Renters' Participation in Association Matters
Where Do You Draw the Line in Renters’ Participation in Your Association?
Recently, I had the pleasure of having to discuss the topic of drawing appropriate boundaries for renter participation in association business. While renters mostly interact with the community like everyone else, there comes a time when boundary reminders and clarifications come up. In each instance where this has become a passionate point, it has been from a renter that has a sense of ownership because of the time frame they have been at the community. In other words, they feel that because they have leased a unit in the community for a few years, they feel they are entitled to the same rights as owners. They want to be heard and they feel their opinions matter just as much as those with their names on the deed.
Don’t get me wrong, I am all for participation and contribution from all members in a community. Having said that however, there are meeting discussions and decisions that should be left solely up to the owners; particularly those where money is involved. The first reason is because most documents are written that way. Unless the association documents allow for renters to attend meetings and participate, they should not. Some may argue that renters may have something useful to say at a meeting. That’s great but at the end of the day, the renter is not the one that may be stuck with paying a Special Assessment or must live in the community with a capital improvement that was paid outside of their calculated rent payment. Owners should be the ones deciding the expenses of the community. A Special Assessment can be tens of thousands of dollars and a renter can choose to move out at any time. Think about a situation where a group of owners and renters want a basketball court added to community. This will not only be a costly capital improvement, but it will require annual maintenance and added insurance. Those interested will certainly enjoy the courts, but it may turn out to be a temporary hobby that the association now needs to maintain forever. Most would agree that if the input and votes came solely from owners (and excluded renters), it would be an acceptable addition.
Committees are a special group of community governance that renters are often allowed to participate in. Again, this is fantastic in promoting the community participation model but be careful in the recommendations being made. If renters are to be allowed participation in committees, there should be a formal resolution made clarifying all roles and duties. The same applies for participation in Board Meetings and other areas where decisions on expenses are to be made. Just think of a situation where a social event is being planned by the Social Committee and decisions on expenses for food and beverage are considered. If you are an active community, these financial decisions will add up throughout the year.
Let’s go over some of the association rights, restrictions, and requirements for renters:
· Renters must abide by all association rules and documents (like everyone else). Abiding by all association Rules and Regulations is usually a condition of a rental agreement.
· Renters can use the common areas. This a right transferred to them. The owner of the unit should not use the common areas when they have the unit rented. Most association documents and some state laws, have language that owners surrender the property use rights while the dwelling is being rented.
· Reviewing association records is an owner’s right but one that an owner can transfer to a renter in writing (check with your attorney).
· Renters may not vote on behalf of the owner (In special situations, I have seen an owner provide a Power of Attorney to allow for this. Check with your attorney.).
· Renters may not attend Board or Member meetings. Most associations allow for only members (owners) to attend Board and membership meetings. A resolution can change that (check with your attorney).
· Fines and violations are documented and sent to the owners; not the renters. Although a renter may be the one generating a violation, the document goes to the owners of the unit and the final resolution is the owner’s responsibility. The association cannot act against a renter, it becomes the owner’s (landlord) responsibility to remedy a situation with a renter.
· Requests from renters from the association must be made through the landlord. Renters should communicate via their landlord when they need something from the association.
There are many more examples we could go over. I recommend you take any of these matters up with your association’s attorney or seek out your management company’s advice. Blurred lines in lease agreements and unenforceable promises from the landlord can attribute to a lack of understanding amongst parties. Always look the association documents and applicable laws so that everyone is playing by the same rules. After all has been said and done, if the Board wishes to adopt changes, it is up to them, so long as the process is done properly.