How to Join or Form a Tenant Association

There is power in numbers, especially when facing down a neglectful landlord. For large apartment buildings and rental complexes, a tenant association is one of the most powerful tools in your toolbox, and anyone can join or form one. All you need is the cooperation of your fellow tenants and soon, you'll be holding meetings, voting on issues, and organizing positive changes for the community.

  • Wednesday, August 14, 2019

  Matt Angerer

  Roommate Finder   

There is power in numbers, especially when facing down a neglectful landlord. For large apartment buildings and rental complexes, a tenant association is one of the most powerful tools in your toolbox, and anyone can join or form one. All you need is the cooperation of your fellow tenants and soon, you'll be holding meetings, voting on issues, and organizing positive changes for the community. It should also be noted that, legally, landlords must allow tenants to form associations and hold meetings so don't let this worry you.

If your building or complex already has a tenant association, you merely need to find it to join. And if there is not yet a tenant association, you can be a founding member! Today, we're here to highlight how join or found a tenant association for the benefit of every renter in the building.

How to Join a Tenant Association

Tenants usually form or join tenant associations when there is landlord trouble. This is the primary motivation for joining forces and meeting regularly. But even if everything is peachy, you can find a great deal of personal benefit and community support from joining a tenant association if one already exists.

Discover If There Is an Association to Join

Naturally, to join a tenant association, you must first find one to join. You will need to discover if your community already has a tenant association and, if it does, where and how to join it. 

Check the Bulletin Board or Website

Tenant associations often post flyers or notices on a community bulletin board. Check the communal spaces in your apartment building or the main office of your complex. There might be a flyer here. If your community has a website, check it out for notices that mention the tennant association and it's meting times.

Ask Your Landlord or Building Manager

Landlords are almost always aware when there is a tenant association in their building. Traditionally, this is an adversarial relationship, but not always. Some are happy to see tenants working together to address their issues and a few landlords will even attend or send a representative to keep tabs on what tenants care about. Your landlord or building manager should be able to tell you if there is a tenant association and how to join it.

Ask Your Neighbors

Check in with any neighbors you know or meet in the corridors. They may be aware of a tenant association and would be happy to see you at the meetings.

Attend Your First Meeting

Once you discover that there is a tenant association to join, naturally your next step is to attend a meeting and see what it's like.

Any Tenant Can Join

You do not need a formal invitation to join a tenant association, any tenant in the community can join. When you know the time and location, simply arrive and see what happens. Every tenant association is different, so don't set your expectations early.

Meet the Officers

Some tenant associations are led by a committee, some have only one or two leaders that hold the group together. Whoever is in charge of the meeting, introduce yourself to them and say that you'd like to join. 

Listen and Participate

During your first meeting, it's okay if you're not ready to talk. Sit back and listen to how the meeting goes on normally. Listen to how formal or casual the meeting is, how the tenants talk to each other and -- most importantly -- the kind of issues other tenants are having with the building or landlord. You can get some real perspective in just that first meeting.

Formally Join the Association

Some tenant associations are very informal, just show up and enjoy the coffee. Others have sign-up sheets, registration, or just a list of contact information for regular attendees. Whatever is required to formally join the group go ahead and do so.

Sign Up

If there's a sign-up process, sign up. Give your contact information, list the best meeting times for you, and so on. There might be a small dues fee for refreshments or paperwork, but not always.

Bring Snacks

One way to ingratiate yourself with the group is to bring refreshments. Whether this is a big pitcher of lemonade, homemade brownies, or just a platter of store-bought cookies, snacks are always a nice gesture when joining a community. 

Find Ways to Get Involved

Last but certainly not least, get involved! There are tons of ways to contribute to a tenant community using the skills and resources at your command. If you are a legal professional or know lawyers, contribute your legal skills to the group's efforts. If you're a business manager or otherwise good at organizing things, take charge of an event or two. 

If you speak another language, offer to translate the association documents. Or, if you're a good note-taker, offer to keep minutes for each meeting. Get creative, be proactive, and do what you are comfortable with.

How to Form a Tenant Association

If there is not a tenant association and you'd like there to be one, you can found it youself with the help of a few neighbors! You only need a small handful of tenants to begin our association and from there, everyone else can join as they please. What's great about this process is that starting a tenant association is no more difficult than starting a book club or any other voluntary social group. The power is in what you can accomplish as a group once the association is formed. 

Pitching The Idea of a Tenant Association

First, you'll need a few more tenants to join in to form the association. It's best to get as many people involved as possible, so get the word out and don't be shy about reaching out to your fellow tenants.

Identify Your Motivation

Start by identifying your motivation to form a tenant association. It's one thing to say "Come to a meeting!" and another to say "We'll be preparing a movement to get repairs on time". Whatever troubles inspired you to want to build community support and power in numbers, frame it. Write it down. And use it when pitching the association to your neighbors.

