HOW TO HELP YOUR HOA AVOID A PR CRISIS
NOV 17, 2014
Homeowners associations are designed to provide residents with shared neighborhood values and opportunities for decreased ownership responsibility, creating safer and more harmonious communities. To achieve the full benefits of this goal, HOA developments typically require all homeowners in a certain area to be a member of the organization and can also compel these members to pay HOA management fees to cover the cost of common expenses and occasionally the services of an HOA management company. These fees, which can occur at monthly, quarterly, or yearly intervals, also encourage residents to attend and participate in regular HOA board meetings. In most cases, these qualities will help communities and their residents thrive. Unfortunately, in some, these organizations might go too far to protect their communities.
In 2014, Bob Willits, a disabled veteran in central Indiana, received a notice from his HOA that a flagpole in his yard violated the community’s regulations and needed to be removed. Willits flies both an American flag and a POW/MIA flag in honor of his brother Lester, who went missing during their service in the Korean War. After some negotiation, the HOA told Willits and his wife, Judy, that they could continue to fly the flag on the condition that they paid the organization’s legal expenses, which amounted to about $500. The couple refused on principle, and by late October, had attracted national attention to their case.
What resulted was a major public relations crisis for the HOA: a local honor guard held a peaceful protest at the Willits’ flag pole, and thousands of people have called or written to express their support. Additionally, the Willits have decided to accept the HOA’s original offer, but will pay for the legal expenses using anonymous donations from the community. And while a few people have confronted the couple about their debacle, they have received far more support than the HOA, whose board members claim to have received hate mail.
Now that the issue has been resolved, this case illustrates why HOA boards should invest in HOA management solutions to ensure that problems in their community are handled properly. Unfortunately, these solutions can be difficult to institute, as board members are typically local homeowners with varying degrees of legal and management experience. This can be problematic when it comes to cases like the Willits’: while their flagpole probably did violate a community ordinance, negotiating with an elderly and disabled veteran who was trying to honor his missing brother requires a certain dexterity the Indiana HOA probably didn’t have. Because of this, many communities choose to hire HOA management services, like a local HOA management company, to help them enforce regulations and properly maintain their neighborhoods. No matter the issue, an HOA management company can be instrumental in helping communities live harmoniously and thrive.