Insurance is a complex subject in any context, and in the realm of community associations — condominiums and homeowners associations (HOAs) — there are many bases to cover when it comes to ensuring the association, its board, manager and residents are all appropriately protected. We spoke with Robert A. Travis, CIRMS, CPIA who is the Managing Partner of Risk Management Matters, LLC from Bartonsville, Pennsylvania. Risk Management Matters, LLC is a consulting company which specializes exclusively in Risk Management and Insurance for community associations and other common interest properties.
So how does a community determine how much and what types of insurance are needed? While an association’s governing documents offer meticulous details about the governance of a community, they don’t typically, and shouldn’t according to Travis, specify exact amounts of insurance needed. However, they usually lay the groundwork for building the proper mix of coverage. “They’re going to have an impact in setting minimal standards of insurance for every line of insurance the association needs to have,” he said. The types of insurance needed by associations are Property, Directors & Officers (D&O) Liability, Fidelity (otherwise known as Employee Dishonesty), Commercial General Liability, Workers’ Compensation and Commercial Umbrella. “The governing documents can have a lot to say and have a strong demand about what the minimal level of insurance will be,” he said.
The association also needs to be comfortable that they’re fulfilling all the insurance requirements of federal and state statutes, and any contractual or lenders’ requirements. Above that, boards need to fulfill their business judgment — that is, ensure they’re fulfilling their fiduciary duty and exercising due care in their decisions — to make sure they have adequate coverage. But Travis noted there is no definitive answer as to how much is too much when discussing insurance. “No one can know what the future could bring in terms of losses,” he said.
Homeowners should note that there is different insurance needed depending on whether their community is a condominium association or an HOA.
In covering the properties in condominium associations, there is a master insurance policy for the association, then individual unit owners have their own insurance — commonly called HO-6 policies — which cover their individual unit’s contents as well as any upgrades made to the unit by the owner or previous owner. These policies also cover things such as loss of use, special assessments caused by a loss to the association, as well as giving General Liability coverage to the owner.
What should an association know about how its master policy interacts with the coverage residents have on their individual units? The first thing people need to understand is that, when it comes to insuring the unit in a condominium, the association’s insurance is always primary. When a loss occurs, the unit owner’s insurer is always going to look and see how the master policy dispenses of the claim, and then their HO-6 policy — the unit’s policy — will step in and cover what it can pick up after the association’s master policy applies to the claim first.
Here is an example of how this works. Let’s say there is a storm and a medium-sized tree falls on the roof of a two-story condominium building. While no major damage is done to the structure, the roof is torn causing water to leak into the kitchen of the unit below. The unit’s ceiling collects water and the sheetrock eventually breaches, causing a hole in the unit’s ceiling and water damage to the custom wood cabinetry the owner had installed after the original purchase of the unit from the developer. The condominium’s master policy pays to repair the roof and the ceiling inside the condo unit. Then the unit owner’s HO-6 policy picks up the cost to replace the custom cabinetry that was not part of the original unit sold by the developer.
Another example of how the HO-6 policy kicks in is when there is minor damage that is under the amount of the deductible of the association’s master policy. Then the HO-6 policy picks up the repair cost, making the unit owner whole again subject to the HO-6 deductible.
Travis emphasized that having an overlap of coverage in these cases is better than having a gap in coverage. “Don’t think of this adding up to 100% of the value. Having a little bit of overlapping coverage is a far better scenario than putting yourself in a position where you may have a gap,” he said.
With HOAs, on the other hand, sometimes the association is covering the unit and sometimes it’s not. That would depend on the association’s governing documents. In townhome communities, even where there are common roofs, it is not always the case that the association’s master policy will cover the townhome building. Homeowners should have their insurance professionals make sure they have reviewed the Governing Documents and offer the proper coverage for their particular situation.
When insuring a property, it is best to be covered for the Replacement Cost Valuation (RCV) of what is insured. What is meant by Replacement Cost Valuation as opposed to an item’s Actual Cash Value (ACV)? When evaluating a loss, Actual Cash Value takes depreciation into consideration. Travis gave an example of someone who has a seventeen-year-old Plymouth Neon. Let’s say this person has Comprehensive and Collision Coverage on this car and has a total loss of the car in an accident. The insurance company will pay an amount to purchase another seventeen-year-old Plymouth Neon. That is Actual Cash Value. Inversely, Replacement Cost Valuation does not take depreciation into consideration. So a policy that is written to cover Replacement Cost Valuation will pay an amount for this person to buy a brand-new Neon. “So Actual Cash Value is a valuation where it is replacement cost, minus depreciation,” he said. “It does not give you enough money to rebuild a building, it gives you the depreciated value of that building.”
