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Protecting homes, people

Time was when people thought their condo or homeowners association existed simply to collect the monthly maintenance checks and keep the guy next door from painting his house purple.

But that's changing, a result of demographics and events in society, experts say.

After the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, people in master-planned communities said that safety and security were their No. 1 priorities. They didn't want to leave what they believed were the safe confines of their community for the dangerous wider world. They began to look to their associations to provide entertainment and activities, said Randy Jackson, a planner from Costa Mesa, Calif., at last month's Southeast Building Conference in Orlando.

"Formerly, associations were there to enforce the rules. Now, they're there to put on social events," he said.

But some associations have no budget for the events their members want, so they're challenged to find creative ways to finance them: fundraisers, partnerships with commercial sponsors, cutting costs and earmarking the savings for an entertainment fund.

Intranets that link homeowners, facilitate interest groups and provide community news and information are one way to connect neighbors, said speakers on a panel with Jackson.

Melinda Masson of the Merit Cos. in Mission Viejo, Calif., a professional association manager, said residents like the "effortless participation" offered by intranets that allow them, at 11:30 p.m., to sign up for a class, review the community calendar, pay their monthly maintenance via credit card or check the bylaws, all online.

Associations are also acknowledging that people don't live the way they used to. Adult children with aging parents want zoning, subletting and rental restrictions relaxed so they can create secondary residential units _ converted garages, guest units, casitas _ where their parents or the parents' caregivers can live. They want on-site senior day care centers.

The aging of the community association is Ellen Hirsch de Haan's topic in Boomer Shock: Preparing Communities for the Retirement Generation (Community Associations Press, $30). Baby boomers will start to turn 65 in 2011. Older people will live longer with fewer family members to care for them, with diminishing Social Security benefits and with greater needs.

What will this mean for condo and homeowners associations? Among the possibilities:

+ A demand for "buddy systems" that make regular calls on seniors to make sure they're okay and regularly contact distant family members. That keeps the family involved, makes it harder for it to abandon a senior and makes it easier for the association to turn to the family when emergencies arise, de Haan writes.

+ Rethinking parking rules. There will be more demand for handicapped spaces, and associations may have to swap guest or unassigned spaces or free up employee spots.

+ Dealing with aging residents who break the rules. A resident with Alzheimer's or other ailments may be physically or verbally abusive to other residents. What is the association's responsibility? Senile residents may behave inappropriately, endangering themselves or others, with inappropriate or inadequate clothing; incontinence; and abusive or obscene verbal interaction. If the board or a resident has someone involuntarily committed for psychological observation and evaluation, that person may sue once he is released, or the family may do so. Boards have to weigh those risks against the liability of failing to act.

+ Board members may have diminished mental or physical capabilities. "If they exhibit the mental decline that sometimes comes with age, how will that affect the governance of the association?" de Haan asks. Condo law is challenging even for the clearest of mind. And the pool of viable board candidates may dwindle in communities largely populated by seniors, many of whom already have given years of service. "Perhaps paid professional board members are also in our futures," she writes.

Associations will be challenged to provide transportation for residents when they can no longer drive, and to work with businesses and governments to provide services to their residents (such as grocery delivery, veterinarian house calls, adult day care, health and fitness programs, counseling, Meals on Wheels, support groups).

They will also have to engage in "a paradigm shift" to tilt their priorities away from "protecting property more than valuing people." The right of access to a unit is a business necessity, for example, but it is even more important when dealing with residents "whose capability, mobility or reasoning may be impaired due to the effects of age. Indeed, it amounts to protection provided by the association to senior residents."