The Real Superheroes of Community Association Law

Posted by Meigan Montoya on April 27, 2018

If I had to guess your biggest pet peeve (aside from slow drivers and people who talk in the movie theater), I’d wager that it’s when your homeowners categorically refuse to show up to your board meetings, and then loudly complain about the new rules being implemented from that meeting. You can’t be apathetic AND angry about the consequences, right?

What if I told you that you might be doing the exact same thing?

Like your homeowners, you have the power to bring about positive change in your community (and further, your industry), but only if you dedicate time from your day to make your voice heard. You have so much power to influence the new rules being applied to HOAs and Condo Associations in your state. But there’s a good chance that right now, you’re not going to bat for your best interests. Luckily, someone else might be: Community Association Lobbyists.

Now I bet when you hear the word, “lobbyist,” you picture someone in a fancy suit, covertly trading gossip and big stacks of cash with government officials for decisions on upcoming legislation. That’s what I’ve always thought! Then again, I watch an unhealthy amount of crime TV.

Like your homeowners, you have the power to bring about positive change in your community (and further, your industry), but only if you dedicate time from your day to make your voice heard.

Still, when I sat down last month with Travis Moore, a lobbyist fighting on behalf of Florida Community Associations, I was surprised. There was no sinister grin, he didn’t speak in riddles or make thinly-veiled threats or bribes. He was a smooth talker, sure, but that isn’t what kept me hooked on the conversation. He had a wealth of knowledge, and he had so much passion for the HOA and Condo Association industry. His opinions were thorough and spoke directly and clearly to the benefit of the CAM industry.

Obviously television has steered me wrong. A lobbyist is not a professional briber. A lobbyist is an influencer who specializes in communicating your best interests to the officials who, quite honestly, just cannot understand the needs of every single one of the people they represent. As Travis says, “There’s no way they can be an expert on everything!”

The Not-So-All-Knowing 

One of the biggest “aha!” moments of this meeting was hearing that as a lobbyist, it’s Travis’ job to keep lawmakers informed on topics that affect community associations. I think it’s easy for people to assume that government officials know and understand all perspectives of an issue and simply choose to pick the least productive, least beneficial option when casting their votes. That isn’t true—more often than not they’re just spread too thin. That’s where industry lobbyists come in.

“Lobbying is all information, and providing information,” Travis says. “They [lawmakers] have a 60-day session dealing with 3,000 bills and thousands of amendments—there’s no way they can be an expert on everything.” And he’s right. Much like you cannot be expected to know the specifics of every single home in every single community you or your management company manages, government officials cannot be expected to know the finite details of every single industry, or how their decisions will impact every single facet of that industry.

Competitive Edge

On the other side of every lawmaker, is an army of lobbyists from other industries: Construction, Real Estate, Title Companies, etc. These industries have much deeper pockets than your HOA, and can afford to have a much larger number of lobbyists arguing their point of view. Those guys aren’t villains, but they are looking out for the best interest of the industry and company they represent, which is NOT the community association.

For example, in 2017, the Florida congress worked on a law requiring community associations to provide resale packages with estoppel letters within 5 days of the request, with a cap of only $100 that the association could charge to provide it. AND they wanted to require a laundry list of new questions to be answered in the package.

Gathering that amount of information in such a short time would have put an undue burden on communities

Title company lobbyists loved this idea – it made their job easier, and who doesn’t want to get paid a couple of points on a home resale when someone else is doing all the legwork?

Real Estate lobbyists also loved the idea. Getting the resale package sooner meant that they could go to closing sooner, with less effort to get all the required elements to insure that the sale would go through— money in their pocket.

Even the lawmakers loved it, because it sounded like one of those no-brainer pieces of legislation that helps out the little guy (the homeowner) so they can get what they need in a timely manner for a reasonable price. After all, said one lawmaker according to Travis, “It’s only pushing a button.”

But it wasn’t a good deal for community associations. “It’s a lot more complicated than just pushing a button,“ states Travis. “Gathering that amount of information in such a short time would have put an undue burden on communities, many of whom are staffed by volunteers.”

And thanks to his and other CAM industry lobbying efforts to help the lawmakers understand that, when the law went into effect, it had a longer turn-around time, fewer questions that needed to be answered, and a higher cap on what the community could charge for their efforts.

Infinite Cosmic Power

All of this makes lobbyists sound very powerful, superhero-like, even. But like any good backstory, CAM industry lobbyists have a secret. Without the backing of CAM professionals, CAM lobbyists have no power. Lobbyists work to help lawmakers make informed decisions, but YOU are the real powerhouse behind them.

Imagine Nick Fury without the Avengers. What would he be? Franchise-less, for starters. Sure, he’s tough, but he’s not equipped to stand up to the onslaught of trouble that he encounters. And while lobbyists’ problems are less “army of aliens” and more “these decisions needed a lot more forethought before being made,” much like Nick Fury, lobbyists need a team of Avengers to help justice prevail for all.

That’s right, you are an Avenger! Suit up.

Your local government needs you and your knowledge!

While a lobbyist can explain the positions and needs of their interest groups, that isn’t always enough to sway a senator’s vote. You, the impacted constituents, are the power standing behind a lobbyist to ensure that your best interests are being considered. If a representative fails to stand by you, you hold the power to do something really wild, like vote them out of office in favor of someone willing to listen to your needs.

Lobbyists work to help lawmakers make informed decisions, but YOU are the real powerhouse behind them.

A lobbyist is there to remind officials of that, but it’s your job to take the time to impress upon your representatives the gravity of their choices and the exact reasons why you hold your opinions.

So how can you do that? Here are a few ideas:

  1. Stay Informed
    If you are in the dark about the laws and issues being considered by lawmakers, then you have no ability to defend against them. And putting your head in the sand like an ostrich will not make the bad laws go away!

    CAI’s Legislation Advocacy Committee (CAILAC) is a good place to start. Subscribe to their blog here or learn other ways you can get involved here.

    Many states also have organizations that will reach out to inform you when laws that may affect you are being considered. Ask your local trade chapter, or community association attorney for a referral to an action group in your area.
     
  2. Vote
    It seems silly to have to say it out loud, but when fewer than 58% of Americans vote in presidential elections, and even fewer in local elections, every vote truly does count. Make sure that you get out to vote at every election – the smaller the race, the more critical your vote becomes.

  3. Reach Out to Your Representatives
    Call your congressional representatives (state and federal). Not sure who they are? Check here. Or text ResistBot and send messages to all of your representatives at once.
     
  4. Sit In at a Town Hall Meeting, and Ask Questions
    Find ways to speak up and speak out about the needs of your industry and the way new laws will impact how associations are run in your state.

  5. And don’t forget to thank your local Community Association lobbyists!

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