Solar Panels And Community Associations: Sparks Can Fly

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Solar Panels And Community Associations: Sparks Can Fly

Green living sometimes can be at odds with community association living. As much as we all likely strive to live in an environmentally responsible manner, sometimes these ambitions clash with the wants and desires of our neighbors, bringing strife and dissension to a neighborhood. Though the Washington legislature has not attempted regulating chickens, clotheslines or composting (yet), it has enacted legislation affecting a homeowner association’s right to govern solar panels within a community association.

WA State Solar Panel Regulations

Under RCW 64.38.055 of the Washington Homeowner Association Act:

(1) The governing documents may not prohibit the installation of a solar energy panel by an owner or resident on the owner’s or resident’s property as long as the solar energy panel:

(a) Meets applicable health and safety standards and requirements imposed by state and local permitting authorities;

(b) If used to heat water, is certified by the solar rating certification corporation or another nationally recognized certification agency. Certification must be for the solar energy panel and for installation; and

(c) If used to produce electricity, meets all applicable safety and performance standards established by the national electric code, the institute of electrical and electronics engineers, accredited testing laboratories, such as underwriters laboratories, and, where applicable, rules of the utilities and transportation commission regarding safety and reliability.

The statute is clear on its face and should not require much, if any, legal interpretation. Though an association cannot “prohibit” installation of solar panels, it can regulate the installation and use as described in the next section of the statute:

(2) The governing documents may:

(a) Prohibit the visibility of any part of a roof-mounted solar energy panel above the roof line;

(b) Permit the attachment of a solar energy panel to the slope of a roof facing a street only if:

(i) The solar energy panel conforms to the slope of the roof; and

(ii) The top edge of the solar energy panel is parallel to the roof ridge; or

(c) Require:

(i) A solar energy panel frame, a support bracket, or any visible piping or wiring to be painted to coordinate with the roofing material;

(ii) An owner or resident to shield a ground-mounted solar energy panel if shielding the panel does not prohibit economic installation of the solar energy panel or degrade the operational performance quality of the solar energy panel by more than ten percent; or

(iii) Owners or residents who install solar energy panels to indemnify or reimburse the association or its members for loss or damage caused by the installation, maintenance, or use of a solar energy panel.

The statute goes on to explain specific terms and also provides definitions to clarify how an association can effectively apply the statute. Lastly, the statute applies retroactively to association governing documents in effect before the 2009 law was passed and signed.1 Any provision in an association’s governing document that is inconsistent with the statute is void and unenforceable. The statute expressly does not apply to community association common areas, which implies that an association is free to regulate in any reasonable manner the use or prohibition of solar panels in these areas.

Adopting Solar Panel Rules

Since the law is comprehensive and clear on its face, homeowner associations should adopt solar panel rules that track closely the statute. Because an association is not prohibiting, but merely regulating, the use of solar panels, the rules can be adopted via the board’s rule-making authority, and need not be included within an association’s Declaration or CC&Rs.

The statute only applies to homeowner associations in Washington; thus, condominium associations appear to have full discretion in regulating the installation and use of solar panels within their communities. It is uncertain how a court might respond to a suit by a homeowner seeking permission to install solar panels on the roof or deck above her unit. Though condominium associations ordinarily have wide discretion in controlling and regulating common and limited common elements, some judges could be persuaded by a public policy argument favoring the use of green energy.

The safest route for a condominium association would be to get in front of any potential dispute by adopting a resolution that expressly bars the installation of solar panels, whether attached to a unit or limited common element. Conversely, some condominium associations may lean the other way and wish to install such panels and devices on the common elements or limited common elements. Whatever an association’s preference, they should draft and adopt rules and regulations before contentious disputes arise and sparks fly.

1 The complete statute may be found at: http://apps.leg.wa.gov/rcw/default.aspx?cite=64.38.055.

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Thou Shalt Provide A Budget Summary

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Thou Shalt Provide A Budget Summary

It is a common refrain among those who live in or work with condominium associations that the annual budgeting process consists of two parts accounting and one part voodoo. To avoid an imbalance in the recipe, it is important that members of the Board of Directors are familiar both with the Association’s governing documents and with applicable statutes in order to effectively serve the association and its members.

