The Holidays are Almost Here – Is Your Community Ready?

 

Holiday decorations can be beautiful, but can also cause problems for HOAs

 


The holiday season is almost upon us, and that means homes will soon be adorned with lights, sound, and decor, driveways will be stuffed with out-of-town vehicles, and your community will be teeming with holiday cheer. But all of that seasonal joy can be dampened if your residents aren’t up-to-date on the community policies. Now is a great time for the HOA to review its guidelines and send out friendly reminders to residents.

Here are several things to consider this time of year that can help your HOA community stay in the holiday spirit:

Decorations

We all know THAT resident; the one who sees the Grizwold household as a challenge to be accepted. Does your HOA have restrictions on what sort of decorations can go up, or what time frame decorations are allowed? If so, this is a great time to send reminders about rules for inflatable lawn décor, lights, ornaments, and other holiday outdoor decorations. Is music allowed (and if so, are there time and volume restrictions)? What are the penalties for violations and do you have a system in place to quickly notify the homeowner of any violations or penalties? Letting homeowners know about current guidelines before the season is in full swing can help avoid confusion, and alleviate any future headaches.

Visitors

Whether you look forward to a full house, or want to hide from in-laws, there’s no denying ‘tis the season for out-of-town guests to visit. Does your HOA make special exceptions during this time of year to account for the extra vehicles in the community? Does your community have visitor parking, or a community area for vehicle overflow? If additional parking isn’t available, what are some solutions that your association can offer? We highly recommend touching base with your homeowners to help them know what to do with visitors’ vehicles, while following the guidelines of the community. Now may be a great time to put exceptions and provisions up to a Board vote. Ensure your board has access to 24/7 voting, communication, and results with cloud-based software designed to streamline your community management processes.

Communicate and Stay Involved

Who doesn’t love a great holiday party? Now is the perfect time to host a community get-together for neighbors to get to know each other and to learn more about the HOA and the Board. Consider using the clubhouse, park or other community area that can accommodate a large group. Games, treats and libations are always a great way to bring a community together. Giving families and residents a place to get to know each other makes for a tighter-knit community and helps harbor goodwill towards your HOA and Board.

The holidays are an ideal time to share helpful tips and reminders, too. Communication during the holiday season – be it emails, fliers, social media posts, or website updates – helps keep the community safe, respectful, and happy! However, this can be a daunting task with outdated systems that rely on manual processes. Smartwebs can help streamline and simplify communications with your community, and make sure that you have a painless way to spread holiday cheer.

Be Kind

Most of all, remember that this time of year can be stressful for everyone; residents, managers, and board members alike. Josh Hurst provides a great reminder for this time of year.

It’s important for the HOA to pick its battles wisely and keep in mind the best interest of homeowners. Everyone has their own taste and style when it comes to décor.  It is worth starting an uproar over a light display that will come down in a few weeks anyway? If homeowners are in the spirit and not causing disruptions or violating clear rules, enjoy the celebration. The HOA may ask that light displays be reviewed by the architectural committee to prevent anything that is over-the-top and will detract from the appeal of the community as a whole.

HOA’s are here to ensure the community stays safe, desirable, and happy so don’t forget to weave in some holiday happiness in this most wonderful time of year!

HOA Pet Restrictions

Many planned communities, townhome communities, and condominiums (collectively,“Associations” since they are nearly universally governed by one) have restrictions that either prohibit or limit the number, size, and type of pets that can be kept within the community. In general, as long as a restriction prohibiting or limiting pets is clearly drafted, the North Carolina courts will uphold their enforcement; however, they may not be enforceable under the Federal Fair Housing Act “FHA”).

The FHA prohibits housing providers and their agents and governing bodies, such as Associations, from discriminating against a resident or potential resident, regardless of whether the resident or potential resident will be the owner or listed tenant of the housing unit because of the resident’s or potential resident’s disability. The FHA makes it unlawful for Associations to refuse to make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices, or services when such accommodations may be necessary to afford a person with a disability with an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a housing unit. In fact, the Department of Housing and Urban Development has explicitly stated that an exception to a “no pets” policy qualifies as a reasonable accommodation.

