For decades PBS’ Sesame Street and Mister Rogers Neighborhood have given the world beautiful examples of how everyone in a community has their own unique way of being. But as informative as that programming was and is, it never really offered education about living in a governed community like an HOA. Neighborhoods have evolved over time, and the desire to protect property value in many municipalities has resulted in an abundance of Community Associations. These Associations are as varied as the people who reside within them. Here are some ways you can enhance the common interest community experience and be a good neighbor in your Association.
1. It’s a Community- Whether you are in a condo or homeowner’s association, the first thing to remember is that your home is deed restricted. It was designed that way by the builder/developer. Meaning, all homes within the designated community are a part of a Association. These associations exist to help maintain the value of the entire community. You live among a group of owners with whom you share a common interest, and it should be each person’s goal to be the kind of neighbors that everyone wants to have in their community.
2. Know your Governance- Each community has its own set of Governing Documents and it is the responsibility of all within the neighborhood to be familiar with what they are. Owners need to take the time to understand what their responsibility is within the community. What are common areas? Who decides what can or can’t be done to improve my home? Why can’t I have a round metal garbage can with a furry green monster parked in the driveway? Being familiar with the CC&Rs will avoid the uncomfortable experience of being sent a violation notice, or having the neighbors giving you the stink-eye.
3. Be responsible- This includes pets, kids, and visitors. The shared spaces are a part of the collective environment, and as such those who use them should be extra mindful to clean up after themselves and their pets. The same goes for kids. While it’s great to live in a community with amenities like playgrounds and pools, the rest of the neighborhood shouldn’t have to clean up candy wrappers or popsicle sticks carelessly left behind. When hosting visitors for an evening or possibly longer, it is critical to remember that their actions and behaviors are your responsibility, too.
4. Show up, help out-Serving on the Association Board or a neighborhood committee are just two examples of ways that people can positively impact their Association. Chances are that the Governing Documents provide options for establishing of the committees, along with the Board’s responsibility to oversee them. Reasonable Boards love to have volunteers with a willing spirit who are open to lending a hand with projects in the community. Beautification and social events are two easy ways to grow and build a strong and connected community.
5. Know your Neighbors-Whether in a large association or small one, it’s generally a good rule to be acquainted with the people who live in proximity to you. Studies have shown that people with strong connections in their community will have a lower loneliness rate, and according to a study by the University of Michigan, a reduced risk for heart attack. Neighbors are also a great social support system and source of human connection; almost like an extended family. Don’t forget to welcome new neighbors, because you were new once, too.
6. Differences Happen-Even the most agreeable communities will occasionally have disagreements about things. Whether it’s a neighbor-to-neighbor issue, or a former Board member who objects to decisions being made by the new Board, it’s important to remember that not everyone will agree about everything all the time. The best way to address this is to understand the substance of the conflict and not focus on the personalities. Put simply, you should strive to focus on the message not the messenger. If your neighbor is upset about something, try not to take it personally…even if it feels that way.
7. Listen-No, really. Listen. Listen to understand, not to respond. If you are attending a regular Board meeting as a homeowner-member, you can assist in the success of the meetings by not interrupting during the meeting. Open meeting does not mean Open Season. Just as in a city council meeting, HOA/Condo meetings provide a time that those in attendance will have the opportunity to address the Board. This is generally known as ‘Owners Forum’. Otherwise, members are present to observe only. If you want to address a specific item/issue, reach out to the Board or the Community Manager about it and ask if it can be put on the agenda.
8. Be Kind -If you are in a community and have questions about something happening within it, that’s understandable. Items of concern should always be presented in a mature manner. The two reasons people get angry about something or someone else is because a) feelings are hurt or b) expectations have been violated. Odds are that the neighbor with whom you have a problem, doesn’t even know why you are angry. Take a breath and think about how you would like to be approached in the situation and give your neighbor the same courtesy.
9. Keep it Offline-In the era of social media, people all too commonly rant online in the heat of the moment, which serves to make a bad situation worse. Even if you are in a closed or secret group, it is always possible that things posted online can find their way into a more public forum and as a result, have long-lasting negative impact for an Association. In the unlikely event that a situation escalates into a legal one, online posts may be used as evidence in court. Imagine how unflattering it would be to have Bert in a sworn deposition admitting, “Uh yes, your honor, I posted that Oscar is a grumpy garbage-head.” Put simply, #DontPostIt
10. Respect Boundaries-While there may be many enthusiastic members in the community who are excited about creating a village atmosphere, there are likely others who take a little longer to warm up to the idea. Maybe they just left a difficult neighborhood and are still recovering from living next to Oscar the grumpy garbage-head. Perhaps they are just super shy and struggle with being in social settings. You can be a supportive neighbor and friend to create an environment where they can ease into things at their own pace and comfort level. They will appreciate the consideration.
Ultimately, being a good neighbor is about creating relationships with those whom you share a common bond and sense of purpose. Fred Rogers said it best, “Mutual caring relationships require kindness and patience, tolerance, optimism, joy in the other's achievements, confidence in oneself, and the ability to give without undue thought of gain.” True communities are built over time and through years of shared collective experiences, and it’s totally worth the effort. It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood.