGN...
Wherever you find a poorly functioning HOA, you will likely find these patterns. There are distinct patterns. They are repetitive, year after year. They are highly dysfunctional. One set of patterns stems from the overall functioning of the Assn., Boards and Management. The other set is seen among members (mostly “VIP”, “leaders”) in individual and group patterns of communication and social-interaction. How the HOA Functions: 1. “Politicized” interest groups existing over time: (1) A “self- selected” group comprised of members who are heavily engaged in major HOA leisure activities (recreational/social-events, golf, tennis, etc.) and/or long-term “elite”, “VIP’s”; (2) A second “self- selected” group comprised of those wanting to participate in the governance process, strictly seeking power and attention; (3) A third group, also wanting to participitate in governance, but who truly want to serve-the-community; (4) “Bullies” who operate mostly at the behest of the first two groups and function to suppress opposition. Group #1 wants to preserve the “Country Club” or “Leisure-Lifestyle”, a la 1950-80’s. This group views itself as the “elite” and “entitled” to have-the-most-say. They are unwilling to compromise and readily utilize “bully” compatriots to eliminate opposition. Typically, this group has a small “core” with a “satellite” group of followers. Group #2 can overlap with #1, but their common denominator is a lust-for-power and attention. Groups 1, 2 and 3 tend to be organized and focused, since they have either leisure activities and/or self-admiration bonding them together. Group #3 is typically small, not well organized, incohesive in its mission and inconsistent in strength. All three of these tend to be populated by Boomers (1946-61) and Gen-X (1961-81), and are retired or have flexible work schedules that allow them the time to be involved in HOA governance. 2. Leisure First. If an HOA has a golf course, and if that course is open-to-the-public, it is likely struggling financially. Initially, most HOA golf courses were for members only. But, decreased interest in golf over the past 20-30 years has forced many HOA courses to open-to-the-public to increase revenue. Some HOA courses have consistently run at small losses ($100-200K/yr.), while others have incurred growing annual losses up to $500- 600K/yr. If you’re living in an HOA with a golf course that has run at increasingly large losses and hasn’t developed a “Business Plan”, that’s a sure sign of big-trouble-ahead. If the HOA “members” who mostly use the “leisure” amenities/events, and, if that group also hppens to be the “VIP’s” with out-sized political power in the HOA, guess what? They “RULE.” Whateve their leisure activities are, those activities will get the funding and may eventually predominate the HOA budget. 3. Lack of Comprehensive Fire/Flood Protection Plans. As climate-change advances and fire/flood risks increase, HOA’s require more well-designed, comprehensive plans. NFPA.ORG has developed what they call the “Firewise Program” that can be adopted and used by any community to educate residents and train them in fire prevention strategies. Unfortunately, this program can be used as an official-sounding cover by any community that wants to “show” it is “ready” for fires. It is a good program, but can be misused. If your HOA is in a high- fire-risk area and it has a “Protection Plan”, see if that plan includes the two most proven methods of fire prevention: (1) Fire Lanes surrounding your community; and, (2) Clearing of under-brush. If your HOA’s plan does not include these, you’re property is at risk! 4. “Discrimination” against families with children . This exists in a “de facto” form reflected in a historical emphasis on amenities primarily for adults, e.g., golf, tennis, country-club activities. It further appears in board resistance to family- oriented amenities and services (e.g., existing family/child amenities are neglected and new ones are not developed). One large HOA in CA allowed its golf course to go year-after-year with huge deficit funding (avg. $545K/yr.), plus making many course/program upgrades. Meanwhile its other amenities were sorely neglected, one (a community center with a youth program) to the point of closure and necessary demolition. 