The first widely acknowledged villains of the condo and HOA world were those uncaring, lower than low, vagabond renters and their just-as-insensitive absentee owners bent on raping and pillaging the landscape of the community association. All they cared about were their rents and didn't blink an eye if the renter happened to be a bit of a different stripe who didn't always fit in with the milieu of the other homeowners. Diversity is great for America, but not exactly welcomed by community associations, especially when the diversity comes in the form of a lowly renter. One of the constants in community association life seems to be the antipathy towards renters and the absentee owners that house them.
I don't think I can do much about that from this pulpit. It's too ingrained, too psychological, and besides, I was one of the hated minions of absentee owners. I was also a renter! But allow me a thought or two to help mitigate the cold war that seems to infect almost every community with (ugh) renters.
The perceived problem seems to be that the renters don't follow the rules. Not that every homeowner does, but after all, they are homeowners, not renters. The problem seems to be that the renters don't care as much about their homes as a legitimate homeowner. The problem seems to be that the renters are just uncooperative, not part of the community. They’re always popping up as a nuisance when it's time to pave the parking lot; it's their cars that are left parked when they shouldn't be. When the painters are ready to do the next building, it seems to be the rental units that haven't removed their screens and prepared their balconies. When the pest control people come to do their work, why is it always the rental units that haven't cleared out their cabinets and why don't we have a key?
There is an answer you know. It's too simple. It's because we haven't told them the rules. We haven't notified them of the painting schedule. We haven't notified them of the pest control program. We tow their cars more often because we haven't told them the rules. Of course it's the unit owners' responsibility to tell them. They're the ones raking in those big fat rents. They're the ones making a profit from our community lifestyle. Let them live up to their responsibility and communicate with their tenants. We send them all the notices as we're supposed to. If they don't pass the word along to their tenants, then they will bear the burden of our wrath. We will fine them, tow them and leave them full of pests.
In fact that is the answer in many cases. When the idea of informing all residents of the various maintenance schedules, not just the owners, is brought up the response is a raised eyebrow. "Why should we?" Did you ever consider including the renters in your Newsletter circulation? "Heaven Forbid!" That's for our community members only. Did you ever think of providing every new resident with a set of the rules and regulations and the other kind of welcoming package that you offer new homeowners? I know this seems outrageous. Why should we, THE BOARD OF DIRECTORS, do what the unit owners should be doing?
The answer is simple. Because it will solve the problem. The problem with renters is that they are viewed as outsiders who are not members of the neighborhood. That's the way we treat them, and then wonder why they don't join in and become a part of the community that views them as inferior beings.
Yes, we understand you are all volunteers offering your time up for the good of your neighbors. Yes, we understand that you resent that your selfless contribution of personal time is also benefiting those individuals who are part of the community in deed only, and that they are making a profit from your volunteer efforts. Yes, we understand that renters are a transient sort who don't contribute to the Reserve Fund and don't necessarily come from the same socio-economic level as a well-mortgaged homeowner.
What we also understand is that the problem exists because the renters are considered outcasts in the community and treated as such. If you treat them that way, expect them to act the part. Don't communicate directly with them and they probably won't get your message. Then who has the problem? You do.
So now you can fine away to your heart's content. But you still have a problem that creates an uneasiness and a discordant environment. Why not just treat the renters as equals? I know I know, of course they're not. But just pretend. Maybe you'll have one less car to tow, one less pest control problem. Maybe you may find a renter that's really a nice person underneath that lease. Those absentee owner landlords are a lost cause, but the renters may be worth reaching out to. Maybe one less telephone complaint disturbing your dinner.