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Better HOA Letters

Written by on Tuesday, 18 June 2002 7:00 pm
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Writing effective letters requires skill. In homeowner associations, they deal with a variety of topics. Sometimes they are informational, sometimes happy and sometimes not so happy. Whether you are sending good or bad news, it requires planning. The type of letter you write dictates the format.

In general, good news should always go in the first paragraph. And bad news should be placed further back. The opening paragraphs should soften the blow and ease tension. Opening with bad news in the first paragraph will distract the reader from your subsequent explanation and may cause it to be overlooked entirely.

Here are several kinds of letters:

Thank You Letters. Thank you letters are particularly important in HOAs since volunteers receive no pay. The least you can do is recognize their efforts. Doing so totally removes the “thankless” part of the job and encourages more volunteers to serve. Write them promptly. A thank you note loses its impact and sincerity long after the fact. Begin with a simple statement describing what you liked and why you liked it.

Rule Violation Letters. Enforcing rules on neighbors is one of the touchiest things HOAs deal with. But not all rule infractions are something the Board should automatically accept responsibility for enforcing. Most rule breaking should be first dealt with directly between affected neighbors. In other words, insist that neighbors attempt to resolve the issue first before getting involved. Some rule violations break the law (like loud parties and domestic violence). Let the cops handle those.

If the issue truly is the HOA’s responsibility, soften the blow by opening the letter with a statement like “Rules are needed to keep the peace and maintain high value of your assets and your home. The few rules we have are not meant to be intrusive. They are meant to be inclusive. If all comply with the rules, better neighbor relations will result. That’s a good thing, right?” This approach is intended to promote community. Then you get to the heart of the issue. Quote the appropriate section of the governing documents or rules, request compliance by a certain date and offer the option of appeal.

Collection Letters. Money is the life blood of a homeowner association. Since there is no government bailout for HOAs, if one member doesn’t pay, the rest have to pony up. This is particularly painful when it comes to special assessments since the amounts tend to be large.

Opening with a philosophical statement similar to the Rule Violation letter is appropriate. But remember that a member's failure to pay may be more than an unwillingness to pay; it may be an inability to pay (job loss, death, disability, etc.). It’s important to get to the root of the problem quickly, so ask, "Is there a problem that prevents you from paying?". There may be a payment plan option if warranted, but be careful not to allow the HOA’s bill to sink to the bottom of their pile too quickly. Food and shelter are top priorities. Never allow credit cards, car payments and other less critical expenses to preempt the HOA’s needs. Remember, if they don’t pay, you and the other members will have to pick up the slack.

Back to the meat of a collection letter: Always provide a current balance along with penalty, interest and other charges accruing. Attach a copy of your Collection Policy which discusses what will happen if the bill is not paid. (You have a Collection Policy right? If not, enact one as soon as possible. There are few things more critical in an HOA than cashflow. Include the deadline for payment before the collection moves to the next phase (more penalties, attorney fees, etc.) A collection letter must demand action.

Follow-Up Letters. These are written in response to a communication you received. Use this basic structure:

  • Express thanks for their concern, idea, suggestion etc.
  • Recap the situation prompting the communication
  • Assure the recipient of your dedication to the issue
  • Invite future communication and input

Complaint Letters. These should never be written in anger. Cool down a day or two if that’s what it takes to regain your composure. This is particularly true of email. It’s way too easy to fire off something you regret within seconds after it’s sent. Complaint letters should point to a solution of a problem rather than venting against some injustice. A constructive tone will vastly increase the chances of getting what you want. Follow these steps:

  1. Describe the problem.
  2. State what is wrong.
  3. Say what you’ve done about it so far.
  4. Indicate what you want done.
  5. Request a response or resolution by a specific date.

Response to Complaint Letters. A response to a complaint letter varies depending on if you agree or disagree with the complaint.

To agree:

  1. Admit that the complaint is justified and apologize.
  2. State precisely what you are going to do to correct the problem.
  3. End on a positive note.

To disagree:

  1. Thank the writer for writing.
  2. State the complaint to verify you understand what it is.
  3. Explain the Board's view of it.
  4. State your decision clearly, without apology.
  5. Offer alternatives to help the homeowner

Every HOA letter is an opportunity to promote professionalism, reconciliation and harmony. Use better letter techniques to pave the road. For more innovative HOA management solutions and resources, visit www.regenesis.net

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  About the author, Richard Thompson

Individual news stories are based upon the opinions of the writer and does not reflect the opinion of Realty Times.