Trendwatch: Is There More Tech Your Condo/HOA Should Be Adopting?

board members community association technology virtual meetings May 24, 2023

This article first appeared in Kelly Richardson, Esq., CCAL, is a regular contributor to help inform community associations. 

Kelly Richardson, Esq., CCAL has written a column asking boards how their "tech score" would turn out.

"Unfortunately, boards are behind the tech curve," says Kelly Richardson, CCAL, a partner at Richardson, Ober in Pasadena, Calif., whose firm represents hundreds of HOAs throughout California and who has been syndicated columnist on HOA issues for 17 years. "Many associations are behind, as are some management companies."

Here, we ask Richardson and other experts to explain what they're seeing on the tech front and offer their suggestions about how boards can up their game.

The Basics Aren't Maxed Out

To begin with, Richardson says too many associations aren't even using the most fundamental tech tools to their fullest. "The two biggest underused tech resources are websites and email," he says.

"Websites can be a wonderful virtual bulletin board to use to communicate to members and a place to put documents in a members-only part of a community's website," explains Richardson. "An association's website should basically be a living electronic document. But too many associations do no more than put a few things there and then do nothing else for 10 years.

"And the number of people who use and prefer email is the overwhelming majority, yet I don't see boards and management companies working hard enough to switch over as much as possible to email communication," he notes. "Email should be for announcements, annual disclosures, and more. Why are we still printing out and mailing things when most people would frankly prefer to have those things in their computer and to be able to store them there?

"California has gently been embracing email," says Richardson. "But it's still not the official mode of communication unless an owner gives permission in writing to receive email. I'm telling all my boards to think about how much you're spending in paper and postage to send out mailings. We now have a statute, which most people aren't aware of, that allows CC&Rs to mandate—unless people opt out—that all communications are deemed to be in electronic format. If you're making any amendments to your CC&Rs, make that one.

"I've also recommended to many associations to consider giving a $20-30 rebate to owners who give econsent to communications," he notes, referring to consent to receive communications by electronic means, such as email. "They'll get that rebate if they allow econsent for two years. Then the association will give the owner a $20 or $40 rebate. That will save the HOA X dollars a year, and the HOA winds up coming out ahead in that offer."

Where Boards are Making Inroads

Jasmine F. Hale, CCAL, a partner at Berding & Weil based in Walnut Creek, Calif., who advises condos and HOAs throughout California, says some of her smaller community clients—meaning 30 or fewer units—have adopted WhatsApp or Slack for all community-wide communication chains.

"It's immediate, like texting communication," she explains. "I've seen it used to good effect in small communities with younger demographics that are already comfortable with that type of technology. The key to remember there is that these channels don't replace the association's duty to communicate through the legal channels."

Hale would also like to see more of her clients adopt truly professional video technology. "A positive outcome of COVID-19 and the pandemic is that an industry that used to be almost all physical meetings almost overnight adopted virtual meetings," she notes. "So I'd recommend that boards actually invest in making sure they have higher-quality digital meetings, whether that's by upgrading to better video or audio or both.

"I had a board meeting with one of my clients yesterday, and they've invested in tech," says Hale. "That whole board was in-person, but I was able to attend remotely. The camera angle was good, and the audio and video were good. It's a huge community with more than 3,000 members, and their members treat this board professionally. I think that's because the board demonstrates a high caliber of professionalism with those meetings."

Though he recognizes that he could be seen as promoting his firm, that's not what Todd J. Skowronski, an associate at Makower Abbate Guerra Wegner Vollmer PLLC, whose firm advises nearly 2,000 association clients throughout Michigan, is intending with his suggestion that you seek an attorney that has adopted tech for its work with your association. "We have a collection system that allows board members or property managers to check in to see what's happening with each collections matter," he explains. "We put notes in the file every step of the way.

"That's one of the most common legal issues an association is going to face—collections—so I think it's important to get in good with a collections company or attorney that has an online portal," suggests Skowronski. "Any board member—though it's typically the manager, but we do have some self-managed boards who are curious or want to do it themselves—can access any account they place with us for collections."

Skowronski says a system like this keeps costs down for clients. "It shows there's a process and workflow, and it allows us to automate a lot of tasks," he explains. "It also means that delinquent owners pay less in fees. When our initial demand is $93 rather than, say, $300, owners are more likely to pay right away. It also helps them get out of delinquency without excessive collections fees.

"So if you see that a law firm or collections company has some collections program set up," he says, "they're likely saving you and your owners money because they're more efficient."

No Need to Reinvent the Wheel

Marshal Granor, CCAL, managing partner at Granor & Granor PC in Horsham, Pa., who is not only a community association lawyer but is also the former owner of a community association management company, doesn't see his clients making the most of technology, either—but in a different way. Too many try to DIY tech.

"I've seen associations try to create their own, whatever it is," says Granor. "But there's no reason to do that. There are so many resources out there that are either free or cost very little. Specifically for HOAs, think of the ways you can use Google Docs online.

"I also get questions from clients: 'Can you refer me to a web designer who can create a website for us?'" adds Granor. "Now, websites are commercially available and cheap. I can't think of a community that can't get a website inexpensively, except for the extraordinarily unusual associations, and mine aren't in that category.

"Some of my clients may have a member who wants to build technology for the HOA themselves," he notes. "But then you have problems with the long-term use of that tech after the person who built it moves, dies, or becomes disinterested."