In an effort to fund England's military engagements with France during the Hundred Years War, a young King Richard II levied an unpopular poll tax upon his subjects in 1381. A large and almost certainly unanticipated uprising, fueled in part by unhappiness about that tax, occurred later that year. The king's lack of connection to his subjects helped bring about a serious conflict between ruler and ruled.1
Whether they like it or not, owners within condominium and homeowners associations are subject to their community's governing documents and the boards that enforce them. However, the law also requires community association boards to exercise their authority in a reasonable manner, which includes the application of proper skill and diligence to each situation.2
When boards lose touch with their owners and act in ways that are inconsistent with their owners' circumstances and opinions, political upheaval or (perhaps worse) litigation are often the unfortunate result.
Like Richard II, community association boards are, of course, sometimes compelled to deal with pressing financial concerns that have the potential to strain their connections with the owners whom they govern. However, boards should learn from Richard II's example and ask themselves two questions before attempting to raise large amounts of new revenue from owners.
First, are they asking for too much? Second, are they asking too soon? Neither question can be answered in a satisfactory manner without a strong connection to the owners.
Properly evaluating whether a board is asking for "too much" in new assessments requires both the exercise of due diligence (obtaining reports and/or bids from reputable local sources) and a strong connection to the owners. Boards should seek to discover what is important to their owners and what challenges their owners are facing through surveys or meetings.
The ensuing connection will inform the nature and scope of the proposal and make it more likely to be successful. Seeking new funds when connections with owners are weak can lead to ugly "civil wars" that paralyze the community.3
Properly evaluating whether a board is asking for new assessments "too soon" also requires both the exercise of due diligence and a strong connection to the owners. Boards should consider the local economic and real estate climate, and the challenges their owners are facing before making decisions about the timing of new assessments. The recent defeat of a Mercer Island school bond measure illustrates the need to carefully calibrate requests for new revenue to economic realities.4
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