Should All Acquaintance

A couple weeks ago you would’ve caught me grumping about another wimpy winter. If you live up here, you ought to be able to exercise your bragging rights. Green grass in December just doesn’t cut it. Suffice it to say that Old Man Winter knocked me back on my heels. And days later, it’s a slush party. And the holiday weekend was a skating rink. Go figure.

Last week of the year. Punch your tickets for 2017. Tis a time both to look back and to look forward. What went right and what can be improved? Tis a time to finish all those leftovers just in order to recommit to the treadmill after January 1st.

Mere coincidence or Divine Intervention that Christmas and Hanukkah fell on the same day? And Kwanzaa began the day after. Perhaps it’s a hint that we just all need a bit more coming together.

Happy Holidays to you and yours. Best Wishes for a Prosperous New Year.

Snow Daze

The first snow fall has come (and gone). When Mother Nature finally gets serious and the snow sticks, who’s gonna plow it? By now, you should be under contract with a snow clearing firm. I like to have my clients signed up by early October, at latest. I’m old enough to remember the Great Halloween Blizzard of 1991.

Invariably after a heavy dump or a sustained event (as the industry likes to call it), the question arises: So where are the plows? At times the complaint is justified. Plowing snow ain’t rocket science but it is a complex dance of getting crew and equipment from one site to another within a certain time window. Sometimes the dancers step on each other’s feet and sometimes they fall right off the stage.

Most often, however, the question is posed from an incomplete understanding of the contract parameters. Most professional firms hew to standard industry language such as: plowing begins within “x” hours of “x” inches (i.e. the trigger depth). When an event tops a certain inch mark, a new set of parameters applies. An open-up plowing of drive lanes will occur, typically by 7:00am or 5:00pm with the final clean up occurring within “x” hours of cessation of the snow fall.

Of course that’s confusing. But the take-away is that professional snow clearing services may not be in synch with your particular job schedule or the myriad other times you need to be out in the world. When dozens of neighbors are gathered together in a community association, that sort of customization isn’t possible. Not to say that contract parameters cannot be enhanced. Like Alice’s Restaurant, you can get anything you want but you have to pay for it. That is a discussion I am continually having with my Board members. Is the additional cost worth the upgrade in service?

To appropriate Jeremy Benthem: the greatest good for the greatest number of people. Happy Snow Days!

Burn Baby Burn

Ah yes, that time of year. We go from trying to avoid the heat to encouraging its presence. If you’re a diehard, you’re still waiting for the weather to make you turn on the heat. If you’re like me, you’ve capitulated already. For most of us, it’s either furnace or boiler heat.

A furnace is instant on and that first whiff of burnt stuff is a reminder that you should’ve cleaned the ducting. Maybe next year. A furnace is all yours and only yours. You don’t share it and you don’t share maintenance responsibilities. Always a good idea to have it tuned and tested regularly. (For me that means every two years.) Know the filter change regime. If that’s a “duh” point for you, be sure your tenants know if you rent.

By contrast, a boiler is a big, slow cooking tea kettle. It can take days to get up to temp and can be tetchy when outdoor temps aren’t that cold. Not nearly as nimble as a furnace but then again it’s often designed to heat larger areas.

A boiler is community property. You all share its expense and its heat distribution. If your radiator valve is closed or if you blow a zone valve, your neighbor may be feeling it. If your radiator is working fine, all you really need do is keep it clean. (Especially true with those baseboard models.) If you see water, then you need to call management or maintenance.

Here’s wishing everyone happy heating days. Rumor on the street is that this winter won’t just be making a cameo appearance like the last one.


We still have until next week before the official conclusion of summer but c’mon, you know autumn is out there. A week ago, the sun set ten minutes later than today. September is the month wherein daylight diminishes most dramatically. (Six months earlier, March is its opposite.)

If you’re like my wife, you really mind this dying of the light (rage, rage). If you’re like me, less daylight is mostly an inconvenience in that it’s hard to see in the dark. Great time to check those photo-cells and timers on your outdoor lights. For my properties with hard-to-reach lighting this is the second time in the year I dispatch a firm to ensure everything is burning properly.

If you have a furnace, a test fire is a good idea now. You may also want to have it tuned but be prepared to stand in line. But doing so isn’t as inconvenient as a three-in-the-morning emergency call to Service Plus. Trust me, there is something disconcerting about seeing your breath inside your home. Most homeowners know to change the filter regularly but do your tenants know?

