What to Do If Your Association Manager Goes Rogue!
Not all relationships work out. This is true in romance and is certainly true when it comes to managing homeowner and condo associations. It's not uncommon for associations like yours to run through multiple association management companies before finding one they want to stick with for the long run.
Here are just a few of the warning signs that your current association management company needs to go:
Repairs aren't getting made
The association manager isn't responding to the board's communications
Repairs and landscaping projects aren't done to an acceptable standard
Money belonging to the association that is managed by the association manager is often unaccounted for
The association manager is rude or unprofessional
Conflicts of interest - like hiring friends or family to do maintenance work - aren't disclosed to the board
Remember that it's better to take action now than to let issues and resentment build up over time. If you think your association's manager is causing problems, sharing your concerns with your association's board now is preferable to doing so later.
Before you submit written notice of your homeowner or condo association's intention to execute early termination procedures, here are some things you should consider:
Pre-Contract Termination Checklist
Ask for a "compass check" meeting. The board president and association manager should be having regular briefings anyway, at which the manager goes over all the issues the association is facing and asks for the board's guidance on how to handle major policy issues. In addition to addressing known maintenance, renovation, collections and tenant issues, a "compass check" meeting should also provide an opportunity for your board to ask and get an answer to the following questions:
Is the association manager struggling to accomplish their tasks?
Is the problem one of competence, training, attitude or lack of resources?
Does the association manager need an office assistant?
Is the association manager operating from offsite? Is an onsite presence more appropriate?
Is there a personal issue contributing to complaints about rudeness or unprofessional behavior? If the issue is being caused by the manager, the association management company should be able to take meaningful steps to correct the issue, up to and including terminating the offending party.
Is there a communication gap? Is the association's contract with the association management company ambiguous or unclear? Is there something the manager is not doing that they don't know they're supposed to do? Sometimes reminding the association manager of their contract's provisions is all that is necessary.
Has there been mission creep? This can happen when the association manager takes on more responsibilities than what is in their scope of work - and more than they are able to handle. Association management companies budget for a certain number of man-hours in their contracts, and that's what their clients' fees pay for. If well-meaning and eager-to-please staffers start taking on tasks outside of the scope of work agreed to in their contract, they won't be able to take care of everything.
Document, Track and Be Specific With Your Grievances
To take appropriate corrective actions with an association management company, it's important to specify, document and track issues carefully. Otherwise, you could run into a "he said, she said" situation in which both sides fundamentally disagree on the facts, making it impossible to move forward.
Here's an example of an unproductive conversation:
Board: "Some of our owners have told us that your new staffer, Becca, was rude to them recently."
Manager: "Can you be more specific? Becca's a sweetheart!"
Board: "No, there are just some things we've heard over the last few months."
An exchange like this doesn't do anything productive. There's no baseline number to track, and no specifics. Without documenting and reporting specific infractions, the association management company won't know how to improve itself going forward - if it even takes the complaints into consideration at all.
A much better conversation to have is this:
Board: "Since Becca joined your staff three months ago, we've seen an increase in the number of complaints about your company. There were only four complaints in the whole prior year, but since she joined 90 days ago, we've received a dozen complaints"
Manager: "Thanks for letting me know. Can you give me specifics? What are the complaints?"
Board: "On May 23 she did X. On June 4, she did Y. On June 17, she did Z ..."
Manager: "Okay, thanks for the feedback. I'll speak with her and get back to you."
Deal With Ethical Issues Quickly
There's no such thing as a perfect association management company. You can work through a lot of honest mistakes and human error in the spirit of good faith and fair dealing - unless you catch someone lying to you. If you discover serious ethical issues on the part of an owner or association management company staffer who should know better, it's time to take decisive action. Either the individual who is taking bribes, stealing money or lying to cover up serious ethical issues needs to go, or the management company should.
Ethics should not be a foreign concept for association management companies. The National Association of Residential Property Managers, NARPM, has a strong focus on industry ethics and offers a number of courses on that very subject to its members. You can even add NARPM's code of ethics as an addendum to any association management contract you sign.
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