5. Less-Favored-Amenities get NO regular, routine, scheduled maintenance. Maintenance is inconsistent, driven by member complaints, routinely deferred to another year or to some lesser form of maintenance, at lower cost. 6. “Plans & Priorities” are disconnected, year-to-year, Board-to-Board, e.g. focus one year may or may not carry over. Although this pattern may affect the favored amenities, they continue to survive, but for the less favored ones, this pattern is a near death-sentence. 7. Long-term planning is given only lip-service. There appears to be no real comprehension of “Strategic Planning”, how it works or its benefits. 8. Frequent failure to anticipate problems and ongoing lack of advanced preparation; frequent comments like, "unexpected", "unanticipated" expenses/events, many involving substantial sums. This, then, becomes a rationale (excuse) to not devote funding to less favored amenities. 9. Definitive, even extensive, plans made with no or minimal follow-up, e.g., architectural plans to remodel a Community Center drawn in 2001, never done; A Comprehensive Community Recreation Plan, only minimally implemented. The HOA in question, planned to either not replace the Community Ctr., or replace it at some distant date or in some reduced form - specific violations of State Law. 10. Problems frequently noted with no or minimal follow-up, e.g., repairs needed to a Club House, stables and teen center; updating of governing documents; pool open year-round; all noted over-and-over at boards meetings, with no follow-up, or, obfuscated follow-up. 11. Repeated Problem-Solving Using the Same Previously Unsuccessful Methods. This pattern is extremely wide-spread within HOA’s and appears responsible for most of the failures-to- perform/produce-results in many areas. 12. Frequent boasting of "accomplishments" by Boards, Committees and managers/departments with items that are vague, minutia, long-over-due, low-priority or where essential/underlying problems were not addressed, i.e., only a surface fix. 13. Reactionary-style of Governance & Management vs. Proactive. 14. Minimally transparent financials and annual reports, e.g., richly-funded golf vs. impoverished funding to non-golf amenities; high costs for “Security”; poor recovery rates in delinquencies; budget categories with hidden items; budget items without definition. 15. High Turn-Over: Director's, GM's, staff, e.g., one HOA we know has had 14 GM’s since 1992, 10 Food/Bev. Managers since 2001, 15 Directors resigned or recalled in one 5 year period, many Committee-Chairs resigned and several in golf pros left. This obvious pattern is often ignored as if it was of no-consequence or interest to anyone. 16. Absence of honest, objective critique of anything. 17. Focus on Short-Term "Improvements", "changes", "progress" with little-to-no long-term performance change, e.g., delinquencies, Golf losses, Lake care, development of family-oriented amenities. 18. Continuous pattern of mocking & rejecting alternative problem solutions especially by “VIP” Directors, Committee members & others. 19. Member Input Often IGNORED. HOA Sanctioned Survey results; at Board Meetings. 20. Open, Active Suppression of Dissent, within the Board, Administration and the Community as a whole. Public scorning/discrediting of dissenters openly and covertly encouraged by “VIP” Directors/members. 21. Resistance to organizational/management ideas viewed as "outside" or as divergent from traditional HOA thinking, e.g., “Strategic Planning.” 22. “Communication-problems” between Board-and- Membership. Poor listening-skills among board, managers, committee chairs. “Zero-sum outcome” mindset. “Solutions” often superficial and rarely derived from consensus-compromise. 23. "Board Instability." High director turn-over. Active suppression of dissent: “One Voice Policy.” Lots of “political” maneuvering. 24. Boards Ignoring Committee Recommendations. Primarily for NON-VIP favored things. 25. Pronounced Favoritism toward selected amenity(ies), e.g., golf. Course gets regular/routine/meticulous maintenance, repairs require minimal justification and done quickly. Other amenities must make formal request, present “acceptable” justification(s), often get delayed/rejected. 26. Passing burden of past “errors” onto current members. Example, despite several professional consultants noting mismanagement in several areas of HOA functioning, leading to Reserves being under-funded (at 19% level), HOA made significant dues increases without any comment on this history. 27. New/Prospective Home Buyers Have No Access to Full, Objective Information on HOA. No objective/critical information on overall current or historical functioning available. Buyers cannot make an “informed decision.” 