Accordingly, Associations must modify their policies, practices, or procedures to permit an individual with a disability to use, own, and live with an “assistance animal” when doing so is necessary to provide the resident an equal opportunity to use and enjoy the housing unit.

It is important to note that the FHA requirement for reasonable accommodation of “assistance animals” in housing situations is much broader than the older, and more familiar, Americans With Disabilities Act (“ADA”) requirement that“ places of public accommodation” allow persons with disabilities to use “service animals.” The ADA’s requirement is limited to dogs that have been specifically trained to provide certain types of assistance such as a seeing-eye dog for a blind person.

In contrast, an “assistance animal” under the FHA can be any animal: a dog, cat, bird, gopher, guinea pig, or what have you, and it does not have to specially trained to provide any assistance. For example, a person with emotional issues resulting in a disability may have a need for the companionship of a “comfort” animal such as a cat or guinea pig, neither of which, so far as is known, can be trained to provide any service. While the animal would not qualify as a “service animal” under the ADA and could be barred from a place of public accommodation such as a restaurant, it may well be included in the FHA requirement for accommodation of assistance animals.

In order for a disabled individual to qualify for a reasonable accommodation from the Association’s pet policies, there must be a relationship between the individual’s disability and the assistance that the assistance animal provides. If this requirement is met, the Association then must permit the accommodation, and allow the individual to keep the assistance animal, unless the Association can demonstrate that allowing the assistance animal would:

  • Impose an undue financial or administrative burden upon the Association;
  • Pose a direct threat to the health and safety of others that cannot be reduced or eliminated by reasonable accommodation; or,
  • Would cause substantial physical damage to the property of others that cannot be reduced or eliminated by reasonable accommodation.

If any of the above factors exist, the Association can prohibit the animal. The FHA denies a person with a disability to include individuals:

With a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities that either:

  • Are regarded as having such an impairment; or,
  • Have a record of such impairment.

The term “physical or mental impairment ”includes, but is not limited to, such diseases and conditions as orthopedic,visual, speech and hearing impairments, cerebral palsy, autism, epilepsy, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, HIV, intellectual disability, emotional illness, drug addiction (other than addiction caused by current, illegal use of controlled substances), and alcoholism.

So what does an Association do if an owner, tenant, guest, or other resident requests a reasonable accommodation for an assistance animal? The Association is entitled to obtain information necessary to evaluate if the request is a reasonable accommodation and whether it’s necessary because of the disability. If a resident’s or potential resident’s disability is obvious or otherwise known to the Association, and if the need for the requested accommodation is also readily apparent, then the Association may not request additional information about the requesting party’s disability or the disability-related need for the accommodation. For example, if an owner-resident who is blind advises the Association that the owner wishes to keep a guide dog in the owner’s home, the Association may not ask for information about the disability-related need for the dog as it is readily apparent that the owner’s disability is connected to the service provided by the dog.

However, if the requesting individual’s disability is known or readily apparent to the Association, but the need for the accommodation is not readily apparent or known, the Association may ask the individual to provide information about the disability-related need for the assistance animal. For example, if an owner-resident who uses a wheelchair advises the Association that the owner wishes to keep an assistance animal in her unit, the association may ask for additional information.

If a disability is not obvious (or the connection between the apparent disability and an assistance animal is not readily apparent), the Association may request reliable disability-related information that:

  • Is necessary to verify that the resident or potential resident meets the Fair Housing Act’s definition of a disability;
  • Describes the need for the accommodation; and
  • Shows the relationship between the person’s disability and the need for the requested accommodation

In such a situation, it is recommended that the Association ask the requesting individual to present documentation from a physician, psychiatrist, social worker, or other mental health professional that the animal provides support which mitigates at least one identified symptom of the disability.

Under no circumstances should the Association:

  • Ask for a deposit, fee, or surcharge in exchange for having the animal.
  • Require that an assistance animal have specific training
  • Require the assistance animal to wear…

 

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