This Lawyer is Not a Plumber: Are you hiring the right professionals to serve your association?

I’m the granddaughter of Midwestern dairy farmers who grew up during the Great Depression, and my parents own a small town HVAC/plumbing business. As a child, I often heard some version of the following: “I can make that.” “We don’t need to hire someone. I can fix it.” “Why would we pay someone for that work? I can do it myself.” With this do-it-yourself attitude ingrained in my psyche, I can’t help but feel guilty when I need to call a plumber to unclog a drain or when I hire someone to clean my house. The frugality—and wherewithal—that my parents and grandparents modeled for me certainly left an impression. Yet I’ve also come to realize that my life sometimes requires different choices.

Yes, I can play plumber and unclog a sink drain. I’ve done it: I’ve gathered the equipment, removed U-traps, brushed pipes clean, disposed of clogged pipe nastiness, and put everything back together. Sometimes I’ve succeeded. But on other occasions I’ve removed the drain stopper and struggled to get it reconnected, or, as one of my college roommates will recount, my work has resulted in leaks where I could not get the old mismatched pipes to fit securely. Yes, I’ve played plumber and channeled my inner DIY-er, but I’m not a plumber. I would not offer to fix someone else’s drain, and I most definitely would not venture into my HOA’s clubhouse armed with a plunger and pipe putty.

In my own house, I can decide whether to bear the risks of my less-than-professional attempts at plumbing. Community association board members, on the other hand, make decisions that impact the community as a whole. “Hiring” a volunteer posing as a plumber may seem like a low-cost solution to a clogged drain in the clubhouse … until it’s later discovered that the coat hanger used to unclog the pipe poked a hole, resulting in a slow drip to the basement and mold growth inside the walls.

When serving on your association’s board, you may feel like you’re doing a good job by saving a few dollars through volunteer labor or hiring the cheapest contractor for a job. But remember that saving a few dollars now is not without risk later, and the risk is not solely yours. It may make sense for volunteers to pull weeds, plant flowers, and do other similar tasks in your community, but some things warrant professional assistance for the protection of the community.

Here are a few areas where associations should not cut corners:

Community Management – People aren’t born knowing the “ins” and “outs” of community management. Professional, credentialed managers can offer valuable insight on different approaches to issues that your community may be encountering for the first time.  

Document Amendments – To prevent bad covenants from affecting your property rights, community association attorneys should prepare amendments to your association’s governing documents in accordance with controlling laws.

Lawn Care – Any time machinery and combustible fuels are involved, associations should consider potential liability and contract for services with reputable vendors. Not to mention, healthy landscaping is often a top priority for associations seeking to promote curb appeal.

Legal Matters – From contract review to determining who is responsible for what under your association’s governing documents, seek legal counsel to assist with board decisions. The board can benefit from professional guidance when making tough decisions.

Pool Maintenance – Whether it’s keeping the chemicals balanced, protecting the costly pool improvements in your neighborhood, or staying on the right side of regulatory compliance, people who specialize in pool maintenance can help prevent missteps.

Water Mitigation – If you’ve ever learned the hard way about mold and asbestos, you surely agree.

Oh, and, of course, plumbing! Follow the links for more information about the types of information and service these professionals can provide.

This list is by no means exclusive. The point here is that boards are not the experts when it comes to all facets of community management and maintenance. Seeking professional assistance is part of good governance. I’d like to think my grandfather would agree.