28. “VIP” Leaders View HOA as their “Fiefdom”. View HOA as “Village ”, despite large population (6,500); being one of the largest employers in the county; having an annual budget of nearly $10 Million; and, being a diverse, complex community. Result = Community needs chronically under-estimated. 29. Majority of Members Disenfranchised from Governance Process. Only 30% vote in Board elections (since 2000). Infrequent and misguided efforts to “engage” members in meaningful community-building. Cover-up of fiscal irregularities and rigged elections. 30. Election Irregularities. Many claims of election irregularities for years! In-house reviews of elections revealed profound problems - BUT, never released to the members. 31. “Bully Sub-Culture.” Creates a fear-laden environment. Significant negative impact on governance/community-relations. In existence many years. A major source of false, misleading information. Several bullies are past directors, directorial- candidates and past employees. Forms -- cyber-bullying, violence (physical and verbal), threats, abuses-of-power by directors and staff, false reports to law enforcement, threats of litigation and misguided litigations against the Assn. 32. “Environmental Control Rules” selectively and inconsistently enforced. Many properties remain poorly-to- marginally kept. Appears mostly unchanged from past years. EC Dept. continues same unsuccessful compliance strategies. 33. No limits on rentals or Airbnb units. Reportedly, 15-20% of houses are rentals and over 24 Airbnb’s exist. 34. HOA publications ONLY “Window-Dressing”. Contents are so routinized/canned members ignor it. Portrayal of HOA is
HOA’s Harm
Dysfunctional HOA’s HERE’S YOUR SIGN...
Wherever you find a poorly functioning HOA, you will likely find these patterns. There are distinct patterns. They are repetitive, year after year. They are highly dysfunctional. One set of patterns stems from the overall functioning of the Assn., Boards and Management. The other set is seen among members (mostly “VIP”, “leaders”) in individual and group patterns of communication and social-interaction. How the HOA Functions: 1. “Politicized” interest groups existing over time: (1) A “self- selected” group comprised of members who are heavily engaged in major HOA leisure activities (recreational/social-events, golf, tennis, etc.) and/or long-term “elite”, “VIP’s”; (2) A second “self- selected” group comprised of those wanting to participate in the governance process, strictly seeking power and attention; (3) A third group, also wanting to participitate in governance, but who truly want to serve-the-community; (4) “Bullies” who operate mostly at the behest of the first two groups and function to suppress opposition. Group #1 wants to preserve the “Country Club” or “Leisure-Lifestyle”, a la 1950-80’s. This group views itself as the “elite” and “entitled” to have-the-most-say. They are unwilling to compromise and readily utilize “bully” compatriots to eliminate opposition. Typically, this group has a small “core” with a “satellite” group of followers. Group #2 can overlap with #1, but their common denominator is a lust-for-power and attention. Groups 1, 2 and 3 tend to be organized and focused, since they have either leisure activities and/or self-admiration bonding them together. Group #3 is typically small, not well organized, incohesive in its mission and inconsistent in strength. All three of these tend to be populated by Boomers (1946-61) and Gen-X (1961-81), and are retired or have flexible work schedules that allow them the time to be involved in HOA governance. 2. Leisure First. If an HOA has a golf course, and if that course is open-to-the-public, it is likely struggling financially. Initially, most HOA golf courses were for members only. But, decreased interest in golf over the past 20-30 years has forced many HOA courses to open-to-the-public to increase revenue. Some HOA courses have consistently run at small losses ($100-200K/yr.), while others have incurred growing annual losses up to $500- 600K/yr. If you’re living in an HOA with a golf course that has run at increasingly large losses and hasn’t developed a “Business Plan”, that’s a sure sign of big-trouble-ahead. If the HOA “members” who mostly use the “leisure” amenities/events, and, if that group also hppens to be the “VIP’s” with out-sized political power in the HOA, guess what? They “RULE.” Whateve their leisure activities are, those activities will get the funding and may eventually predominate the HOA budget. 