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Basic Training for Board Members

A Guide For New Volunteers

It is important that a new volunteer board member understands the structure of a common interest development, the association’s authority over the property and its owners, and the unique manner in which an association is governed.

Common Interest Developments did not exist 60 years ago.

They were created in the early Sixties primarily for two reasons: to enable builders to build more homes on a given parcel and, to allow development on parcels that included land that otherwise would be unbuildable. Where a single-family detached housing development might place four to six homes on each acre of ground, attached housing can accommodate much higher densities, as many as ten to fifteen per acre—in low rise developments—and many more in high rise buildings. Land unsuitable for construction within a parcel can be avoided by clustering homes on the buildable portions of the land and ceding the rest to “common area.”

Greater density and clustering of homes brings with it special governance challenges. Where an owner typically maintains a single-family home, attached housing requires community maintenance. High-density living also demands rules for behavior and the use of property that are not necessary in less dense developments. In short, the higher the density, the more that must be done to accommodate the common interest. Housing which has elements of rules and common maintenance are referred to as “common interest” developments, although you will also hear such projects referred to by other names: homeowners associations, condos, town homes, or community associations. Regardless of which name is used to describe a particular project, this type of housing has become ubiquitous. Since approximately 1960, more than 300,000 common interest developments have been built in the United States, providing homes for over 62 million residents.

Being on the board isn’t easy. A newly elected director usually approaches the task with energy, enthusiasm, hope, a commitment to transparency and “getting things done.” This last task requires learning how to govern. Governance entails an understanding of the frame within which directors make decisions and the powers and duties they have under California law.

Governing a community association has many aspects. Some obvious ones include being receptive to membership input, flexibility; and having the courage to look at hard issues and make sound decisions. Good governance includes operating within the parameters of the law and in states which are heavily regulated by statute, that isn’t easy. How much “law” does a director (or a manager) need to know? How can they “compete” with the bloggers who quote legal chapter and verse to attack the board; how can directors assess the validity of legal challenges without always engaging counsel? What are the legal boundaries?

In California, most associations in common interest developments are non-profit corporations with a board of directors composed of property owners that manages the project. This board derives its authority from the governing documents that the builder of the property prepares in accordance with guidelines published by the California Department of Real Estate and California law. These governing documents include corporate Articles of Incorporation and Bylaws, and Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions (CC&Rs) that impose rules and restrictions on the use of property within the development.

The board of directors, acting on behalf of the association, is responsible for the maintenance of the common areas of the property. Boards are also charged with enforcing the governing documents, collecting assessments needed to pay the expenses of the association, and in general, providing for the welfare of the association and its residents.

It is important that a new volunteer board member understands the structure of a common interest development, the association’s authority over the property and its owners, and the unique manner in which an association is governed.

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