When I came to Arizona in 1974 and moved into a new HOA, I volunteered to be a part of the HOA board because of my background in civil engineering in the U.S. Air Force — I thought I can help and make a difference.
I was voted in shortly thereafter to a board that oversaw 526 units. The first year I kept my ears open and my mouth shut. The meetings were pretty civil and a good number of the residents showed up.
But it didn’t last long. Only two years into my volunteer job (still active-duty military), the resident support waned (not showing up for meetings). Instead, these meetings were attended by residents who had axes to grind.
Back then, when people bought their houses, they had to sign an escrow agreement that said they read and would abide by the contents and requirements of the HOA’s governing documents (covenants, conditions and restrictions) and the management companies hired to administer those CC&Rs were contractually obligated to enforce the association documents. But it took a lot of months, sometimes six or longer, to get voluntary compliance, or even a reply within 14 days. The homeowner would get a write-up and have 14 days to respond to the first notice. Then a second notice to get voluntary compliance with another 14 days to respond. The third notice would warn of a fine if there was no voluntary compliance. Fines got attached to the houses and wouldn’t be paid until the homeowner sold their house without ever taking care of the original violation.
As an example, people wanted flagpoles in their yards but didn’t want to deal with the design review requirements. They would put them up without prior approval. Then they wanted to fly other flags other than the U.S. flag, state flag or the five branches of the military service (only two were allowed on any one flagpole at that time).
These kinds of things required that we enforce the CC&Rs equally no matter how pissed off or indignant the homeowner was. There was only one way to change the CC&Rs — 90% vote from the homeowners; again, something they agreed to when they signed their documents.
We also had to go through our share of management companies as well — not all are created equally! It wasn’t our fault, but we were responsible to make it right.
After a few more years, there was no support from the majority of the residents. Ten or 20 homeowners were showing up at the meetings to complain while the other 516 remained silent. I would run into some at first who supported us, but it wasn’t really worth their time. Then, nothing. Their silence spoke volumes; they no longer appreciated our volunteerism.
By then, there were more complainers/agitators who would run for a board member position so that they didn’t need to be held to their word as they signed those original governing documents. They thought they could do it better, but in the end they only made matters worse — especially for those who remained silent. In the end, I sold my house there.
So, why is there a volunteer crisis in your HOA?
Board members are under constant personal or threatening attacks from a small vocal number of homeowners that are angered by something else they can’t do anything about. But an HOA board member is a much easier target.
There is no unity in our nation anymore. It’s easier to go on about your lives as long as it doesn’t affect you personally, and if it does affect you personally, to what level or extent can you manage this discomfort? Maybe you’ve joined that same disgruntled group. You’ve given up, and volunteers aren’t getting paid for your guff.
The chaos is winning, America.