The Community Associations Institute (CAI) fulfills a number of roles for its members. It provides education for our members and a means of maintaining business relationships, many of which evolve into personal friendships. One of CAI’s most important roles is to provide legislative advocacy on behalf of community associations and the businesses that serve the community association industry. To further these efforts, CAI has created legislative action committees (LACs) in each state in which CAI has a chapter to lead CAI’s lobbying efforts on legislation that effects the interests of community associations, management companies and its other members. CAI also has a Federal LAC to lead the industry’s lobbying efforts in Congress.
I cannot overemphasize the importance of CAI’s LACs to the furtherance of the interests of the community association industry. It is through the efforts of CAI’s LACs that the legislative priorities of the community association industry are brought to the attention of the very law makers who make the laws under which we operate.
What’s a LAC?
LACs are committees of CAI National. As such, while the chapters may make recommendations on who should be appointed to serve on a LAC, it is CAI’s Board of Trustees that makes the formal appointments. Indeed, one of the defined purposes of every LAC is for the LAC to promote and follow CAI’s Public Policies within their jurisdiction. It Is with these Public Policies in mind that the LAC’s legislative agendas are shaped.
What is the Primary Purpose of a LAC?
That being said, the primary purpose of the LACs is to advocate on legislation to promote the best interests of community associations. In order to accomplish its legislative agenda, the LACs engage with legislators and their staff members throughout the year. During periods when the state legislature is not in session, LACs maintain contact with key legislators and their staff members to discuss possible legislation and how it may benefit or, in some cases, harm community associations. Members of the LAC serve as the primary point of contact for legislators and their staff members on important pieces of legislation. During legislative session, LAC members will lobby members of the legislator on legislation, and, in some case, testify at legislative hearings for or against legislation.
It also is common for LAC members to assist in the development of legislation. LACs may draft proposed legislation, after which the LAC, through its members and lobbyist, will seek a patron to sponsor such legislation. Indeed, as examples, just this past year, LACs have successfully drafted and advocated for new legislation in several states limiting community association liability for claims arising out of COVID-19 exposure and legislation permitting community associations to hold Board and membership meetings through electronic means.
LACs serve a similar purpose with respect to the regulatory efforts of the Federal and state governments. Members or the LACs engage with key government officials on a variety of state and Federal regulations that affect community associations. Prominent examples of such regulations include HUD’s Fair Housing and condominium registration regulatory programs, and also state programs such as community association and manager licensing protocols.
Regardless of whether the LACs are engaged with state or Federal legislators or state or Federal officials, the LACs help shape the discourse on issues related to community associations through education. They do so through several mediums. First and foremost, LACs meet with legislators and their staff members to discuss pending legislation. Sometimes these meetings are informal and consist of high-level discussions on legislative priorities. This allows the LACs to establish themselves as key stakeholders that are provided a voice in the legislative process. This is particularly important once legislation is introduced, as it provides LAC members with an ability to serve on working groups and meet with staff members to influence the legislative language to assert the interests of the community association industry.
How Do LACs Affect Community Associations and the Industry?
The LACs’ service to community associations and the community association industry is critical. The LACs are the primary entity that serve as the spokespeople for community associations with the people who have the power to establish laws and regulations that affect the operations of community associations and the lives of people who live in associations.
It is through the LACs that associations can influence and change laws for their benefit, along with their members. Equally, important, the LACs serve as the first line of defense against laws that would act to the detriment of community associations. For instance, over the past several years, there has been a push in a number of states to limit the liability of developers of condominium for construction defects or to otherwise make it more difficult for a condominium association to pursue such claims. In those states, LACs have mobilized to oppose such legislation.
In addition, LACs often provide a key role in educating community members, member business partners, and other key stakeholders such as legislators and governmental staff members on issues of importance to community associations. LACs often take the lead in organizing and presenting educational programs for their members, which may take the form of in person presentations or webinars. Also, LAC members often prepare articles on changes to the law or legislative priorities. Successful education on issues of importance to community associations is a key component to any successful lobbying strategy.
