Tips to Community Hurricane Season Preparation
Hurricane season is upon us and as most Floridians know, hurricanes can cause a lot of damage. Even in low category hurricanes, trees fall over and roads get flooded. During high category hurricanes, the damage can be much more severe. Once you know a hurricane is headed your way, you don’t have much time to prepare, so it’s essential that you prepare beforehand.
- The first thing you need to do is decide how the association will function before the hurricane. Make sure everyone knows what their roles are during this time. Is your community association responsible for putting up shutters or is that the responsibility of residents? You need to have this all decided beforehand so that no one is rushing to prepare up until the last minute.
- Prepare the area. Whether or not you actually get hit by the hurricane, you need to be prepared beforehand. Remove all furniture (or anything that can be projected) from outdoor areas, test the generator if you have one and purchase supplies like water and batteries so that you don’t have to worry about stores closing. Move equipment located at ground level to higher areas so you don’t have to worry about flooding and move all association documents to a safe area.
- Alert residents of upcoming storm. Most residents will already know, but you should still alert them of an upcoming storm. Try to figure out who will be in the community during the storm and send residents information about medical and emergency services, as well as evacuation routes.
- Decide and inform residents of what will be available during the storm. If it’s a condo association, the elevators may not be running, but the common room may be open. If you’re in a neighborhood, chances are that most things will be closed to deter residents from traveling outside during the severe weather. Once you’ve decided what is going to remain open and what will be closed, you MUST inform the residents.
- Plan for the aftermath. With any natural disaster, there is always the chance of devastating effects. Figure out what you will do in the case that there is no damage, as well as what you will do in the worst case scenario.
Hurricanes are stressful, and the last thing you want to worry about once one hits is securing your community, which is why it’s so important to plan ahead. Have clearly defined hurricane procedures for before, during, and after and alert residents so they don’t feel as though they are alone in dealing with the disaster. You can’t avoid a hurricane, but you can make sure you’re as prepared as possible to deal with one.
Tips for Community Security and Ensuring the Safety of Residents
In any community association, whether it’s an HOA or a condo association, security is an issue you can’t ignore. The safety of the residents is your responsibility, and threats can come from anywhere. When it comes to security, it’s not a one-size fits all operation. Security measures that work well a small condominium may not work well in a large neighborhood of homeowners. There are a lot of decisions to make and steps to take toward keeping a community secure and it’s important to take resident safety seriously.
- Assess Area: The first step is research. Find out the potential for crime or danger in your area and determine potential risks and threats. Prevention is key to security, and prevention is much easier when you know what you’re up against.
- Assign Responsibilities: It’s not enough to say that you’re going to improve the security in your association, you need to assign specific roles and ensure that everyone is clear on their responsibilities. Being organized is the best way to make sure everything runs smoothly, so figure out who is going to be responsible for researching, implementing, maintaining and evaluating your safety plan.
- Determine Homeowner Needs: Send out a survey to residents in order to better understand what they expect in terms of safety and security. Find out what they are most worried about, and ask when they feel safest. Understanding their wants and needs can go a long way in making sure they feel secure in their home.
- Background Checks and Screening: It is essential to perform background and screening checks before hiring any personnel or accepting any new residents. Even with a great security plan in place, things can happen, and by ensuring you have quality staff and residents, you can reduce the likelihood of potential risks. Use a trusted company like Sentinel Background Checks (http://sbchecks NULL.com/) to ensure that you feel secure in your hiring and tenant choices, and the residents in the building will feel more secure as a result.
- Continuous Evaluation: Just as circumstances and the world around us change, so should your security techniques and practices. What worked last year may not be the most effective solution this year, so you need to be sure that the security and safety plan is continuously re-evaluated.
When it comes to the safety and security of your residents, don’t take any chances. As a property manager or community association leader, you must do everything you can to ensure that your residents are, and feel, safe in their homes. Assess your needs and develop your safety plan to match your area and the residents in it. Safe residents are happy residents and happy residents make for a great community, so get serious about safety.
Are Pigs a Pet or a Problem?
Rules and regulations for community associations can be pretty extensive, and most people don’t know everything about what they can and can’t do. Last year, we wrote about pet restrictions in condo associations, but a recent news story led us to revisit the topic.
