As everyone who has been within fifty feet of me during the college football season is well aware, I am a proud alumna of the University of Oklahoma. I arrived in Norman two years after the bombing of the Murrah building; two years after my arrival, I witnessed the May 3, 1999 F5 tornado that destroyed Moore. Today, I watch the news and worry about my friends and loved ones who have been impacted by the most recent storms. While I was born and raised in Colorado, I will always be a Sooner.
Of course, as a community association attorney, I also see this destruction as a crucial lesson for my clients. It’s important that association boards understand and recognize the impact that natural disasters can have on their communities, and prepare accordingly.
Insurance. Review your association’s insurance policies, and compare them with the provisions of your governing documents. You may need to enlist your association attorney or insurance professional to help you understand the differing obligations borne by the association and by individual members. This expense is minor compared to the potential liability present if the association fails to meet its insurance requirements. Keep in mind that your policies may not cover damage from all storms, or may bear higher deductibles for wind and hail damage.
Reserves. Reserves are generally used for capital improvements with a calculable life, and tornadoes don’t avoid a property simply because it’s not obsolete. However, if your association has a strong reserve fund and keeps a regularly-updated reserve study in place to avoid special assessments during normal operations, it will be more able to weather an unexpected storm.
Education. In connection with maintaining proper reserves and insurance, education helps community members understand the scope of their obligations. This education allows an owner to prepare for the worst case scenario. We frequently see this problem in condominium cases – an owner may not realize that he or she is obligated to insure the unit interior, and is left with bare walls and no finishes after the association’s insurance repairs are complete. This can create a rift in any community, and this is particularly damaging when a community needs to join together in the wake of a storm.
Communication. A homeowner is powerless in the face of a storm like the ones that hit Oklahoma. This can be compounded if the owner feels like the association is not taking appropriate action. Talk to your homeowners, using a clear and simple message and a unified position from the Board. Give details regarding repairs and estimated timelines. Make sure all meetings are open. Everyone will be upset and stressed, but the board needs to guide the association to help the members heal.
While no one can predict the severity or impact of a tornado, a proactive association board can prepare for the worst while working towards the best.