Community associations seek to offer quality and unique amenities to maintain and grow their residential populations. Common amenities include parks, exercise areas, and pools. Yet, as many of us are stuck in isolation, we are spending more and more time inside—and in front of a screen. The ways in which we engage and communicate with one another are moving online, and these changes may be permanent. Business meetings, client communications, friendly conversations and even family gatherings rely on quality internet access. In fact, HOAs are moving board meetings to video conferencing platforms. Even before the pandemic rocked our reality, tech-forward cities, including San Francisco and New York, have been building infrastructure to support city-wide free Wi-Fi. The need for Wi-Fi has never been more apparent.
All of these changes prompt a few questions: Should HOAs provide community-wide internet access as an amenity? And if not, should HOAs provide technical support for residents’ existing internet access? How valuable would this offering be to the community? How much risk is associated with it?
One of the biggest concerns for any HOA board when deciding to alter or add an amenity is the legal impact of the change. Your HOA board must review its governing documents and consult its legal professionals before making any changes. The HOA’s CC&Rs (Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions) may model the type of amenities that your HOA can and cannot provide to your community.
State community association laws may also impact what an HOA can offer regarding community-wide internet access. For example, California grants HOAs the same rights as a corporation as far as their ability to levy dues, enter into contracts, act as a trustee, etc. Other states, such as Florida, devote a specific statute to address association contracts, providing regulations on “information services or Internet services obtained pursuant to a bulk contract,” among other items. Your legal professional is the best source to understand state and local law. As we move toward a greater reliance on internet access, it is possible that some local and state governments may deem Wi-Fi an important need for the welfare of the community.
Beyond legal considerations, several practical concerns may guide the board’s interest in providing standard internet access. Of course, the added cost of providing the amenity and its impact on membership dues/amenity fees may be determinative. On the other hand, although not every member of your community will value easy and reliable internet access equally, the interest will continue to grow as the world depends more and more on digital interactions.
Another practical consideration is the planning and structure of your community. Is it possible to provide solid Wi-Fi access in common areas like parks? Is it possible to equip every unit to ensure each resident has first-rate access? Communities that are spread across a greater geographical area or have large open areas may struggle to offer full-coverage Wi-Fi. Other concerns like structure issues, such as concrete or high-rise buildings, may make installation very difficult.
Community Tech Support
In addition to offering internet access, providing technological support may be another way to move your HOA into the future. While the internet provider themselves would be responsible for repairs and outages, your staff would be responsible to ensure proper maintenance of equipment and proper usage by residents, requiring additional funds and staff hours.
Even if your board of trustees determines it is not legally or practically feasible to provide internet access, there are other ways to support your residents during this technological shift. The HOA website is a critical platform to maintain and publish important information to your community. Providing access to everything from daily announcements to governing documents, your website is visited by residents all the time. One way to provide support to your residents is through a live chat function. By offering this function directly on your webpage, you have the opportunity to communicate with residents in real time, answering questions and resolving issues immediately. Of course, this chat function requires an investment in the application as well as increased employee power. If this function is too costly, many HOAs also use existing sites like Facebook or Twitter, though they can be difficult to maintain unless human hours are specifically dedicated to their upkeep.
Traditional methods of tech support like dial-in calls and/or text messaging should not be discarded. Particularly for an aging generation, maintaining some of these less-used methods may be critical to ensure that everyone in your community has equal access to support. The benefits of providing tech support can lead to better staff communication, enhanced resident interaction, and a higher degree of customer satisfaction. Whether it is possible for your HOA move into the future with community-wide Wi-Fi or not, there are forward-thinking options available to make digital interactions more accessible for everyone.
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