A Palm Beach County family is currently in a legal battle with their Homeowners’ Association concerning their choice of pet. The Halperns has a 65 pound pot-bellied pig named Wilbur, and Wilbur has become quite an issue within the HOA. The Lake Worth community, Cypress Woods, rules clearly state that “only common household pets” are allowed in the community, and this means no livestock. Palm Beach County Commissioners voted to no longer consider pot-bellied pigs as livestock, but it is up to the HOA to outlaw pigs as pets. The HOA is trying to force Wilbur out, but the Halpern family is fighting back and has provided documentation that the rules never mention pot-bellied pigs.
One of the reasons the pet is so important to the family is because he really helps out Halpern’s two kids, both of which have ADHD and one of which has Asperger Syndrome. Halpern has even had Wilbur registered and trained in an Animal Assisted Therapy Program at the Humane Society of Broward Country. She maintains that Wilbur helps her children come out of their shell and while a pot-bellied pig is not a common animal, it is more common that you would think. Lawyers for the HOA are in the process of verifying whether or not Wilbur qualifies as a service or emotional support animal. The family is fighting to keep their pet, but they cannot afford to move if the HOA forces Wilbur out.
An important lesson to take from this story is to always know what you are and aren’t allowed to do according to the rules of your association. Associations can have a number of rules for animals including type and weight, number of pets and regulations on how to take care of pets. Homeowners need to make sure they know what is within their rights in an association, and associations need to be very clear on what they do and do not allow.
PeytonBolin is proud to announce that our very own Jane Bolin has been selected as a 2014 South Florida Business Journal 40 under 40 honoree!
South Florida Business Journal’s 40 Under 40 Awards recognizes the careers of 40 individuals under the age of 40 for their amazing career accomplishments and service beyond the workplace, and anyone that knows Jane can easily tell you she deserves this!
Jane is the poster child for what is means to be involved in business and the community. As one of the PeytonBolin leaders, she works diligently to mentor her team and provide exemplary service to her clients. Constantly innovating versus taking an already well worn path, she is instrumental in changing the conversation of community association boards with her recent launch of the PeytonBolin MBA (Mastering the Business of Your Association). One only has to meet Jane for five minutes to realize what a special, unique woman she is. Apart from her stellar career accomplishments, Jane is also super involved in the community. Her firm created Team PeytonBolin as a way to give back to the community and get their clients involved. She also personally serves on the board of the Girl’s Choir (http://girlpowerrocks NULL.org/programs/girlschoirmiami) and the Children’s Diagnostic Treatment Center (https://www NULL.browardhealth NULL.org/CDTC). She is one of the most active board members and continuously adds value and challenges herself and those around her to improve and grow. She is a dedicated friend and family member to all those around her and can be counted on for amazing listening and support. The bottom line is that there is no better example for someone who represents what being a dynamic woman who works diligently to contribute to their company’s growth and to improve the local community.
The 2014 award ceremony takes place on August 1st at the Hyatt Regency Pier Sixty-Six in Ft. Lauderdale and is sponsored by BankUnited (http://www NULL.bankunited NULL.com/), Comcast Business (http://www NULL.comcastbusiness NULL.com/), FIU College of Business (http://www NULL.fiu NULL.edu/), and the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce (http://www NULL.miamichamber NULL.com/).
We are so proud of Jane and couldn’t think of anyone who deserves this more! Watch the SFBJ video (http://www NULL.bizjournals NULL.com/southflorida/print-edition/2014/06/27/sfbj-2014-40-under-40 NULL.html) to meet all the honorees or skip to the 1:19 mark to see Jane’s awesome selfie!
Common Fraud and Theft Activities in Community Associations.
It seems like fraud and theft are becoming increasingly common these days, especially in community associations. As a community association leader, it’s important that you understand the most popular fraudulent activities so that you can protect yourself and your community from them.
With help from a couple of awesome contributors to a question we posted (https://www NULL.linkedin NULL.com/groupItem?view=&gid=39092&type=member&item=5884732230705627140&qid=c3965faa-5ecf-463a-9f1c-80fb7d0d816f&trk=groups_items_see_more-0-b-ttl) on the Community Association Institute (CAI) group on LinkedIn, we’ve compiled a list of popular fraud and theft activities and how to avoid them.