 

Effective January 1, 2012 changes to Washington’s reserve study laws went into effect. The changes impacted both “new act” condominiums (those governed by RCW 64.34) as well as HOA’s (RCW 64.38) and include specific and extensive reporting requirements that have been added to the budget process for both condominiums and HOA’s. This article will focus on these reporting requirements specifically as they relate to condominiums as set forth in RCW 64.34.308(4).

Understanding and Applying RCW 64.34.308(4)

For “new act” condominium associations governed by the Washington Condominium Act, RCW 64.34.308(3) requires an association’s Board of Directors to adopt a proposed budget and, then, to provide a summary of the proposed annual budget to all unit owners who must have the opportunity to reject the budget at a formal meeting of the association, if they so choose. In the past this process has been fairly straightforward and simple. Concerned that unit owners were not being sufficiently informed of the financial health and wellbeing of the condominium associations in which they lived and notified of potential exposure to increased assessments or other costs in the future, the legislature amended RCW 64.34.308(4) to include extensive reporting requirements with which all “new act” condominium associations must comply.

RCW 64.34.308(4) now requires the Board of Directors disclose the following information in the annual budget summary sent to each unit owner:

(a) The current amount of regular assessments budgeted for contribution to the reserve account, the recommended contribution rate from the reserve study, and the funding plan upon which the recommended contribution rate is based;

(b) If additional regular or special assessments are scheduled to be imposed, the date the assessments are due, the amount of the assessments per each unit per month or year, and the purpose of the assessments;

(c) Based upon the most recent reserve study and other information, whether currently projected reserve account balances will be sufficient at the end of each year to meet the association’s obligation for major maintenance, repair, or replacement of reserve components during the next thirty years;

(d) If reserve account balances are not projected to be sufficient, what additional assessments may be necessary to ensure that sufficient reserve account funds will be available each year during the next thirty years, the approximate dates assessments may be due, and the amount of the assessments per unit per month or year;

(e) The estimated amount recommended in the reserve account at the end of the current fiscal year based on the most recent reserve study, the projected reserve account cash balance at the end of the current fiscal year, and the percent funded at the date of the latest reserve study;

(f) The estimated amount recommended in the reserve account based upon the most recent reserve study at the end of each of the next five budget years, the projected reserve account cash balance in each of those years, and the projected percent funded for each of those years; and

(g) If the funding plan approved by the association is implemented, the projected reserve account cash balance in each of the next five budget years and the percent funded for each of those years.

Clearly, the job of Board members and the agents that serve them in the budgeting process has not gotten easier with these new disclosure requirements! However, the silver lining is that these additional disclosure requirements will likely provide members of the association with an important snapshot of both the current and future financial health of the association.

As another budget season rapidly approaches, it is important that you know whether these recent changes apply to your association and, if they do, that you are clear how they should be implemented. If you have questions about these changes or how to effectively and efficiently implement them, there are a host of resources available through WSCAI that stand ready to assist you! Good luck and happy budgeting.

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Taking Back Your Life from the Whirlwind

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Taking Back Your Life from the Whirlwind

About five years ago, when people would ask me what I did for a living I’d confess that I managed a portfolio of homeowner associations, but in those few seconds before the blank stare or some exaggerated version of, “Wow!  I could NEVER do what you do,” my mind would drift into fantasy and I’d feel my clothes begin to tighten with the expanding pressure of the blue and red Superman tights beneath.  Yep, faster than the speeding bullets of cranky homeowners, more powerful than a locomotive pulling railway cars full of lawyers, doctors, teachers, engineers and other mere mortals, and able to leap tall Seattle buildings with a single bound! Of course then I would wake up.  Ultimately this is my personal story of taking back my life, back from the whirlwind; of getting off the Superman roller coaster and learning to live and work in a relaxed state of self-control and stress-free productivity. This is my story, but I have every confidence that it can be the beginning of your road to freedom as well.  My road began with the help of nationally acclaimed speaker and best-selling author David Allen of GTD® fame.  If you’re familiar with his work you will recognize much of what follows.  Because of space limitations I have broken this introductory article into two parts.  Part One explores a couple of core concepts that, when embraced, could cause a paradigm shift in the way you think about your work.  Next month I will examine in detail a couple of tools which could really begin to get you moving forward.

 

So just how does a Portfolio Manager stay consistently on top of his/her game?  How does s/he avoid the trap of putting out one community fire after another and completing bigger projects as time allows without ending up in what Pink Floyd described as the “English way” of “hanging on in quiet desperation?” Is it really possible for busy Community Association Managers to maintain healthy levels of pride and optimism for our future when we know full well that as we attend that party, or sleep, or God forbid, take a vacation, that the whirling tornado that is our job is even now touching down in undisclosed locations leaving behind a nasty trail of stress-filled destruction adding even more wreckage to the already huge piles of debris cluttering our minds and offices?

