Recently, I had the opportunity to join Judy Monger and visit Capitol Hill on behalf of Community Associations Institute (CAI) San Antonio to attend CAI National’s Advocacy Summit. The summit was a fast and furious day on Capitol Hill meeting with lawmakers to advocate on behalf of community associations across the state.
For the summit, Judy and I were joined by other Texas representatives including CAI Houston Executive Director Jesus Azana, General Manager of a master-planned community from the CAI Houston Chapter, Sandra Denton, Community Management Director from the CAI Dallas Chapter, Diana Larson, and Associa’s Vice President of Government Affairs, John Krueger. Our “Texas Team” had the absolute pleasure of hosting the President of CAI’s Middle East Chapter, Jeevan John D’Mello. Yes, CAI is a worldwide organization with 64 Chapters in the United States, Canada, the Middle East and South Africa.
We had the distinct honor of visiting the offices of Texas Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz as a group, and Jesus and I were able to have side sessions with the Chief of Staff for Representative Chip Roy, Joseph Miller, and the Legislative Coordinator for Representative Pete Olsen. Jesus and I were even allowed to see Representative Olsen’s office and pose for photos while sitting in his chair. A chair that belongs to the citizens of the United States, not himself, as a sign succinctly points out behind Representative Olsen’s chair.
Unlike Jefferson Smith, we did not have to filibuster for 25 hours to be heard. We were able to have thoughtful conversation over a variety of issues affecting community associations.
After brief introductions of CAI while noting the Texas specific statistics on the benefits of community association living, our main points of focus for the Advocacy Summit were four issues: clarification on emotional support animals (ESAs), the Disaster Assistance Equity Act (DAEA), short term rentals (STRs) and the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).
Clarification on Emotional Support Animals
While meeting with lawmakers, we spoke extensively about ESAs and community associations. We requested lawmakers consider sending a draft letter to Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Ben Carson urging Secretary Carson to implement policy, which would require assistance animal reasonable accommodation requests include documentation of a disability-related need by a professional (i.e. doctor, psychiatrist, other related professional) acting within the official capacity of a medical or professional license and/or state certification, who is in good standing under the law in their state, and who has a bona fide practitioner relationship with the patient.
Disaster Assistance Equity Act
In our meetings with lawmakers, we asked that they consider supporting policy changes to the DAEA that would allow community association homeowners access to the full range of federal disaster recovery resources that are available to all other homeowners. Examples of the changes we requested include – the removal of disaster debris from homeowner association roads and allowing condominium homeowners to use repair assistance for repairs to critical common elements. It is important for all homeowners for federal policy to allow for closer coordination between community associations and FEMA to ensure community interests are reflected in the design of federal disaster mitigation grants.
Short Term Rentals
Short term rentals have been a hot-button issue at the state level around the country for years and now it is making its way to the federal level. In Washington, we asked our lawmakers for support of H.R. 4232, the Protecting Local Authority Act. This Act would “amend the Communications Act of 1934 to ensure the ability to enforce State and local law relating to leasing and renting of real property, and for other purposes.” This potential legislation has been written because some rental platforms are citing the Communications Decency Act to evade compliance with state and local laws and community covenants/rules. While online platforms to arrange STRs have created a unique housing market where STRs provide considerable income for some community association homeowners, particularly those in vacation destination and resort areas, community association owners must have the authority to determine what STR policy is appropriate for their community.
National Flood Insurance Program
Flood insurance continues to be an important topic for Texans as our communities face devastating floods and homeowners lose billions of dollars in value. We asked our lawmakers for Support of H.R. 3167, National Flood Insurance Program Reauthorization Act of 2019. While Congress has passed a series of short-term extensions, CAI is urging Congress to complete negotiations on a five-year NFIP renewal before the November 21st deadline.
The greatest takeaway from the trip was the realization that all of us, as citizens of the United States, have the right to communicate with the offices of our elected officials all the way to Capitol Hill. While this may appear as a rather basic realization, the profound notion of being part of something huge and national filled me with an overwhelming sense of American pride. On a more pragmatical level, I learned that the issues and challenges our Texas community associations face are also faced by our fellow Americans across the country. What other states have faced in terms of legislation and regulation of community associations are crucial indicators of trends that may make their way to Texas. While it’s easy to assume that the laws of other states should not concern Texas community associations, the reality is it’s only a matter of time before issues like manager licensing requirements, transfer fee caps, state oversight, and other concepts that affect the daily and financial operations of community associations and the business partners that serve them be proposed to take effect in our state. The community association industry (locally and internationally) is smaller and more connected than we may think despite CAI being such an enormous worldwide entity.