Help Manage Your HOA with a Maintenance Responsibility Chart

A maintenance responsibility chart can help your HOA establish consistency while reducing the need for lawyers to determine maintenance responsibilities in your community association. This chart lists each element that may require repair and designates a party responsible

Establishing Consistency in HOA Maintenance

A way to be vastly more successful in managing a community association is consistency. Part of consistency is to communicate important details to the homeowners repeatedly. Unfortunately, many boards and management professionals believe that the average homeowner is not listening to/reading the communication from the association. Regardless, boards and managers have the obligation to communicate and the homeowners have the obligation to listen or read. A failure to communicate by either party leads to negative consequences.

We find that we often struggle to communicate consistently about responsibility. That is, who is responsible for what in the association? Whether it is for maintenance, repairs, and/or replacement, it is always a question of who is responsible.

While determing maintenance responsbility is an important and challenging task itself, it’s equally important to communicate those responsibilities to the homeowners. The best way to handle this is for the association to create a simple maintenance responsibility chart that assigns responsibilities in a regulated manner.

Creating a Maintenance Responsibility Chart

A maintenance responsibility chart is a practical and preemptive list of maintenance responsibilities, and can eliminate the need for your attorney to give you an opinion on who is responsible to maintain the deck. To do this right it will take some time and cost a little money (or a lot if you do not want to do the leg work) because you will need your attorney to review your final responsibility chart before publication. If you are taking the easy way out by having your attorney draft the chart, you can skip to the sample responsibility chart at the end of this article and simply ask the association’s attorney to create one for you. The ideal time for your attorney to do this task is when they are in the process of re-writing your governing documents. For everyone else please read on.

The Necessary Documents

Start by gathering your governing documents, reserve study, any legal opinion regarding responsibility and any other document the association has published to the membership about this topic. Using your reserve study (Learn how to properly read reserve studies), describe each and every component in your study. To a degree you can assume that if it is in your reserve study, then the association is responsible for the component, but this should be confirmed by your governing documents (responsibility should be in your CC&Rs). 

Next add anything in your governing documents that your reserve study may have missed. Then add components that you have discussions, disputes, and/or legal opinions about and mark whether the association or the homeowner is responsible. Lastly, add the material that you wish to clarify (even if it appears obvious) that could lead to disputes.

Remember that ownership and maintenance responsibilities do not necessarily track. For example, in a “Planned Development,” the individual owner may own his entire lot, but the association has a maintenance responsibility for the front yard. Conversely, in some “Block Condominiums”, an association might “own”’ the exterior surface of the building, but the individual unit owners might have the painting responsibility (Find out more on the different maintenance responsibilities in condominiums and planned unit developments).

Adding the Finer Details to the Maintenance Responsibility Chart

Rarely do the governing documents refine the maintenance responsibilities to the degree that you will want to list in your maintenance responsibility chart. The lack of detail in most governing documents is precisely why this chart fulfills such an important need. To break out the window frame, the interior window sill, the glass, the exterior trim, etc. are frequently the details that cause arguments, waste time, and can be avoided. How often we struggle with decks, balconies and patios: who maintains the railings, the deck boards, the supporting beams, the treatment of the decking material, etc? The chart is your opportunity to clarify these responsibilities once and for all.

At the end of this article you will find a very detailed Sample Maintenance Responsibility Chart which will give you some idea of the amount of detail that this process will require. Try gathering the information first from your documents before relying on the sample responsibility chart.

Benefits of Your New Maintenance Responsibility Chart

This detailed list becomes a road map, not only for the board, but for the homeowners. One of the benefits of creating, adopting and publishing your maintenance responsibility chart is that it will help you avoid unnecessary requests for repairs. It will prevent the board from authorizing work that is not the responsibility of the association, and homeowners will not take on the responsibilities of the association.

When you think about the management of an association, there are truly only three main areas: managing finances (including collecting assessments), enforcing compliance with the governing documents, and maintaining and repairing the common elements. This chart theoretically addresses one third of the board’s obligations!

A maintenance responsibility chart sets clear policy on who is responsible for what in a very simple format. This document should evolve over time since it is unlikely that you will list every item on your first try. Again, this is a board document, and if you find you have over looked an item, or have mistakenly assigned the wrong responsibility, simply adopt a corrected version, date it and publish it. Frequent publication is key to achieving the greatest result. Publish it annually in your Annual Disclosure Packet along with your other policies and procedures. Highlight it in newsletter articles and if you have a website, by all means, get it online for easy reference.

Time invested now will be time well spent and will be the foundation of a well governed association. Now you have an invaluable tool that you can provide to everyone involved in your association:Board Members,  Homeowners, Professional Management, and your Reserve Analyst. Homeowners will appreciate the clarity, organization, and consistency of the homeowners association and will be in a better position to plan for and accept their obligations as members of the association.

Robert Rosenberg, CCAM is CFO for Medallion Landscape Management, Inc. and President of Advance Construction Technology, Inc. Lisa Esposito, CCAM, is a leader in the professional management of homeowners associations and is a featured speaker for ECHO, CAI and CACM.