Associations need to make sure they regularly check their insurer’s estimate of the replacement value for their property to ensure they have enough coverage. How often should this be done? “In my opinion,” said Travis, “annually.” He recommended the association get a Replacement Cost Valuation from an actual replacement cost construction valuation company, and enter into a contract for the company to come back on a regular basis, such as every three years. Then on the in-between years, Travis said that you should get an automated increase based on construction cost increases at the time in that geographic area. He said that the valuation company can provide you with this as well.
Associations should also be knowledgeable of their property’s replacement value in connection with its property insurance policy’s co-insurance clause. Otherwise they could be subject to a co-insurance penalty should a loss occur. The co-insurance clause basically puts a condition upon the insured that they are properly insuring the premises to its true replacement value. The actual percentage of insurance required varies from company to company. “The co-insurance clause basically will state that if an insured does not properly insure the building or buildings to the proper percentage of the true replacement value, that they will then be penalized on any and all claims on the property,” he said.
For example, let’s say someone has a building worth $100,000 from a replacement cost standpoint, and their insurance policy has an eighty-percent co-insurance clause — it’s saying that this person or association should at least be insuring the building for $80,000 on a replacement cost basis. If they choose to insure it for an RCV of $70,000, the insurance company is then going to do an evaluation at the time of the loss and discover that the building is worth $100,000 and is only insured for $70,000. Therefore, the building is only insured for 7/8ths of what the co-insurance clause specifies. Consequently, the insurer can rightly say they’re only going to pay 7/8ths of any loss.
Travis explained if the person or association in the above example had a total loss, they would only be paid 7/8ths of the policy limit of $70,000. “That’s how the co-insurance penalty works,” he said.
Associations need to have special insurance to cover themselves and their board members in case they’re sued in relation to their actions in running the community. Board members can be sued for any wrongful acts or breach of their fiduciary duties to the association. A breach of fiduciary duty happens whenever a board member or any other person of authority in a community association does not properly exercise the proper controls or procedures in handling and utilizing the community association funds. “If I’m a board member and I am putting the association into contracts that they don’t really need to be in, I’m forcing money to be spent that doesn’t need to be spent, or I’m mishandling funds , that is a breach of my fiduciary duty. I have a fiduciary duty to protect the association’s funds,” said Travis.
A breach of fiduciary duty can also include when board members, or the manager, do not properly protect the assets of the association, including the resale value of the lots, units and homes in the association. “When you have a breach of fiduciary duty, you’re not fulfilling the fiduciary duty that you have to protect the money of the community association and its membership,” he said.
This is where Directors & Officers (D&O) liability insurance comes in. A D&O liability policy is designed to protect the association from various wrongful acts of its board members and association leadership. These wrongful acts can come in two categories. One is monetary losses — where someone sues an association for a wrongful act which has cost the claimant a dollar amount. Or, someone can sue a board of directors for a non-monetary claim. This is where they’re suing not for a dollar amount, but for injunctive relief. “It’s easy to say that most D&O claims are of the non-monetary variety,” said Travis. In cases seeking injunctive relief, it is when someone sues the board because they feel the board is enforcing a rule that is working unfairly against them. They want to go to court and have the court tell the board they must stop enforcing the rule in question. The opposite could also be the case. An individual can take the board to court saying that they’re not properly enforcing a rule. “They’re trying to get the court to make the board actually enforce the rule,” he said. So in these cases, the board is not being sued for a monetary amount, but in order to make them take some action, or to stop them from taking an action they are taking. In the non-monetary suits, the costs that need to be covered are all for legal defense.
