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Speaking Out

Folks Who Give Homeowner Boards Gray Hairs

November 18, 1990|DENISE ARANT | Denise Arant is a novelist and former television producer who lives in Glendale

Being on the board of directors of a homeowners association is a whole lot like the old joke about being tarred and feathered and run out of town on a rail . . . if it wasn't for the honor I would have just as soon walked.

However, like another very old joke, it's a filthy, rotten, dirty job, but somebody's got to do it.

After two years, one as treasurer, one as president, I have compiled a list of the problem people encountered by a board member. These are the people who make the fairly simple role of the association into a quagmire of hurt feelings and personal animosity.

Problem No. 1. Veterans. The old-timers who have been with the association since before recorded time. They have no doubt that the old way is better and the new ways are just a waste of money.

They've never had a reserve study taken, they've never painted, relandscaped or raised the dues. They still think you can get a gardener for $80 a month, and they have not foreseen the need to tackle major maintenance. Consequently, there is not one penny set aside for future capital expenses.

Every conversation leads to 10 years ago, as in, "For 10 years we never needed a new sump pump." "For 10 years we have had the same landscaping." "'The roof has been good for 10 years."

There is nothing, not car insurance, groceries or the price of a movie ticket that is the same as it was 10 years ago. Things do wear out and have to be replaced, even in a mere 10 years' time.

Problem No. 2. The Cheapskate. This is different from the old-timer and in many ways worse. This person wants to hoard the association funds and can't bear to part with an amount over $200.

This person acts as if every expense, however necessary, is a personal affront and fights like a demon to prevent any amount being spent on preventive care.

Consequently, the association dies by inches. They will dole out $200 every few months to repair the old sump pump, refusing to see how this rapidly expands to an amount greater than the total replacement cost of the pump.

When the old clunker finally has to be replaced, do they see the error of their ways? Do they recognize the folly of pouring dollars into a problem without solving it? Nope. They will continue to complain that the old sump pump was fine and "could have been fixed" for, yup, a few more hundred dollars.

Associations are nonprofit organizations. The money in the operating account is expressly for taking care of the grounds and building. It is not the job of the board to pinch pennies and build up a bank account. It is the job of the board to maintain the property and insure its continued value.

Problem No. 3. Time Burners. These are the folks that place absolutely no value on time, theirs or, worse yet, yours. Consequently, they want to drag out meetings, take in extraordinary numbers of bids for services, debate every nickel, create a committee for every decision and rehash old business that has been settled and decided. (i.e. "I still say we shouldn't have replaced that sump pump!")

Since they place no value on time, they see no sense in spending any dollars to alleviate the workload of the board. They love the coffee klatching and endless phone calls.

They respond to every situation with a suggestion that more time-consuming activities be taken up, that memos be written, rules be drafted and letters be sent. Often, they have no real social life and the association is their "hobby."

Problem No. 4. Slobs. "Slob rule" is my name for totally inane, silly rules that come into being because some people are mindless slobs. "No one is to throw lit cigarettes off the balconies." "Bicycles are not to be left blocking the common walkways." "No operating of power tools before 7 a.m." "No horn honking in the common area garage." "Food items such as corn cobs, half-eaten candies and soft drinks are not to be left along the walkways."

The very idea that these rules exist reveals a kindergarten mentality at work. No adult should have to make and enforce such rules. It's degrading. Unfortunately, where there are slobs there will be slob rules.

Problem No. 5. Slob Taste. This is closely related to No. 4 as they are often the same people. The board, which is already overburdened and stressed for time, will routinely entertain requests to place washing machines, dryers, refrigerators and mattresses on the balconies, hold garage sales on the common lawns and string clotheslines along the terraces.

Problem No. 6. Blamers. Nary a complaint letter goes out that the residents don't respond by automatically accusing someone else of a worse infraction. "Such and so in No. 11 makes more noise than I do, etc., etc."

The sight of a middle-aged man doing the grown-up version of "all the other kids do it" is quite something to witness. What the board never hears is an apology or any sense of concern that a neighbor was disturbed.

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