Moreover, the LACs often take a leading role in defining the legislative and, by extension, policy priorities for their jurisdiction. The LACs’ decision on what legislation to pursue, what legislation to oppose and on what legislation to remain neutral often defines the policy of the community association industry on both the legislation and the broader subject matter addressed by legislation. That being said, the LACs do not have unlimited authority to establish industry policy. CAI has a Government and Public Affairs Committee (GPAC) that works with CAI’s Board of Trustees to set official policy on a wide range of topics. The LACs are required to take positions that are not in conflict with establish policies approved by CAI. In that regard, the GPAC works closely with the LACs to ensure that the LACs are aware of established policy. Similarly, the LACs typically coordinate their efforts with CAI’s national Government Affairs staff to ensure that the LACs take positions that comply with CAI’s approved public policy. If you are interested in learning more about CAI’s approved public policies, you can access them at the following location: https://www.caionline.org/Advocacy/PublicPolicies.
What Happens When LACs Mobilize For Or Against Legislation?
When a LAC decides to take action on proposed legislation, it starts by meeting with important stakeholders to express its concerns and to try to resolve the issues that have caused the LAC to take a position on legislation. Hopefully, during this period, the LACs can work with lawmakers to make any acceptable revisions to a bill to make it palatable to the community association industry.
Additionally, LACs will seek assistance from community association members to advance CAI’s position on a bill. Community leaders often are asked to testify in public hearings before committees of state legislatures to advocate on behalf of community associations. Also, LACs will send out electronic calls for action to members of CAI to request that members reach out to their elected representatives to advocate for the position taken by such LAC
Participation by homeowners, and, in particular, community leaders, is critical for any successful lobbying efforts. Legislators often emphasize the testimony expressed by constituents over those of paid professionals. Homeowners have the ability to communicate their experience and how proposed legislation may affect them and their communities.
What Can You Do To Help?
LACs rely upon the efforts of their volunteers. If you are interested in assisting in the advocating on behalf of the community association, then I would encourage you to contribute your time to your state LAC. Volunteers that are appointed to serve on a LAC are valuable advocates who provide legislators and other governmental officials with the view of communities from the “front lines”.
Even if you are not a formal member of a LAC, you can still help. LACs are always looking for volunteer homeowners who can testify on pending legislation. If you are willing to provide testimony, you can reach out to the LAC that serves your jurisdiction and offer to work with the LAC by providing critical homeowner testimony on such pending legislation.
Also, it is not unusual for LACs to seek the assistance of members of community association to contact their local legislators when a key vote is pending on legislation that either would be beneficial or substantially detrimental to community associations. In those cases, the LACs will send out a “Call for Action” requesting that homeowners send letters, emails or even call the offices of their legislative representative to seek their vote in favor of the position advocated by the LAC.
Finally, I cannot overemphasize the need for members of CAI to contribute financially to the efforts of the LACs. CAI has found that the engagement of professional lobbyists has been a critical step forward in advancing the legislative interests of the community association industry. Often, it is the lobbyists that establish the initial contacts with key legislators, maintain lines of communications on important legislative issues, and assist the LACs in establishing the best strategy to advance the LACs’ legislative priorities.
 Community Associations Institute, Legislative Action Committee (LAC) Operational Guidelines, P. 10.
 Community Associations Institute, Legislative Action Committee (LAC) Operational Guidelines, P. 10.
By Todd Sinkins, ESQ., CCAL
Todd is a shareholder of Rees Broome, PC, where he is the co-chair of its community association department. Todd’s practice focuses exclusively on the representation of community associations in Virginia and the District of Columbia. An active member of the Community Association Institute, he has completed six years serving on the Washington Metropolitan Chapter’s board of directors, chaired the DC Legislative Action Committee from 2007 to 2014, for whom he is again serving as co-chair, and has served on the CAI Government and Public Affairs Committee since 2017. Todd was awarded the Educator of the Year and Public Advocate of the Year awards on several occasions, was inducted into the WMCCAI’s Hall of Fame in 2019, and into the College of Community Association Lawyers in 2020. He has testified for CAI before the DC Council on numerous occasions and has drafted amendments to various sections of the Condominium Act for the District of Columbia and both the Condominium Act and Property Owners’ Association Act in Virginia.