3. Lack of Comprehensive Fire/Flood Protection Plans. As climate-change advances and fire/flood risks increase, HOA’s require more well-designed, comprehensive plans. NFPA.ORG has developed what they call the “Firewise Program” that can be adopted and used by any community to educate residents and train them in fire prevention strategies. Unfortunately, this program can be used as an official-sounding cover by any community that wants to “show” it is “ready” for fires. It is a good program, but can be misused. If your HOA is in a high- fire-risk area and it has a “Protection Plan”, see if that plan includes the two most proven methods of fire prevention: (1) Fire Lanes surrounding your community; and, (2) Clearing of under-brush. If your HOA’s plan does not include these, you’re property is at risk! 4. “Discrimination” against families with children . This exists in a “de facto” form reflected in a historical emphasis on amenities primarily for adults, e.g., golf, tennis, country-club activities. It further appears in board resistance to family- oriented amenities and services (e.g., existing family/child amenities are neglected and new ones are not developed). One large HOA in CA allowed its golf course to go year-after-year with huge deficit funding (avg. $545K/yr.), plus making many course/program upgrades. Meanwhile its other amenities were sorely neglected, one (a community center with a youth program) to the point of closure and necessary demolition. 5. Less-Favored-Amenities get NO regular, routine, scheduled maintenance. Maintenance is inconsistent, driven by member complaints, routinely deferred to another year or to some lesser form of maintenance, at lower cost. 6. “Plans & Priorities” are disconnected, year-to-year, Board-to-Board, e.g. focus one year may or may not carry over. Although this pattern may affect the favored amenities, they continue to survive, but for the less favored ones, this pattern is a near death-sentence. 7. Long-term planning is given only lip-service. There appears to be no real comprehension of “Strategic Planning”, how it works or its benefits. 8. Frequent failure to anticipate problems and ongoing lack of advanced preparation; frequent comments like, "unexpected", "unanticipated" expenses/events, many involving substantial sums. This, then, becomes a rationale (excuse) to not devote funding to less favored amenities. 9. Definitive, even extensive, plans made with no or minimal follow-up, e.g., architectural plans to remodel a Community Center drawn in 2001, never done; A Comprehensive Community Recreation Plan, only minimally implemented. The HOA in question, planned to either not replace the Community Ctr., or replace it at some distant date or in some reduced form - specific violations of State Law. 10. Problems frequently noted with no or minimal follow-up, e.g., repairs needed to a Club House, stables and teen center; updating of governing documents; pool open year-round; all noted over-and-over at boards meetings, with no follow-up, or, obfuscated follow-up. 11. Repeated Problem-Solving Using the Same Previously Unsuccessful Methods. This pattern is extremely wide-spread within HOA’s and appears responsible for most of the failures-to- perform/produce-results in many areas. 12. Frequent boasting of "accomplishments" by Boards, Committees and managers/departments with items that are vague, minutia, long-over-due, low-priority or where essential/underlying problems were not addressed, i.e., only a surface fix. 13. Reactionary-style of Governance & Management vs. Proactive. 14. Minimally transparent financials and annual reports, e.g., richly-funded golf vs. impoverished funding to non-golf amenities; high costs for “Security”; poor recovery rates in delinquencies; budget categories with hidden items; budget items without definition. 15. High Turn-Over: Director's, GM's, staff, e.g., one HOA we know has had 14 GM’s since 1992, 10 Food/Bev. Managers since 2001, 15 Directors resigned or recalled in one 5 year period, many Committee-Chairs resigned and several in golf pros left. This obvious pattern is often ignored as if it was of no-consequence or interest to anyone. 16. Absence of honest, objective critique of anything. 17. Focus on Short-Term "Improvements", "changes", "progress" with little-to-no long-term performance change, e.g., delinquencies, Golf losses, Lake care, development of family-oriented amenities. 18. Continuous pattern of mocking & rejecting alternative problem solutions especially by “VIP” Directors, Committee members & others. 