By Betsy Barbieux, CAM, CFCAM, CMCA / Published September 2019

Photo by

Community association management resembles battlefield triage! Certainly, some managers and boards think they are in the midst of a battle, but by looking at a simple definition of triage, it’s easy to make the connection.

     Triage is a system to sort the injured so the greatest number of patients can be helped when there are limited resources. In short, it is a method of classifying sick or injured patients according to the severity of their conditions so that medical facilities and staff are most effectively utilized. Triage allows health care professionals to determine which patients require immediate attention to survive, which patients are able to wait, and which patients are beyond help with the limited resources available.

     Just as doctors must decide which people can be helped the most and how to help them efficiently, managers and boards do the same. During hurricane season, it is clear that management is performing triage every day—restoring power, securing the property, notifying residents, inspecting the property, coordinating for debris removal, and patching roofs and windows until contractors can arrive. Many managers and boards must make decisions on the spot to either let the building fall in or mitigate damages by hiring contractors before insurance adjusters can arrive to assess the damage or pay out insurance proceeds.

     Community associations face so many needs and pressures. There are the demands of residents and vendors, on-going maintenance, low unemployment,

rising insurance premiums, and capital repairs and improvements. Sometimes it takes forever to receive insurance proceeds for hurricane damages. Add to that the realization you need to establish formal hurricane evacuation procedures. All of these tasks cannot be accomplished at the same time, forcing managers to spend time prioritizing not only the tasks but their funds and other resources.

     Community management triage would be the process of prioritizing administrative and operational tasks, with the wise use of what seems to be limited resources. But are their resources limited? Actually, their resources are unlimited. In essence, when an owner purchases a unit, share, or home in a condominium, cooperative, or homeowners association, they have just signed a blank check. The blank check indicates they will pay whatever it costs to protect, enhance, and maintain the property according to the scheme and design of the developer. With no intent of abusing the pocketbooks of the owners, boards of directors are charged by Florida law with a fiduciary responsibility to enforce and fulfill all the requirements of their governing documents. They are to prepare a budget that sufficiently funds the administrative and operational functions of the association. The proportionate share of that budget then becomes the responsibility of each owner regardless of cost or hardship.

     Ethically and emotionally, the most difficult aspect of triage is designating some patients as requiring too much attention or being unlikely to survive even with extreme medical care. The triage professional must make this difficult choice, though, because the same four surgeons who would need 10 hours to save one victim of severe burns, only to give him a slight chance of survival, may be able to save dozens of less severely wounded patients and give each of them a very good chance at recovery.

     Similarly, boards of directors have ethically and emotionally difficult decisions to make. While they can sympathize with the owners in their unfortunate situations, those feelings cannot be a factor in creating an adequately funded budget or in enforcing the covenants and rules and regulations.

  • The widow who is living on a fixed income and will have to choose between paying her rising assessments or her prescriptions.
  • The resident who suddenly finds himself unemployed and asks the board forleniency in paying his assessments.
  • The owner who has lost everything in the hurricane and must pay a mortgage payment and rent for temporary housing in addition to his monthly assessment.

     Each of these is very unfortunate; but ethically, boards can make no other decision but to enforce the covenants, rules, and regulations, and increase the budget requirements, when necessary.

     Emotionally, these decisions will take their toll. Directors will resign and management will be blamed. Boards that don’t understand their fiduciary responsibility will make unethical decisions to cancel management agreements, believing they can save money by self-managing. Other boards will vote to not fully fund their reserves. In either case, they don’t realize that mortgagors are more likely to extend credit to buyers who will be purchasing in a community that is professionally managed and has a plan to fully fund their reserves.

     Do you want to know if you need to perform triage at your association? Here are some signs of a sick, diseased, or injured association:

  • An increase in assessment delinquencies that is not due to a poor economy.
  • An increase instead of a decrease in the list of action items for management carried over from one board meeting to another.
  • An increase in owner attendance at board meetings and in complaints about poor service.
  • An increase in the response time for maintenance of the common elements.
  • Sloppy contractor or employee performance, with employees becoming defensive when questioned.
  • Board members resigning for “personal reasons.”
  • An unusually large number of owners volunteering to run for the board because they “have an ax to grind.”
  • An unusually high turnout at a general or annual meeting which is not related to some other issue.

     Management decisions must be made on logic, law, and ethics. The degree of fiduciary responsibility placed on individual board members is as high as that placed on attorneys, doctors, and financial planners.

     Triage is not for the faint at heart. Neither is community association management. 

Betsy Barbieux, CAM, CFCAM, CMCA

Florida CAM Schools

Betsy Barbieux, CAM, CFCAM, CMCA, guides managers, board members, and service providers in handling daily operations of their communities while at the same time dealing with different communication styles, difficult personalities, and conflict. Effective communication and efficient management are her goals. Since 1999, Betsy has educated thousands of managers, directors, and service providers. She is your trainer for life! Betsy is the author of Boardmanship, a columnist in the Florida Community Association Journal, and a member of the Regulatory Council for Community Association Managers. For more information, contact, (352) 326-8365, or