Requests that go unanswered, records that cannot be found, meetings that happen behind closed doors, an opaque veil of non-communication. Unresponsive boards are the bane of HOA members—they seem to operate behind an iron curtain of inaccessibility, and over time their behavior and policies can lead to both shareholder apathy and eventual resentment. Shortcomings like these can make a board seem like it is not serving the needs of the unit owners, whether the issue is a matter of bad policy or just a difference of opinion.
HOA boards are generally comprised of members of the community who have volunteered to take on a leadership position within their association. The idea is that each member of a board is serving out of a desire to improve and maintain the community. So why would a board become distant, or want to conceal its operations from other residents?
"Alienation is usually a reaction to a small group—which may be a vocal group—and not the whole community," says J. David Ramsey, an attorney with Ramsey Berman, a Morristown-based law firm. "A vocal few can generate discontent."
Offering another opinion, Bruce Freeman, an attorney with Woehling & Freeman, in Westfield says, "When boards become distant it is more often than not a function of not properly following procedures." Freeman's believes that many of the boards that are accused of being indifferent or unresponsive may instead have a good faith disagreement with an angry shareholder.
"I'm not naïve, and I do understand that there have been boards that have frozen out members of the community due to a personal agenda, but those instances are in the great minority," says Freeman. "More often than not, the perceived distance is due to something like not having open meetings in accordance with the Real Estate Disclosure Act, or not offering alternative dispute resolution (ADR). In my experience, most boards take their duties very seriously."