19. Member Input Often IGNORED. HOA Sanctioned Survey results; at Board Meetings. 20. Open, Active Suppression of Dissent, within the Board, Administration and the Community as a whole. Public scorning/discrediting of dissenters openly and covertly encouraged by “VIP” Directors/members. 21. Resistance to organizational/management ideas viewed as "outside" or as divergent from traditional HOA thinking, e.g., “Strategic Planning.” 22. “Communication-problems” between Board-and- Membership. Poor listening-skills among board, managers, committee chairs. “Zero-sum outcome” mindset. “Solutions” often superficial and rarely derived from consensus-compromise. 23. "Board Instability." High director turn-over. Active suppression of dissent: “One Voice Policy.” Lots of “political” maneuvering. 24. Boards Ignoring Committee Recommendations. Primarily for NON-VIP favored things. 25. Pronounced Favoritism toward selected amenity(ies), e.g., golf. Course gets regular/routine/meticulous maintenance, repairs require minimal justification and done quickly. Other amenities must make formal request, present “acceptable” justification(s), often get delayed/rejected. 26. Passing burden of past “errors” onto current members. Example, despite several professional consultants noting mismanagement in several areas of HOA functioning, leading to Reserves being under-funded (at 19% level), HOA made significant dues increases without any comment on this history. 27. New/Prospective Home Buyers Have No Access to Full, Objective Information on HOA. No objective/critical information on overall current or historical functioning available. Buyers cannot make an “informed decision.” 28. “VIP” Leaders View HOA as their “Fiefdom”. View HOA as “Village ”, despite large population (6,500); being one of the largest employers in the county; having an annual budget of nearly $10 Million; and, being a diverse, complex community. Result = Community needs chronically under-estimated. 29. Majority of Members Disenfranchised from Governance Process. Only 30% vote in Board elections (since 2000). Infrequent and misguided efforts to “engage” members in meaningful community-building. Cover-up of fiscal irregularities and rigged elections. 30. Election Irregularities. Many claims of election irregularities for years! In-house reviews of elections revealed profound problems - BUT, never released to the members. 31. “Bully Sub-Culture.” Creates a fear-laden environment. Significant negative impact on governance/community-relations. In existence many years. A major source of false, misleading information. Several bullies are past directors, directorial- candidates and past employees. Forms -- cyber-bullying, violence (physical and verbal), threats, abuses-of-power by directors and staff, false reports to law enforcement, threats of litigation and misguided litigations against the Assn. 32. “Environmental Control Rules” selectively and inconsistently enforced. Many properties remain poorly-to- marginally kept. Appears mostly unchanged from past years. EC Dept. continues same unsuccessful compliance strategies. 33. No limits on rentals or Airbnb units. Reportedly, 15-20% of houses are rentals and over 24 Airbnb’s exist. 34. HOA publications ONLY “Window-Dressing”. Contents are so routinized/canned members ignor it. Portrayal of HOA is superficial. Does not “engage” members. No effort is made to design for brief or focused-issue-reading. There is NO mechanism to include member participation. 35. Other: Chronic broken promises of greater transparency No PLAN to increase member “engagement” Website not maintained properly Perpetrators of past mismanagement/corruption still active in governance Boards/Managers Blame Members to deflect responsibility “We’re only volunteers” “We’re working on it” “We’ve hired a new GM.” Labeling members as “complainers” Excluding members from committees Members blocked from social-media sites How Individuals/Groups in the HOA Communicate: These behaviors tend to be chronic patterns within a dysfunctional HOA leadership and within the governance process. They obstruct effective problem-solving and decision-making and, thus, damage community-relations and seriously impair association effectiveness. They account for the slow “progress” and frustration experienced by most members within the HOA, regardless of political orientation. Many have asked: "Aren't they aware of their behaviors or its effects?" Unfortunately, the answer is, “No.” Those who often engage in these obstructive behaviors have learned them over long periods of time and have