Amenities add value to communities. Having a place to gather, play tennis or other recreation activities can be the centerpiece of the neighborhood on Maui. And since all members chip in through HOA fees, perks can be provided at a reasonable cost. However, amenities are not without risk
A Homeowners Association is open to liabilities providing such amenities. It’s important to be fully aware of risks and take appropriate steps to minimize them. It may mean saving a lot of money down the road.
Identify Your Risks
You must identify all risk in order to manage them. You may not have thought of everything that could go wrong, including:
- Clubhouses/Gathering Hales:What is contained in your gathering spaces? If you have grills, a stove, oven, fridge, microwave or other appliance, there are risks such as fire.
- Playgrounds:Unsupervised children spell danger.
- Gyms/Workout rooms: Someone can always get hurt while using the gym equipment. The risk of injury is greater if the equipment is not properly maintained.
- Swimming pools:Falls and trips can happen on the pool deck. The water might become contaminated. A diving board is a place where accidents frequently happen.
- Basketball courts/Tennis courts:Cracked, buckled, and uneven surfaces are accidents waiting to happen.
Examining worse case scenarios is not fun, but it will help you make a plan to make sure everything is as safe as possible.
How Do Bylaws and State and Local Laws Apply?
Check State and local laws, regulations, codes, as well as your HOA’s bylaws that pertain to the amenities you have. Hint: the Hawaii Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs Real Estate Division may be able to help with State guidelines. Closely studying these documents can be time-consuming, but it will give you great guidance on how to manage and maintain your property to reduce risk. It’s important to follow every relevant law or code for your property.
Address Risky Features
If there’s something that creates room for trouble, just getting rid of it may be the best course of action. Not every HOA member will be thrilled, but every HOA member will be safer and the HOA board will have peace of mind. I’m reminded of a playground merry-go-round that had been in place for generations, with numerous accidents. It wasn’t a popular decision to remove it, but eventually the fervor passed and the community was safer without that feature.
Make sure you have an effective maintenance plan, not just for equipment and appliances, but for building systems like fire ducts, gas and electrical systems.
Each neighborhood amenity should have its own set of rules. Appliances should have safe rules for their use. This can also be an insurance requirement, and your agent may provide some valuable advice. Make sure good housekeeping standards are set in place, such as clearing ventilation ducts and lint filters.
Write out rules clearly, ensuring each community member will get the message without chance of different interpretations. To minimize the liability of your Homeowner’s Association, it’s best to hire a legal professional to check your rules and make improvements where needed. Here are a few things to consider when writing out rules:
- Are the facilities just for members? Are they allowed to bring guests?
- When can members use the amenities? Each facility should have set hours. You may need to install locks and gates to enforce such rules.
- Do members engage in risky activities? Restricting smoking and alcohol use should be considered.
Remember, even though the board might end up looking like a bunch of party poopers, the rules are there to benefit everyone in the community. Nobody wants to see an accident happen, or be forced into rule making after a tragedy. Communication to members as the decision-making progresses is helpful. It will avoid members being surprised and reactionary later.
Educate Members on the Rules
Once the rules are in place, everyone should know them and abide by them. To lay out the rules once again, place proper signage where everyone will see it. Deliver a printed copy to every member. The wording should be clear cut. If you plan on making any changes, keep up that good communication and notify everyone in advance.
Inspect the Amenities Regularly
Keeping up with maintenance is key to reducing risk. The property manager should inspect all common areas and amenities, and there should be a good double check, like a management report that is physically reviewed by another association member or committee. You may need to hire professional contractors to inspect complicated systems.
Security May Help
Security lights, intruder alarms and CCTV systems are electronic ways to monitor safety. Depending on your community size, hiring security personnel can help you prevent property damage.
The best way to reduce risk and save money in the future is creating a risk mitigation plan. Consider your budget needs for maintenance, prevention, inspections, and proper management. Don’t lose sight of the worst-case scenario, no matter how improbable it seems at the moment.