When good people get involved in the political process, they create positive change.
By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities
Across the U.S., housing activists and consumer advocates are working with state lawmakers to hold their community leaders – association boards and managers – accountable.
Here are some examples:
California AB-690 would prevent fee gouging and conflicts of interest by requiring management companies disclose financial relationships to association contractors and vendors. The bill would also require disclosure of the origin and purpose of service fees charged to common interest community association members.
Illinois HB 3755 would enact a “loser pays” policy, correcting the current one-sided law that requires members, but not associations, to pay legal costs of the prevailing party when they lose their case in civil court. And HB 2627 would remove a barrier that prevents a condo owner from gaining access to association records – the requirement that each request be for a “proper purpose,” which provides a convenient excuse for unscrupulous association board members or managers to withhold access.
In Hawaii, HB 1499 would allow a unit owner to request mediation with regard to legal fees attached to delinquent assessments, among other changes. (Different versions of the bill have passed both chambers of state Legislature – the bill is now in conference committee.)
The fight for our rights continues
Accountability is so important because it fosters trust in leaders that govern private community associations. That reduces the level of conflict in association-governed communities.
More importantly, when leaders of homeowner, condo, or co-op associations are held accountable, they tend to show far greater respect for homeowner and resident rights.
Nevertheless, special interest lobbies for the HOA industry continue their relentless fight for more power and less transparency, creating multiple barriers to accountability. And as industry leaders exert their political influence, advocates and activists will inevitably find themselves on the receiving end of personal attacks and condescending rhetoric.
“Of course,” they will tell Legislators, “WE are the experts, we know what’s good for homeowners and residents.”
Yes, I say, the profiteers in the HOA industry DO know what’s good for housing consumers, but that rarely means they support the interests of association-governed community residents at large. No, Community Associations Institute and Home Builder lobbies are primarily interested in what’s good for their real estate business interests.
How we know we are on the right track
But take heart. When political opponents get nasty, try to discredit you, try to convince you that your efforts are not making a difference, and try to shut you down, it inevitably means you are RIGHT ON TRACK.
It means you are hitting sore spots, weaknesses in the industry’s house of cards.
The truth is, NO consumer protection or human rights legislative proposal ever gets any attention without signficant public awareness and outcry. And, thanks to combined grass roots efforts across the country, we are seeing more and more awareness and public outcry, starting in states with high numbers of HOAs, condominiums, and housing cooperatives.
The wave is rippling across the country. The tide is turning, because countless homeowners and residents are speaking up and making sure their voices are heard, by way of local, independent, and social media, as well as in more organized public forums.
That’s how dedicated, non-apathetic Floridians have finally convinced state Legislators to pass HB 1237, a bill that creates criminal penalties for condo election fraud and repeated failure to provide access to documents, among other things. It is why, this year, the Utah Legislature passed a law (SB 154) making it easier for homeowners to install solar panels on their properties located in HOAs.
I am a firm believer that widespread awareness and public involvement are prerequisites for legislative change and social transformation.
Keep up the pressure on our elected leaders – in government and private associations – to do the right thing, even if they seem to be ignoring you, and especially if they loudly object.