Obviously, lawsuits can arise even when board members are fulfilling their fiduciary duties and following the rules of their associations to the letter. Travis explained that boards are faced with many difficult decisions, of which, whatever choice is made, could have some undesired effect for some residents. “Every day goes by where a situation is posed to a community association insurance professional, and we look at it and we know that the board was between a rock and a hard place. That either decision, you could back up as being a prudent decision, but either way you made a decision you’re setting yourself up for detractors and a possible lawsuit from those who think it’s the wrong decision,” said Travis. So even if every step of the way you’re trying to do the best you can do, many decisions that need to be made have no ideal choice that will satisfy everyone in the community. Even if there are two desirable choices in a decision, someone could say you chose the wrong one. “Even if you have the very best risk-management program on earth, you still do not eliminate all potential exposure to loss,” said Travis.
Are there things the D&O policy won’t cover? Travis said yes. One example is if someone is making a decision as a board member that helps them put money in their own pocket — such as if they sway jobs to a company the board member has a financial interest in, thereby profiting themself. Certain events are going to be excluded from D&O coverage. “If it’s criminal, if it is lining your own pockets, or something similar to these acts, there are just certain things that are not covered and certain types of wrongful acts that are not going to be covered,” he said.
Another item that possibly may not be covered by a D&O policy is when the board is accused of a wrongful act that is considered to be discriminatory toward someone in a protected class. According to Travis, there are some D&O policies that provide no protection for discrimination whatsoever. Alternatively, some D&O policies provide defense costs only, and then there are some that will not only provide defense costs but will also pay judgments made against the association for a discrimination claim. Travis said that there are different types of coverage available to boards and they should be sure they choose the D&O policy that protects their exposures to loss.
A somewhat gray area of coverage is the mismanagement or improper investment of funds. In terms of mismanagement or improper investment of the association’s funds, Travis noted this is a very broad topic. “For the most part, most D&O policies are not going to provide any coverage for mismanagement or improper investment of funds,” he said, “but some do.” He explained further that if you’re getting into areas where the FDIC is not providing insurance for your monies while they’re sitting in an investment fund, the D&O policy might not provide coverage either.
One thing board members should be aware of is that D&O is not there for Bodily Injury or Property Damage losses. That’s what General Liability insurance is for. “If I’m going to sue a board because I got hurt, or I’m going to sue them because my property or my car was damaged, and I blame the board for my injury or my damage, that is not a D&O lawsuit, that is going to be a General Liability lawsuit,” he said. D&O does not get into the Bodily Injury, Property Damage arena.
How do board members determine how much D&O insurance they require? First, most states have something about this in their statutes. After referring to state guidelines, the next place to look is their own governing documents — the declaration, CC&Rs, articles of incorporation and the bylaws. “Someplace within the declaration, the articles of incorporation or the bylaws, there may be some minimal standards set out as to what limits the board should have as far as directors and officers liability,” said Travis. He added that there also may be lenders, such as Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, or the FHA and HUD that require certain limits in order to comply with those lending institutions. There could be another type of contract also demanding a certain amount of coverage, such as that with a local municipality or neighboring property whereby there may be a cooperative venture. “After that,” he said, “then it becomes a business judgment.” So an association may evaluate their assets and decide to have additional insurance based on that value, rather than going with the minimum required by other entities.
Board members should make sure they’re named as an additional insured on the association’s D&O liability policy. “The community association is going to be what’s called the first named insured. The first named insured is the party that’s on the policy’s declaration page,” he said. All the other insureds, such as the board members, committee members and managers, are named in the body of the policy. “Those are the folks who are additional insureds,” he said. This ensures that if there is a lawsuit, and these board members are named along with the association, that they will be covered by the policy.
Board members should verify that they are, in fact, insured under the association’s D&O policy by asking to see a copy of the policy. “If I’m a board member and I have someone whose opinion I value, such as my insurance agent or attorney, I’m getting a copy of the association’s D&O policy and asking what they think about it. Quite frankly, I’m also reading it myself,” he said. Other than doing that, a board member would be relying on certificates of insurance and proposals, and Travis said that not even the most comprehensive proposal explains every exclusion or definition on a policy. For example, every D&O policy covers for wrongful acts, however, every policy also has its own definition of what a wrongful act is. “That’s the definition that the entire policy is hitched up to,” he said, “so I would want to see that definition of wrongful acts.”
