Oliner to Running HOA

How Being an Oliner Teaches you Everything You Need to Know to Run a Homeowners Association

I understand that I am the president of my HOA for reasons that I brought upon myself:
1. I repeatedly volunteer services in my neighborhood, like trimming trees and shrubs, picking up trash, and mending broken things.
2. I am fastidiously attentive to detail and read legal documents.
3. I show up at meetings, ask researched questions demonstrating attention to said legal documents, and incite positive change from leadership.
4. I didn’t decline the position when nominated by my neighbors.
Maybe this sounds strikingly familiar to you.

But we at Olin are high achievers. I presumed that I would have something to contribute to this nascent organization. The reality would serve to check my optimism in short order:
1. Some people just really like to complain.
2. People like the idea of an HOA because it means that an HOA theoretically compels other neighbors to “be normal”.
3. People reject the idea that their HOA should apply to them. People feel that they inherently are entitled to their personal version of “normal”.
4. People have zero understanding of what [little] an HOA can do to enforce its provisions.
5. Most people will do as little work (paid or volunteer) as possible. See also number 1.
I wasn’t sure what I had gotten myself into. Was I the right person for this job? Maybe I should defer to someone else with better people skills, thicker skin, or more personal ideas for how the HOA should act.

My father-in-law told me years ago that being an HOA board member is a thankless job. And perhaps the rote tasks of selecting contractors, managing the management company, and completing required documentation are invisible, thankless work. But I have learned valuable life lessons serving as president of my little neighborhood’s homeowners association. To this end, I assure that you being a member of the Olin community has fully prepared you for running a homeowners association of your own—even if it feels overwhelming at first. Granted, you’ll be as fastidious as any when reading your community’s legal documents and consulting with its legal counsel. You’ll also bring the fabulous, intangible skills that all Oliners develop to bear on an unsuspecting board of directors.

First, create a bubble. People value a sense of community. Creating a neighborhood identity through inspirational messages on the sidewalk’s sandwich board, annual neighborhood events, and a digital forum helps people feel like they belong. This place is home.

Second, spread the “do something” spirit. People are apt to follow. Neighborhood work days to spread new mulch on the playground, to pick up trash around the common areas, and to plant shrubs bring neighbors out of the woodwork to talk and bond over a shared project. You have to be the first one out, with tools to share, and instructions to give.

Third, work to resolve problems as a team. People become defensive when chastised, especially when protecting their home turf. The positive effects of the community bubble and the “do something” spirit are lost on angry neighbors. A neighbor who realizes that an HOA’s bark is often worse than its bite can call the HOA on it in a very expensive way. With HOA funds coming from only one source—the neighbors—one person’s fight can quickly become everyone’s fight. Head off problems before they become more than a complaint to eliminate the risk to time, money, and emotional health. The application of active listening skills may be sufficient to handle the complainant, and the application of sincere empathy may be sufficient to compel the defendant.

An HOA is a special type of business. There are numerous laws, bylaws, regulations, and exceptions thereto that come into play. With the right resources at hand and the skills you practice every day in the Olin community, you too can give back to your neighborhood in a very tangible way.

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