Talk to the Neighbors You Know

Start by talking to neighbors you already know. Talk to them about the troubles you've been having and listen to the troubles they've been having. Chances are, you will have many similar reasons for wanting to form an association together. Pitch the idea of the association and see if your neighbors want to help you found it.

Reach Out to New Neighbors

Any new neighbors you meet in the corridor, this is the perfect excuse to greet them and introduce yourself. Let any neighbor you meet know that you're forming a tenant association for X Y and Z reasons and that they're welcome to join you. Consider a way to quickly hand out or collect contact information.

Pass Out Flyers

Print up some flyers to post around the apartment building or complex. For a tenant association, it's okay to go door-to-door asking for neighbors to join or distributing flyers that say the same. Leave your flyers in the shared areas and possibly with local businesses your community frequents.

Spread the Word

Anyone who says they're interested in the association, ask them to spread the word to other neighbors that they know.

Schedule Your First Meeting

Next, you'll need to schedule your first meeting with everyone who can possibly attend. It's okay if the first meeting is small, but the bigger the better. You want as many voices heard on the first day as possible.

Pick Your Meeting Location

Start by picking where your association will meet. A small apartment building could meet in your apartment, but you're probably better off choosing a public area in the building where there will be room for everyone.

Find an Accessible Meeting Time

Try to find a time when most of your early joiners will be able to attend. Watch the flow of traffic in and out of the building to get a clue for when most people will be home. And, of course, ask around to sketch out availability windows. Choose a time when the most possible people are available to attend.

Set Approximate Meeting Length

Your first meeting should not go longer than two hours unless it tapers into a late-night social event at the end. For the formal discussions, set a reasonable amount of time and consider using your phone as a timer to ensure that everyone can leave at a reasonable hour.

Send Out Invitations

Once it's all set, send out your formal invitations or distribute flyers inviting the entire community (not just your early volunteers) to attend the first tenant association meeting.

Building Your Tenant Association

At the first meeting, let everyone introduce themselves and share a little bit about their motivation for joining. Then it's time to choose your leadership and set your goals. This will be the structure that will hold the association together in the future.

Choose a Leadership Structure

Decide how formal and populous you want your leadership structure to be. Is there just a President and VP to handle scheduling and note-taking, or will you have an entire committee to handle various association tasks? If you have a large multi-building complex, you may want representative captains or, for smaller groups, your association might be completely informal.

Elect Officers

However many leaders you decide to have, elect your officers. Chances are that the first election will feature the founders and anyone with skills they have volunteered to contribute during the founding meeting.

Schedule Regular Meetings

Prepare to hold more meetings in the future. Use that first meeting to schedule monthly, bi-monthly, or weekly meetings to address the concerns and efforts of the association and tenant members.

Pick Your First Battles

Finally, it's time to prepare your association for action. In most cases, tenant associations don't form unless there's trouble with the landlord that is being ignored on a tenant-by-tenant basis. But there is power in numbers and, together, you can force your landlord to shape up and treat you right.

Outline Your Tenant Troubles

Start by listening to everyone. Take notes on each trouble listed, separated into categories like 'repairs' 'utilities' and 'respectful treatment'. Get everything on paper (or on-whiteboard) so that you have an outline of the battles ahead of you.

Start With Small Achievable Victories

Don't start with your biggest battle. To build your tenant association's strength, unity, and effective ability to work together; start with small achievable victories. You might go with permission to decorate the lobby for holidays, getting ignored repairs taken care of, other small but meaningful goals. 

Every victory will strengthen your association and encourage more tenants to join.

Remain Friendly and Formal During Negotiations

Tenant associations are often seen as the enemy of neglectful landlords, but you don't have to be. Always be friendly, formal, and respectful when dealing with your landlord or building manager. By respectfully voicing your concerns and putting polite pressure on the system, you may soon find yourself working together with your landlord or building manager instead of against them.

Prepare to Tackle Larger Goals

Once you have a few small victories and have built some rapport with the management, you're ready to tackle bigger problems like rent increases, major repair concerns, or major changes you'd like to make to the community.

Being part of a tenant association can be personally rewarding as well as an effective way to force changes in your rental community. For more great tips on how to ace responsible tenancy and really enjoy your rental home experience, contact us today!

About the author

Matt Angerer is the Founder and President of VerticalRent. He enjoys writing on a variety of topics that help Landlords, Property Managers, and Renters across America. He is particularly interested in helping renters understand their local marketplace, pick the best places to live, and find an awesome roommate. Since 2011, VerticalRent has grown to service over 100,000 landlords and renters across America. 

Read more articles from Matt Angerer

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