Condo Association Board members are elected to represent Condo Association Owners and to carry out their fiduciary duty with regards to the Condo Association. That’s the job. There are many other challenges that go with it, but those are the two major duties. In all of the horror stories you read about when Boards break bad, the Board – or at least, a majority of the Board – has neglected to carry out one or both of those duties. In doing so, they violate the trust of the Association and may even be personally liable.
Most Board members want to do a good job. They work hard in what’s an unpaid and often thankless role. They do so hopefully knowing what they got into. The challenge they face is how to effectively represent Condo Association Owners when those Owners are relatively disengaged. In “real world” politics, we’re usually faced with very clear choices of what we’re voting for. Pro life or pro choice? More gun control or less? Higher or lower taxes? Is President Kirkman a legitimate president in Designated Survivor? OK, maybe not that last one. The big difference between real politics and most HOA politics is that you often must seek out feedback in order to effectively represent Condo Association Owners as a Board member.
Opinions in Condo Associations are often a pull, not a push. You may have few – if any – Owners who regularly show up for meetings. This makes it very hard to effectively sample opinions. If you ask the Owners who show up, you’re skewing the opinions to a group of a self-selecting involved Owners. There are a number of ways you can engage with Owners – surveys, special Town Hall meetings, or office hours. You also want to use a mix of technology and more traditional paper methods to make sure that you reach as many Owners as possible.
The key is that you’re going to have to reach out in order to effectively represent Condo Association Owners. In most cases, they will not come to you. You need to make sure you’re very transparent and clear about why you need the input and what it will be used for.
Recruit People Who Care
If an Owner expresses a strong interest in a particular topic at a Town Hall meeting or as a result of a survey, try to recruit them to the cause. Make it very clear that the Board and Management can’t do everything – Owners also need to step up and get involved and participate in committees. Request their help and actively engage them to join the cause of making your Association a better place to live. If they aren’t willing to help out and do the work, that’s unfortunate, but it also reveals that their level of engagement may be more wanting to “talk about things” rather than “do things.” Unfortunately, such Owners aren’t really helpful.
Remember your Fiduciary Duty
One thing many people don’t realize is that the only codified duty in most Bylaws is to carry out a fiduciary duty when acting on behalf of the Condo Association. This means that the Condo Association’s financial solvency is the top priority. There is obviously discretion applied. For example, if an Association is financially healthy, it is appropriate to spend money on improving the building’s landscaping to increase quality of life and curb appeal. However, if an Association is broke, spending a large amount of money on something like a hot tub might not be in the Condo Association’s best interest.
The key is to remember that the budget matters, and it is your codified duty to protect the Association’s finances on behalf of all Owners. This means that at times you’re going to make decisions that Owners may be opposed to – like eliminating a beloved amenity to save money. So while soliciting opinion is important, it isn’t the only criteria. Hey, that’s why they pay you the big bucks as a Board member, right? Oh right – it’s a volunteer gig. Tough break.
The Tough Decisions Are Yours To Make
The key to effectively represent Condo Association Owners is to remember the basics and not get distracted. Make sure you are reaching out to Owners to get their weigh-in, and don’t forget your fiduciary duty. When appropriate, bring in experts. Beyond that, you’re going to have to use your best judgment to lead your Association.