Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Solar Power

The U.S. Department of Energy has just released, in conjunction with the Solar Foundation, guidelines for solar panel architectural restrictions in homeowner associations.  The publication can be found here:    http://thesolarfoundation.org/sites/thesolarfoundation.org/files/HOA%20Guide_Final.pdf  

It notes that over half the homes in homeowner associations would be good candidates for solar panels, and if just 5% of all homes within homeowner associations were to “go solar”, emission reductions would be the same as removing over a million vehicles from the road.  Also noted in the publication, the state of Georgia does not currently have statutes on this topic, but pending legislation may change this in 2014.  Increasing panel efficiency and soaring energy consumption have sustained growing homeowner interest in this area. 

With that in mind, now is the time for your Board of Directors to establish explicit regulations addressing items such as placement of panels, removal of trees, impact on future tree installations or other architectural requests,  etc.   Establishing expectations now reduces frustration leading to negative and combative homeowners. 

Better yet, a Board-appointed committee that garners homeowner buy-in makes it less likely that someone will want to take advantage of future government regulations negatively impacting curb appeal.  For example, the community reaches agreement that panels should be restricted to the back roof of any home.   Homeowners start installing according to this regulation.  A few years from now, neighbors are less likely to install panels on the front of the roof, or in the front yard, if the government prohibits restrictions on panel placement.

As with any Association regulation, voluntary compliance grows from mutual respect nurtured over a period of time.  Have your homeowners proactively involved developing rules on “hot” topics such as solar panels!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Air Up There

While “black mold” has been on the radar for years, a similar health concern is being elevated with the release of monitoring standards for Legionella.  This bacterium is the source of Legionnaire’s disease, a type of pneumonia with up to a 30% fatality rate.  According to the Centers for Disease Control, between 8,000 and 18,000 individuals are hospitalized each year and 120,000 have died over the last 30 years related to this lesser known bacterium. What's worse? Up to 70% of all building systems are contaminated!

Although this is a “standard” and not law, the courts do look to such promulgations when determining liability.  In a New Jersey case (Anthony Vellucci v Mack-Cali Real Estate) decided a few weeks ago, the reason the owner of a business office building was not held responsible for a Legionella death was because of a lack of recognized standards. This was the case then, but  upcoming ASHRAE (the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers) action will change this for future suits. 

After several years of obtaining feedback on the topic, ASHRAE  is posting standards this year that apply to buildings having any one of following attributes (among others):

     Indoor or outdoor water fountain, whirlpool, spa
Housing of occupants primarily 65+ of age
     10+ stories (including basement levels)
     Cooling tower or evaporative condenser
     Hot water heater shared by more than one home

While a condominium is more likely to qualify, homeowner associations with water amenities do need to be aware of potential exposure.  Homeowner Association claims have occurred in Florida, Maryland, Nevada, and Vermont.  Our society’s litigious nature makes it likely we’ll see claims in Georgia.

Buildings falling under the ASHRAE standard are required to establish hazard analysis and critical control point (HACCP) plans, which must be reviewed annually.  Such plans have long been used in the food industry.  An HACCP team is composed of the building owner (Board of Directors), the owner's building management team or both, and must include at least one person who understands the principles of HACCP and at least one person who understands the building water systems.

Conducting the review is not particularly difficult, and the Internet is filled with sample HAACP plans.  This can easily be incorporated in to your community’s current annual maintenance review, and pointed out as a positive action by the Board during the annual meeting.  

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Epic Fail

All too often, a prospective client approaches Access Management Group, asking us to assume complete control of a community. If you really think about it, this is an unacceptable abdication of homeowner responsibility.  A management company is only supposed to act as a agent of the Association, barred from the decision-making positions reserved exclusively for homeowners.  The Community's Board of Directors makes the decisions, but its the Community Association Manager that ensures that the Board's decisions are put into action. 

The root of such requests is typically due to apathy or tyranny - homeowners who just don't care and want someone else to "deal with" community issues OR homeowners that want the community that they live in to be run "their way."  Both are just the passive and aggressive sides of the same egocentric coin.  Board bullies grab news headlines, but homeowners who choose to “check out” of community involvement are just as damaging.  Carried to the extreme, a community ripped apart by strife or smothered in apathy finds itself in the same place:  under a Court-appointed master.

What can you expect if this occurs?  A court does not step in to the situation on its own.   It must be petitioned by a homeowner, the first of many expensive legal steps.  After a judge agrees that a community is simply limping along, he/she appoints a trustee to manage affairs. Often times, this is an expensive move that doesn't even end up benefiting the association in the least!

In one instance, a trustee assumed control of all association operations and bank accounts. The trustee ran the association as he saw fit and was able to bypass any and all voting processes. There was no homeowner input and no refusing to pay any increased assessments - no matter how much.  The salary cost for the trustee was nearly $64K for four month’s work.  Unlike a volunteer Board of Directors, a trustee is fully compensated for the work, which may run $150 to $300 an hour!

Money motivation finally drove the homeowners to take back governance of their community.  It was an expensive lesson:  The cost of constructive community homeowner engagement is far less than anti-social selfishness. The moral of this story - Be active in your community! If you won't...who will?