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Condo Q & A

ABCs for New Board Officers, Members


QUESTION: I am the newly elected president of the board of directors of my homeowner association. Though I have been reading the advice in your column for some time now, I am not sure how to deal with many of the issues that our association is facing.

I am also unsure of my role as president. The former president was quite a dictator. I do not want the liability that comes from acting on my own and would prefer an active board that is fully informed and involved in the decisions.

What advice do you have for new board members and, especially, board presidents?

ANSWER: New board members should become familiar with all of the association's legal documents, prior board meeting minutes, and the policies and procedures that have been established by the previous board's actions.

A new publication, "The Role of the Association President" by Robert T. Dennistoun, is available from Community Assns. Institute. It defines the president's responsibility as leader of the association, including information about conducting board meetings, using committees effectively, speaking for and acting on behalf of the association and working with managers. You can obtain the booklet by sending a check for $17 made out to CAI to P.O. Box 84303, Los Angeles 90073-0303. Allow six weeks for delivery.

The Greater Los Angeles chapter of Community Assn. Institute will be presenting a seminar for condominum, cooperative and homeowner association board members on April 3 at the Pacifica Hotel in Culver City. The leadership training program includes an excellent manual about budgeting, rules enforcement, legal issues, insurance and management for all types of community associations. Contact Kathleen Daniels at (213) 285-8286 for additional information. Advance reservations are required.

Every local chapter of CAI presents this training program for board members. If you live outside of Los Angeles, check your telephone directory to find your local CAI chapter.

Reasonable for Owner to Want 'For Sale' Sign

Q: As the property manager of a planned development, I am concerned about the information in a recent column regarding "For Sale" signs. You wrote: "Since you own a percentage of the common area, your association should allow you to place a sign on the common area. . . ." For the past 18 years I've been operating under the belief that our association owns, insures, maintains and manages all common areas through the duly elected board members.

It is my understanding that homeowners have an interest or own shares in the corporation and may vote to elect the board and have a right to use recreational facilities.

However, I question whether the owners actually have a direct interest or own a percentage of the common areas (real estate). Such a scheme could result in chaos as some may claim a right to use a portion or a percentage of the common area for their own purposes. It would be legally impossible to press charges against a homeowner for damaging any common area property if they were co-owners, for example.

Would you please elaborate on this very important issue?

A: Since the association that you manage is located in Brea, I will refer you to the California Civil Code's explanation of ownership of the common area which appears in Section 1362: "Unless the declaration (CC&Rs) otherwise provides, in a condominium project, or in a planned development in which the common areas are owned by the owners of the separate interests (units, lots or parcels), the common areas are owned as tenants in common, in equal shares, one for each unit or lot."

If your association is like most others, the association does not receive a property tax bill for the common area. Instead, the property taxes assessed to the common area are split according to the percentage of ownership and are paid by all of the owners as a part of their individual property taxes.

This has no bearing on the association's authority to enforce the legal documents or require an owner to pay for damage to the common area. The declaration of covenants, conditions and restrictions spells out the owners' responsibilities and the association's authority to enforce the legal documents.

In other words, the owner does not have the right to stake out a portion of the common area and say, "This is my portion. I'm going to plant a palm tree here." However, it is reasonable for the owner to request permission to place a "For Sale" sign on the common area and, in my opinion, it is unreasonable for the association to deny the owner the privilege of placing a sign that complies with state and local laws.

Your association may have a restriction in the legal documents that requires that any "For Sale" sign be a certain size or color. If so, the board of directors should review California Civil Code, Sections 712 and 713, and seek legal advice if it is unsure of the association's authority.

Hickenbottom is past president of the Greater Los Angeles chapter of the Community Associations Institute (CAI), a national nonprofit research and educational organization. She welcomes readers' questions, but cannot answer them individually. Readers with questions or comments can write to her in care of "Condo Q&A," Box 5068, Thousand Oaks, Calif. 91360.

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