Aside from the D&O policy, the board members should expect to have protection for their General Liability coverage. This would be for scenarios where they might get individually sued for a Bodily Injury or Property Damage to a third party that may find them individually responsible. “As an example, if I’m the head of the social committee and somebody gets hurt at one of the social events, they may sue the community association, but then sue me. As an individual I need to make sure that I have that kind of protection from my community association as a volunteer,” he said. Board members should expect to have coverage if they’re individually sued in this manner.
Property managers should follow a similar procedure in ensuring they’re insured in this manner. Travis recommended the manager make sure they are a named insured on all the General Liability and D&O liability policies that are written for all the community associations that they manage. Managers should also make sure that their management company, the site managers themselves and other management company employees are insureds on the policy as well.
This brings us to protecting associations, boards and managers in cases of theft of association funds. Fidelity insurance, which covers things such as employee theft, should be in place for this purpose. Travis explained that, for the most part, this is purchased to protect the association from something an employee could potentially steal. Travis explained that a contractor would buy this type of coverage because they’re worried about an employee stealing their tools and equipment. A retailer could be worried about employees stealing their goods. Community Associations, however, are primarily concerned with people stealing the association’s funds. “The average community association really doesn’t have what you and I would define as an employee. So in a community association environment we need to expand the definition of an employee so that it not only includes the kind of employee the IRS defines as an employee, but it also includes committee members and volunteers operating within the scope of the direction of the association,” he said. He added that if the association is professionally managed, they need to make sure the site manager, the management company and all its employees are included in the definition of employee on the Fidelity policy as well. The policy is intended to protect for potential internal theft of community association monies.
3/10/23 – Note from Jeffrey E. Kaman, Esq., Kaman & Cusimano, LLC:
Ohio law now requires that community associations have sufficient fidelity insurance on all individuals with access to association funds, in an amount not less than everything in the association’s accounts, plus three months worth of income.
As you can see the mix of policies procured by an association work together in a variety of ways. We’ve touched a bit on the General Liability insurance policy. So, what is General Liability insurance?
General Liability, like D&O, responds to what are called third party claims. These are when a third party, someone other than the community association or the Insurer, makes a claim or lawsuit against a community association claiming that the third party has somehow been injured or suffered damage because of the community association’s actions or lack thereof.
The first of these four is Bodily Injury. Bodily Injury is when someone has a physical injury to their person and claims the association is at fault.
The next item covered under General Liability is Property Damage. This is when someone has property that has been damaged, and they either have direct physical damage, or indirect damage, meaning loss of use of a property, and that direct or indirect damage or loss is claimed to be the community association’s fault.
Then there is Personal Injury. Not to be confused with Bodily Injury, this is when the community association is sued for something the association has said or done, which has hurt someone’s reputation or self-worth. Personal injury in this context is not when someone is physically injured.
Advertising Injury, said Travis, is the same as Personal Injury, except it’s in the written or published form. “So when we say things about people in board minutes or on the association’s website, we are talking about two classic examples of Advertising Injury exposure,” he said.
Under the General Liability policy, associations should include Host Liquor Liability insurance. This is for the Liquor Liability exposure an association has when hosting a party or event, since they are not in the business of selling alcohol. This is for those situations where a liquor license is not needed, because liquor won’t be sold, but it is being served at no charge or given away. These situations include wine and cheese parties, picnic type parties, cocktail parties — or any event where liquor will be provided in this manner. This type of insurance needs to be added to the General Liability policy.
Not every association has employees, however, every association should have Workers’ Compensation insurance coverage. Is this to cover volunteers? Travis said every community association should have Workers’ Compensation coverage, whether or not it has employees, to cover contractors who are sole proprietors or partnerships. Travis explained that in most states, sole proprietors and partnerships are unable to purchase Workers’ Compensation insurance to cover themselves. They are required to purchase it to cover their employees, and they will produce an insurance certificate to show the association they have the coverage for those employees. However the sole proprietor or partner in most states cannot cover himself under that policy. The reason being is that sole proprietors or partner are not considered employees of themselves. So if the sole proprietor or partner himself were to be injured on the job site, his Workers’ Compensation coverage would not cover him. What often will happen in the Workers’ Compensation courts is that since the sole proprietor or partner isn’t covered under his own policy, they will look at whom he was working for on the day he was injured. If they determine that the sole proprietor or partner was working for the community association that day as an employee, the association now owes Workers’ Compensation benefits for that sole proprietor or partner.
