Let’s first take a whimsical look at European Heaven and Hell:
In European Heaven, the Swiss run the government, the Brits run the police, the Germans make the cars, the French prepare the food and the Italians are in charge of romance.
In European Hell, the Italians run the government, the Germans run the police, the French make the cars, the Brits prepare the food and the Swiss are in charge of romance.
We witness the same “heaven or hell” in many of Florida’s Home Owner Associations, or HOAs. That is why so many people have a bitter taste from being in such associations and won’t even consider buying into one again. They may even move. I don’t feel that way. Most HOAs serve a good purpose such as architectural restrictions and sensible rules that protect home values. As a real estate investor, I have been a member of 13 different associations in Okaloosa and Walton counties. I would grade 11 of them as “A” or “A+.” I would grade the other two as “F” or “F-.” They are all either Homeowner Heaven or Homeowner Hell.
In Homeowner Heaven, the board of directors solicits input from the homeowners and acts accordingly. The board works for the owners. In Homeowner Hell, the board dictates their rules to the owners and punish them if they don’t comply. They seem to think that the homeowners work for the board.
In Homeowner Heaven, all homeowners are equal and treated accordingly. In Homeowner Hell, the board treats some homeowners, especially absentee owners and rental owners, as a separate, lower class. They use selective enforcement to punish whistle-blowers and others with whom they disagree. To paraphrase George Orwell, “All homeowners are equal, but some are more equal than others.”
In Homeowner Heaven, the board sets policy and pays an experienced and properly licensed Community Association Manager to manage the association. In Homeowner Hell, the board micromanages the manager who is little more than a puppet. He or she has little experience and may not even be licensed.
In Homeowner Heaven, the board actively encourages owners to speak at board meetings on any subject they wish. In Homeowner Hell, the board discourages owners from speaking by requiring them to submit a “Request to Speak” card in advance and limiting their comments to the few items on the agenda.
In Homeowner Heaven, the manager promptly complies with official record requests for documents. In Homeowner Hell, the board discourages owners from obtaining official records. In one extreme case, the board passed rules requiring owners to pick up requested records only in person and only during limited weekday office hours. That rule makes it extremely hard on absentee owners who may have to travel hundreds of miles just to pick up a simple document. Most don’t even bother.
In Homeowner Heaven, the minutes from the latest board meeting (which are the most important minutes) are posted on the website and clearly marked “DRAFT.” In Homeowner Hell, the latest board meeting minutes are never posted until they are too old and cold. The only way to get the latest meeting minutes is to pick them up in the difficult process described above.
Conclusion: Homeowner associations are controlled by the board of directors. They determine whether you live in Homeowner Heaven or Homeowner Hell. The solution is to elect directors who put their personal agendas aside and put the homeowners’ interests first. If they don’t, vote them out. It’s won’t be easy - but it is better than moving.
Jack Simpson has owned and managed rental properties in Destin since 1974 and has lived in the city since 1983. His column is designed to start conversations in the community. To respond to Jack's column in The Log, email your letter to the editor or guest column to email@example.com. To contact Jack directly, email firstname.lastname@example.org.