If your home has boiler heat as opposed to a forced air furnace, you are much less in control of when the heat starts coming. It’s usually a committee decision and usually precedes a nice warm Indian Summer by a few days. As boilers can’t just be flipped on and off like a furnace, expect to be uncomfortably warm until the weather drops into its 30-40 degree mode.

If you have an outdoor spigot, don’t be like me. Turn it off on the inside and ON on the outside. You don’t want to trap water that will freeze and split open that nice brass fixture.

Time to awaken the jackets and coats from their summer slumber. Time to dash about madly like squirrels, gathering our acorns for the underbelly of the year.

Gone to the Dogs

Ah yes, the dog days of summer. Did you know that the origin of this phrase has nothing to do with our canine friends? It referred to Sirius, the dog star, which is glowing brightly this time of year. The Ancients thought it contributed heat to the Sun which made these days extra hot.

But here we are talking about our BFFs and not some light in the sky. It’s always good to be up on your Association’s policy regarding pets. It’s not unheard of to find weight and height restrictions for dogs (especially in apartment style condos). I’ve even seen breed restrictions—which I believe to be misguided. There are no bad breeds, just bad owners.

Two of the most common complaints I hear have to do with dog owners allowing their pets to be off leash and allowing them to relieve themselves wherever. Not coincidentally, these are the two most common reasons associations ban pets outright. The vast majority of dog owners are conscientious and responsible. But true to human nature, the bad apples tarnish the bushel and are the ones who most influence pet policy. It does not take a village to raise Lassie. But Lassie running around unattended and killing shrubs is reason to raise the dues.

Opposite the responsibility side of the coin is the side of prerogative. Board members should be aware of Federal regulations regarding service and comfort animals. By definition, a service or comfort animal is NOT a pet. Your association may prohibit pets…but these aren’t pets. Board members are well advised to avoid a dog-gone costly mistake and seek legal counsel before enacting a detailed pet policy.

21 Bum Salute

The “annual” flags have been rolled up in the wake of another Fourth of July. Like Christmas trees, they come out once a year. As for myself, I prefer to fly the flag on every holiday calling for it that I can. That’s right, I’m a proud American and I think most of us would answer to that charge. Presenting the Stars and Stripes is one very visible way to demonstrate respect for our country.

Everyone knows there are rules of flag etiquette. I am still surprised by those who conflate a seemingly overweening need to proclaim their patriotism with apathy or ignorance.

To wit:

A large print ad in the newspaper features a family gathering. Picnic table loaded with food and a flag hanging vertically on the house in the background. How more American can this get: family, home, country, sustenance? This one got my dander up enough for a letter: the union was on the right. When displaying the flag vertically, etiquette requires the union always to be on the left. A professionally and painstakingly staged ad photo and they missed this?

A couple of super-patriotic homeowners liked to display their flags all the time. As in after dark. Sun up to sun down unless directly lit is the rule. I have no idea as to motivation. But I have noticed a common intent to justify these sorts of etiquette breaches with breezy references to friends having served or of being of the correct political mindset. Only in America can you consider yourself a staunch patriot while dissing the national symbol.

Any car dealership which flies umpteen flags like they were streamers or balloons. What’s the point here? We’re so patriotic that we have more flags that particles in the universe? More flags does not equal more respect. Rather, to me, it cheapens the symbol.

I didn’t make these rules up. And I don’t get to make up my own rules here. Just like I don’t get to have a flag with 51 stars (c’mon Puerto Rico). There’s a certain standardization required in what constitutes respect. That way we all know it and we know what it isn’t.

God Bless America.

Irrigation Tales

It being a steamy late spring day, I am reminded of how important (and often misunderstood) irrigation systems are to a community. I like to compare them to that 1967 Oldsmobile you found in your grandpa’s barn. Many of the parts are original and the thing always need tinkering.

Irrigation systems are fairly straightforward: plumbing, clocks and a little electricity. Nonetheless, they exhibit a certain mysterious nature which at turns proves puzzling and vexing. Herewith for your amusement, quotes and anecdotes of the irrigation system.

“The sprinklers haven ‘t gone off all week.” That’s because it’s been raining during their timed operation. Rain sensor: an inexpensive little device worth its weight in precious metal. I remember being at a meeting where a couple of know-it-alls were guffawing about the fact that the sprinklers had been going off in the rain. No rain sensor: buy one. The system doesn’t know it’s raining. But the system does know what time it turns on.