Let’s start with some common fraud and theft practices and techniques:
- Depositing funds meant for one account (ex: HOA) into other accounts
- Under the table kickbacks, bribes and payments
- Tampering with checks
- Creating and paying fake vendors or nonexistent employees
- Theft of inventory
- Ballot tampering, ballot box stuffing, counterfeit ballots, and ballot destruction in board elections prior to the vote counting day and time.
- Modifying data and submitting personal energy bills for reimbursement from management company and/or association.
- Using association debit/credit cards to buy personal items.
- Using a spreadsheet (which are easily manipulated) that purports to show bank balances, not a copy of the account statements.
- Using a consolidated account for multiple HOA’s rather than a dedicated account for each HOA. This makes tracing legitimate bills a lot harder.
- Threatening vendors with being fired if they talk directly with any director about their contract or billings.
- Removing past due charges from association records when board members or officers who don’t pay their fees or don’t pay on time.
Now to move on to tips for avoiding fraud and theft:
- When you make an assessment payment, check the back of your returned check to see if the account it was deposited in matches the Association’s bank account. Same goes for ACH payments. If they don’t match, that means your funds are being deposited somewhere else.
- Review the management contract for “affiliates” or “partners” that the management company discloses they may receive a benefit from. Then look up that company to see if they own any other companies (ex: your landscaper).
- Request in writing from every vendor on an annual basis disclosure of the actual dollar amounts paid to your manager or management company, or any entity affiliated with the management company.
- Do not allow your management company to choose the CPA for your HOA
- Do your required annual audits. Yes, it may be an expense, but it is a lot cheaper than the financial loss involving a fraud if allowed to go unchecked.
- For your CPA to accurately do an annual audit, insist the file, not reports, are sent to the CPA. The CPA needs to see the file and ensure things are done properly. They cannot do that with a report.
- Require at least one Board Member’s signature to expend funds of any kind – operational or reserves. If you give authority to someone else to sign on your bank accounts you have already lost 90% of the battle.
- Ensure that a board member or finance committee member does the monthly account reconciliation with the employee or management company. Also if the HOA has a credit card, do the credit card monthly reconciliation with a board member too. Debit cards are not in the best interest of the HOA, they put the company at risk and should never be used for business.
- Require that bank statements come to the board, as well as a management company.
- Ensure that the cancelled checks are on the bank statement and that they match the accounting entries. People will change the name on the check after it has been processed by the accounting software.
- Ensure that the signatures on the checks are correct and not forgeries.
- Ensure that all information for all vendors is in the software. Do not allow checks with just a name to be processed. You want address and phone numbers and SS# for 1099 contractors. If the vendor refuses to give you the info, find another vendor.
- Randomly pick things out of the bank statement and question it at reconciliation. Look at the invoice make sure it was for the amount indicated. If your telephone bill looks too high, have them pull the invoice. Maybe the amount is the employee’s or management company’s telephone bill. Verify that what you are looking at on the bank statement is indeed what it is supposed to be.
- Rotate board members, do not keep the same people in the same place at the same office for any length of time. Remove or do not re-elect any “lazy” board member that does not want to go through the extra steps to ensure the accounts are secure or relaxes fraud controls. They are not worth the risk to the organization.
- Be wary of any board member(s) that has a personal agenda. They are on the board to use their position to push that agenda, no matter what. They are not looking out for the members or the HOA.
- Lock down your cash collections. If you must use cash collections, utilize a 3 part cash receipt book. When cash is received, one receipt goes to the payer, one receipt gets attached to the bank deposit record when it is deposited, and one receipt stays in the book (these should always be consecutive- never allow someone to tear out the receipt. If a mistake was made, cross through it and go on to the next one).
- List checks separately on the bank deposit, not a total. It is very easy to slip out a few checks with a lump sum amount listed. Unless you take the time to add up all the checks yourself, how would you know with a lump sum? Ensure that there is a total of the checks that are being deposited and keep all information together for each deposit.
When it comes down to preventing fraud and theft, prevention is key. Documentation can be a pain, but it can act as a real deterrent to theft when done properly and monitored. Everyone is at risk for fraud, so don’t wait until it’s too late to prevent it. Look at how your HOA does business, and determine whether there is anything you could do to break the chain of financial control. The more eyes you have on actions being taken, the lower the possibility of a crime being committed. Get smart and get organized or risk being taken advantage of and becoming a victim of fraud or theft.