adoped them as “normal” patterns of functioning. Individual Patterns - Stonewalling - delayed, disingenuous or non-responses, endless requests for elaboration. Minimalist Responses - Content-free responses. "When can I get an answer?", "As soon as we know." Manager/Board member contributing little or nothing in a meeting. Dependency on Platitudes - Pointless, unoriginal, comments made as if significant or helpful. "We will agree to disagree". "It is what it is". Used excessively. Inadequate Follow-Up - Promises of response but delays. Obfuscation - Sounding logical/reasonable, but eventually confusing. Roiling - Heating-up a discussion or keeping debate going; instigating toxic conflict. Duplicity - Speaking/acting in different ways to different people re the same matter. Equivocation - Using ambiguous or unclear expressions. Lack of Facilitation - Leaders offer ideas but no assistance. Raising “Concerns” - Leader raises "concerns" that are minor, obscure or easily solvable. Glibness - Glib, cavalier or condescending attitude. Excessive Emphasis on Protocol - Requiring “official prerequisite actions” before any substantive action-plans. Fault Finding - Finding relatively minor or inconsequential errors. Superficial Positiveness - Outwardly positive attitude, believing it constitutes being-more-positive, more effective. Misrepresentations (in general) - Giving only partial information, misleading others. Misrepresenting the Organizational Environment - Partial, incorrect or delayed information re organization dynamics or structure (e.g., who to go to for…). Dysfunctional Creativity - A “new” idea or "innovation", except it makes the original decision more complex. Re-allocating - Redirecting group to efforts other than those the group had already been committed -- creates a divergent drain on group energy. Questioning the Past - Questioning previously settled decisions - Induces group to revisit those previous decisions and spend excessive time. Limiting Exposure - Failing to connect group with resources that might be helpful. Inaccurate/inappropriate use of jargon - "transparency" w/o understanding it’s full meaning. Reverse Personalization - Responding as if personally attacked (verbally), when they were not. Parentalism - dominant, higher-authority attitude Ends justify the means Everything’s part of one big strategy game Group Dynamics - Poor Critical Thinking Skills Lack of skill in interpreting/understanding differing points of view Unquestioning acceptance of status quo Lack of Structure - (1) Unclear lines-of-communication; (2) Uncertain location-of-information; (3) Limited availability of information; (4) Passive, ineffective or aggressive leadership; (5) Absence of Strategic Planning. Lack of Common Understanding - lack full understanding of issue(s). Seeing only what is expected Not recognizing problems Not seeing problems in-perspective Over-emphasis on cooperation Over-emphasis on Win-Lose Thinking Withholding Resources - Not providing necessary resources for task performance. Withholding Support - Specialist information, advice, skills, or authority to act is denied or delayed. Lack of encouragement or the necessary organizational structure to support and expand people's ideas. Undue Stress - Stress due to a dysfunctional organization and obstructionist leaders. Creating a Sense of Futility Wrong People Present/Absent - Key people absent; those present not the decision-makers. Over-Confidence in Using Existing Expert - Existing "experts" are seen as omniscient. Misplaced Trust of Information - Excessive trust in familiar information/source. Failure to question adequacy, extent, or depth of information. Inflexible Thinking - Difficulty switching from one type of thinking skill to another. Physical Discomfort - Meetings of protracted length; inadequate sound system. Unclear Expectations - Leaders happy with solution - we may not look for new, more effective solution(s). If expected to find innovative solution(s) - we may make more effort. Resistence to Change Blocking or Controlling Communication If these dynamics are present and active in any HOA, they are highly destructive to what most members expect and want from a well-functioning homeowner association: IF...they represent repeated patterns within governance/management; IF...they STILL have significant impact today; IF...the assn. appears to have learned only limited lessons from them; IF...the assn., as a whole, continues to ignore them; Then they already have had very negative impacts on homeowner “investment.”