Difficult Decisions

Board Members: Making the Difficult Decisions (Oregon Law)
April 15, 2011 | By: Michael Montag

As an HOA board member, you’re constantly between a rock and a hard place. No matter what you do, one contingent of owners hounds you for not doing enough, another congratulates you for doing a great job, and yet a third scolds you for doing too much. This predicament arises over and over, whether the board is dealing with rules enforcement, assessment collection, or simply deciding how often to mow a common lawn; you can’t seem to please everyone. While there’s no secret fix to this ongoing dilemma, there are several things you can do as a board member, especially when just “doing your best” isn’t keeping your blood pressure down.

First: work together. When you hear negative feedback from homeowners, look around. If you’re the only board member involved with the problematic situation, step back and include the rest of the board. Your decisions and actions will hold more credibility if homeowners can see that they are the result of a collaborative process. At the very least, you will alleviate the pressure of feeling like you are in it alone and ensure that you aren’t exposing yourself to personal liability on account of going rogue.

Second: avoid making decisions. (“Wait…what?”) I admit that it is often your responsibility as a board to be the folks who make the tough decisions. However, if you allow the homeowners to vote on major issues whenever possible or practical, and your governing documents either require or allow it, you avoid being the “bad guy” to those who don’t like the outcome. I find there is significantly less griping about bad decisions when homeowners are able to make the informed decisions for themselves, and—as a boar—you can rest assured you didn’t force something down the throats of your unwitting members.

Third: establish (and follow) procedures. Enforcement resolutions, collections resolutions, detailed maintenance plans, etc; these are the tools that effective boards use to maintain harmony in their associations, and—in reality—are merely another way to avoid making decisions. To some, these procedures seem like overkill, and many board members can’t stomach the idea of telling their neighbors about how the association is going to sue them if they don’t pay their dues. But having (and following!) established procedures is actually the best way to keep the peace, because everyone knows what’s coming. Nothing raises an owner’s hackles like the feeling that the board is singling them out or doing something out of their own self-interest. Having clear procedures ensures fairness and consistency. So, if your rules aren’t clear, amend them. If a bylaw provision has been interpreted differently over the years, adopt an interpretive resolution and set the record straight. You get the drift…

Fourth, and finally: rely on experts. The Nonprofit Corporations Act gives this one to you. In fulfilling your duties as a director, you are entitled to rely on attorneys, accountants, and others whose expert opinions may become relevant. It does cost more to have an accountant figure out the discrepancy in your budget or to have a building consultant provide a maintenance schedule for your siding, but it beats being on the hook when it turns out your degree in underwater basket-weaving didn’t adequately prepare you for providing legal advice to your association. So, when you can, let someone else’s expertise, and insurance policy, be the support for your decisions.

Like I mentioned, these tips won’t solve all your problems. You will still have to make difficult decisions, and many of them will be unpopular. However, as an HOA board member, you can’t let a fear of conflict prevent you from doing what needs to be done. So, when you feel stuck, think back to these tips and consider the best way to keep things moving forward.