“The mind is an excellent place to process information; it is a terrible place to store it.” ~David Allen 

I can think of no better jumping off point than getting comfortable with the above statement.  It is so important that, at the risk of padding the word-count of this essay, I must repeat it: “The mind is an excellent place to process information; it is a terrible place to store it.”  I’m not much into reciting mantras, but if I was this would be mine.  Your assignment this month is to simply think about what I just said.

The minds of Community Association Managers are positively brimming with stuff; so much stuff that many of us are driven to the point of distraction, some even to despair.  We are carrying around massive quantities of things in our short-term memory.  We’ve got emails to answer, phone calls to make, bids to solicit, bills to code, financial statements to review, reports to write, meetings to attend, packets to assemble, sites to visit, delinquencies to collect, and developers to sue. There is grass to mow, weeds to pull, roofs to clean,  elevators to fix, cars to tow, keys to make, special assessments to consider, websites to update, and violations to enforce, just to name a few!  As our minds begin to resemble a hoarder’s living room our desktops, drawers, and every other flat spot or shelf can become covered with stacks of undefined amorphous blobs of paper.  And then there are those relationships to manage with homeowners, board members, vendors and co-workers, not to mention spouse and kids.  If we Managers are really committed to getting everything done, and our job demands that we are, then each piece of data, each scrap or pile of paper and every thought that has an action-item associated with it represents an open loop in our minds which must be stored someplace for easy retrieval, and at the proper time, or our career could very well go down in flames.  Our employers give us great tools like computers, notepads, sticky notes, file cabinets, calendars, cell phones and middle-managers to help us manage the steady stream of commitments we make but we generally make limited use of each of them.  Subconsciously we all understand that when it comes to actually getting things done for our clients the most important stuff is kept “right up here” (Point at brain).  And that’s all good as far as it goes, but experience proves that using your head as a filing cabinet or personal information manager in a busy environment like ours can come at a tremendous price to our productivity and personal well-being.  The price first shows up as reduced productivity, added stress, and stunted interpersonal relationships.  When stress is buried or otherwise left unchecked it may turn up again as deep personal dissatisfaction with our job, a reduced capacity for meaningful hobbies, a rejection of social interaction, and other destructive patterns of behavior.  In the extreme, stress can become the source of serious illness, burnout, job loss, or worse.  I contend that most of our stress is caused by carrying around hundreds of open loops in our heads.

 Out of Your Head and Into a Single Trusted System

Wouldn’t it be great if this marvelous brain of ours would only remind us of our prior commitments, unfinished projects and tasks when we could actually do something about them?  Unfortunately, our brain isn’t wired that way.  When the over-full kettle that is our brain arbitrarily decides to spill out one of these half-remembered commitments it comes at really strange times; like while we’re driving down the freeway, or in the middle of writing an email, or while we’re eating, or laying in bed, or conversing with a friend, or a hundred other times and places where we are either ill-equipped, indisposed, and least able to do anything meaningful about them.  Because of the random timing of these reminders we usually just resolve to remember to remember, and the thought is pushed back into our subconscious where it remains an open, stress-inducing, loop.  And this is how many of us live our lives, hour by hour, day by day, and month after month.

There is good news.  The cycle can be interrupted.  In fact, the first step to getting off of the work-related stress mill is surprisingly simple.  It is this: Get and keep as much of this data as possible out of your head, off of your desk, out of your email Inbox and into a single trusted system which you review regularly.  It is only when every open loop is captured in a safe place, a place completely trusted by the former storekeeper, that your mind is truly free to do what it does best: process information; create beautiful things; innovate; resolve conflict; interact meaningfully with others, or to just have fun.  If your system is not trusted by your brain and reviewed regularly, it will immediately and permanently take back the controls.

Next month I will introduce you to two excellent tools which are right at your fingertips which, if customized properly and used consistently, can completely revolutionize your ability to get things done in a more relaxed, stress-free way.  For further study, I highly recommend David Allen’s best-selling book, “Getting Things Done,” available online for about $10.

By Mike Walker, CMCA, AMS

The CWD Group, Inc., AAMC

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