Another reason to have Workers’ Compensation coverage is to provide coverage in case one of their contractors provides a false certificate of insurance. If one of these contractor employees is injured on the job and the contractor has no Workers’ Compensation Insurance, the Workers’ Compensation courts would likely deem the association responsible for the Workers’ Compensation claim. Again, they would look at whom the individual was working for the day he was injured much like the scenario described in the previous paragraph.
Travis said that yet another reason why it is needed is to provide coverage for casual labor. The association could casually pay a teen to clean up a small area around the association’s pond on a Saturday, for example, and pay him or her $50 out of petty cash. The association’s Workers’ Compensation coverage would apply here if that teen were injured while performing this casual labor. “The Workers’ Compensation courts are going to look at this as an employee/employer relationship,” he said.
So for these reasons, even if a community association has no payroll, they should have Workers’ Compensation coverage.
As for associations that do have employees, they should carry a type of coverage to protect board members and association assets against employee claims.
There are three types of employee coverage and claims that would come up here.
There is Employment Practices Liability, which is when the association or the board can get sued for how they practice being an employer. This includes hiring and firing, as well as how employees are treated on the job, raises, promotions and more. “Generally we get that coverage from our D&O liability policy,” said Travis. He explained that the D&O policy’s Part B is usually Employment Practices Liability when the D&O policy does provide this coverage.
Next is Workers’ Compensation coverage, discussed previously, which covers the association should an employee get hurt during a work-related incident. These benefits are required and determined by the state.
Then there is a second part of the Workers’ Compensation policy, called Employer’s Liability, which is for when an injured employee waives their rights to be taken care of by the Workers’ Compensation system, and they want to sue their employer for some additional funds. “That would be Part B of the Workers’ Compensation policy,” said Travis. He further explained that when an employee sues in this manner, waiving Workers’ Compensation coverage, not only does the employee have to prove that they were injured on the job, but that their injury was the result of their employer’s negligence.
As I’m sure you all know, an Commercial Umbrella policy is not a special policy to cover the umbrellas around your community’s swimming pool. This is an important liability policy that covers above and beyond other liability policies. “If you had a General Liability policy that had $1 million per occurrence and $2 million in the aggregate, and you had a $10 million Commercial Umbrella and you were to suffer a $5 million loss, then the General Liability policy is going to basically take the first $1 million. Then the Commercial Umbrella policy is going to cover the next $4 million above that,” Travis explained.
The Commercial Umbrella policy sits on top of your General Liability policy. It will also go over your D&O policy and any other liability coverage the association purchases. The Commercial Umbrella would help in case a claim goes over the limits of any of these policies. “It basically provides excess coverage to the limits that are shown in all of the underlying liability policies that are listed on the Commercial Umbrella policy’s declaration page,” he said.
Self-insurance is any scenario where an entity or community association could buy insurance, but decides not to. In these cases, the entity or community retains the risk, and if anything comes up, they would be the ones to pay for the loss and/or legal defense. Travis explained that to be self-insured is a two-step process. First, there needs to be insurance that can be purchased for that exposure. Then if there’s insurance that can be purchased for that exposure, the association makes the choice not to buy that insurance. They choose instead to take financial responsibility if something happens.
“If it was an uninsurable event,” he said, “then you’re not self-insuring and it’s just a business expense.” Events that are not insurable would include things like repairing the roads after a bad winter. Since there is no insurance that covers this, an association cannot be self-insured for it, and must absorb the cost as a business expense. “Self-insurance is when you could have bought insurance, and made the decision not to buy insurance,” he said. That is the act of self-insurance
One special type of coverage that may be needed by some associations would be Garage Keepers insurance. Garage Keepers insurance covers when an association has someone else’s automobile in their care, custody and control. This could be if an association has unit-owners’ automobiles kept in an area under the care, custody and control of the association. For example, lots of community associations, especially in urban areas, have valet parking only. So residents and guests pull up to the building, give the valet their keys and they park the car in the garage for you. “That is the ultimate example of your car being in the care, custody and control of the community association, not you. That is a classic example of when you need what they call Garage Keepers insurance,” said Travis. This type of policy enables associations to insure vehicles they don’t own for when they are in their custody.