There’s always the OMG moment when one witnesses a busted head. A miniature geyser, which looks more disconcerting than it is. They are readily and quickly replaced and you use more water in the shower than a head does even after a few days. “If my siding is damaged, the association is paying for it!” Siding is generally impervious to low psi water.
One guy called to tell me that the sprinklers had watered his car overnight. So the heads are pointed on the driveway? No, he was parking on the lawn.

“I belong to a country club and my lawn needs to look like that.” Are you considering paying a greens fee? The typical commercial lawn contract includes herbicide, fertilizer, irrigation and a weekly haircut. Country clubs look like they do because they have a staff of degreed turf management professionals. (In fact there are several academic journals with the words “turf”, “management” and “science” in their titles.) Don’t be thinking you can shop Bylery’s on a Cub budget.

Stay cool and green.

Movin’ On In

That time of year (actually all year is that time of year)—this particular part of it being extra hectic—when the rental community is alive and buzzing. Really it starts in earnest in April and continues until the kiddies are back in school.

It’s a tight rental market out there (under 3% vacancy rate). Even still I pride myself on the fact that I don’t get my clients’ properties rented in just a day or two—unless of course they want me to. That means we were asking less than we ought. Pricing is of critical importance. It can determine whether it’s wise for you to consider being a landlord in the first place. However, it is pretty much out of your hands and determined by the market.

Condition is something you do and should affect. Even with a less than 3% vacancy rate, you want to attract the type of tenants who appreciate and respect a well-kept property. You will spend money and/or elbow grease to find these tenants. When a place is in good condition, you are making this statement: “This is how I keep it and this is how I want it returned because I care about it”. I’m not suggesting a complete paint job or changing out the floors on every turn-around. But it is amazing the impression a clean oven and refrigerator can make.

Balance is key. You aren’t offering hotel service but you don’t want the dead flies on the window sill.


I was having a chat with a colleague the other day on the scintillating topic of OTARD. The acronym stands for Over-The-Air Reception Device and it encompasses the FCC’s
rules and regulations regarding mostly satellite dishes with respect to condo and townhome communities.

Both of us nodded knowingly as each in turn shared stories about overreaching Boards of Directors attempting to put the clamps on satellite dish installation. While specific locations can be mandated—to a certain extent—associations cannot mandate prior approval and cannot outright prohibit installation. This can come as quite a surprise to some associations. The homeowner does not need permission and this is not the purview of architectural review.

Now granted, this is a thumbnail briefing. The regulations are dozens of pages in length as they were drafted by the FEDERAL Communications Commission. OTARD came into being as a means to ensure access to information. To my knowledge, the FCC has always prevailed against an association in the event of a dispute. And that can mean fines along with whatever money the association had had to spend on legal counsel. The moral of the story here is make sure you’re talking to someone with more than a nodding acquaintance of OTARD when the satellite dish issue arises.

When you ask your management professional about OTARD, the answer should be: “Do you have a minute?” or “Let me send you some information”. It shouldn’t be: “Huh?” or “Let me get back to you”. That’s usually code for unconfessed ignorance of the subject.

I’m constantly amazed to learn about all the esoteric parts of a car which the auto mechanics know about. Well they should. They’re the experts. These parts can have a very real impact on the functionality of the vehicle. That’s why you have experts around: to keep you from the deleterious consequences of ignorance of the esoterica.

The “H” of Spades

If the headline pun falls flat for you, then you’ve never been a fan of Motorhead. Lemmy Kilmister passed away in December, having brought into this world such 200 mph hits as “Ace of Spades”. Rest in Peace, Lemmy.

Wild party animal that he was, he was also fond of cracking open P.G. Wodehouse on the tour bus. The things you may not know.

Coming up on tax time, that “H” means something a little different. But wait, isn’t there another month until April 15th? Not if you’re a corporation and all community associations are non-profit corporations. The corporate deadline is March 15th. (Don’t worry, your manager knows this and also knows about the free six month automatic extension.)

The 1120-H form is the federal tax form your association has to file. NOT to be confused with the 1120 form. That single H makes a difference when you get to the bottom line.

Several years ago, Urbanwood took over management of an association only to discover that previous management had been filing 1120 forms. We changed that faster than you can say: “Render Unto Caesar”. And surprise, the $200 or so the association owed in taxes every year magically went away.

I won’t pretend to understand the intricacies of the tax code that make that possible. I also won’t do your taxes for you: Urbanwood is a management, not an accounting firm. Our job is to know a little about a lot and to know those who know a lot about a little.

Know what who you know knows.