Associations can check an insurance company’s ratings in order to gauge the strength of the company and their ability to pay claims. Checking the AM Best Rating of the company is the best way to do this. It is an independent party’s evaluation of what position they are in financially to pay a claim. Travis said you can refer to other sources for the ratings as well, such as Moody’s or Standard & Poors. “There are several companies that evaluate an insurance company’s ability to pay future claims,” said Travis.
To learn more about cyber insurance, we spoke with Joel Davis, CPCU, CIC, CIRMS, Marketing Manager for the Hoffman Estates, Illinois office of Community Association Underwriters of America, Inc.
Cyber security is an often overlooked but increasingly essential part of community associations. Every association should develop their own strategy for minimizing the threat of a cyber attack, including keeping their security software up to date, keeping sensitive information secure and educating employees and board members on safe cyber practices.
Even if cyber security is being addressed by an association, Davis explained, “Most commercial insurance policies do not cover cyber, and if they do, it’s usually on a very limited basis.” If those preventative measures aren’t enough, and a cyber attack proves successful, that’s where cyber insurance comes in. “When a cyber attack occurs, community association operations may be interrupted. Cyber insurance helps to recover losses due to downtime,” Davis said. Cyber insurance also covers the association’s liability in the event of a data breach, such as theft of residents’ personal identifiable information. Thus, it is important for community associations to purchase a cyber liability policy, to ensure they are fully protected in that regard.
What is a waiver of subrogation? Most states have this written into their statutes or their condominium acts. In the world of community associations, the waiver of subrogation basically means that the association waives its right to subrogate — that is, specifically to go after a unit owner when the unit owner causes a loss or claim for the community association. Joel Davis, CPCU, CIC, CIRMS, Marketing Manager for the Hoffman Estates, Illinois office of Community Association Underwriters of America, Inc., gave the following example: “I live in an eight-unit condominium and I’m in my unit and I fall asleep while smoking a cigarette, and that cigarette then falls and sets my mattress on fire. I get out alive and I get everyone else out alive, but all eight units burn down to the ground. What the waiver of subrogation is going to stipulate is that the community association is not going to be able to come after me to rebuild all eight of those units.” This also means that the association’s insurer cannot go after the person in this example. The association and its property insurance need to pay this on their own, and they cannot subrogate against the unit owner.
Davis explained that the reason why the waiver of subrogation was written into the early condominium statues was to take certain decisions out of the board’s hands. Take an example of two unit owners having the same type of loss. Each of their water heaters bursts and the result is $10,000 worth of damage to each of their buildings. Let’s say one of the unit owners is well liked by the board. He volunteers on committees, he is a good neighbor and always participates positively in association meetings. The other unit owner, however, is the bane of the board’s existence. He causes disturbances at meetings and frequently calls the board president to harass him. In this example you can see where this law protects the board from inadvertently making an arbitrary decision to sue one of the owners and possibly not the other due to their personal feelings about either individual. Because of the waiver of subrogation, one does not need to decide if an owner should be sued in these cases, as the association’s master policy pays the claim. Davis explained that while insurance companies have lost large amounts of money due to paying claims, in cases where waiver of subrogation applies, it would have been much worse if they didn’t have the law because they would be paying even more in D&O liability claims.
Davis explained that the indemnification clause is typically found in the association’s bylaws, and it states that if a board member is sued through their actions functioning as such, the community association shall indemnify the board member and reimburse them for any financial loss. He said that the purpose of the indemnification clause is basically to address the fears many people have about stepping up to serve on the board of their association. Many individuals are afraid to volunteer as board members for fear of the potential liability. “The indemnification clause is going to try and encourage people to take association leadership positions by telling them, ‘hey, if you make a decision out here and you get personally named in a lawsuit, have expenses with the lawsuit and you lose the lawsuit, the association will indemnify you,’” he said.
When the association buys D&O liability insurance, it should be a policy that will be able to back up that promise. Davis warned if the proper policy isn’t written, then the association would need to write a check out of its own pocket to back this indemnification promise up.
Community associations can get themselves into trouble if they decide to charge for liquor at such an event. In that case, an association may need to obtain a liquor license and then can’t be covered by the Host Liquor Liability coverage. In that case, an association would need Dram Shop Liquor Liability — that is, true Liquor Liability insurance.