Four Tips to Being a Responsible Condo Owner

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Living in a Condo means that you have to be a responsible condo owner in you Association.  Many of the most common issues I see as a Board member are because people don’t follow these basic rules.  Who can blame them?  Associations are nebulous things — there to be ignored until you have a problem, want something from them, or they want something from you.      

That’s one way to look at it, and it’s the same sort of person who never has their water heater inspected and then is shocked when it rusts through and fails catastrophically.  Remember – whether you fully understood it or not, when you bought your condo, you became part of the association and the accompanying covenant, which means you are bound by their rules.  So be informed and follow these tips.  

And by the way – some Board members I’ve known are the worst offenders and fail to follow these rules.

1. Form a Good Relationship with Staff and Management

Management – i.e., your property manager (and assistants depending on the size of the building), front desk staff (if you have them), maintenance staff, etc – are the first line of people you should interact with if you have a problem.  If they are doing their jobs, they’re the only people you need to interact with in nearly all instances.  A responsible condo owner makes sure to treat these people well! They have a great deal of power, and can wield it to help or hurt you.  Do not do stupid things like treat them abusively or poorly – they will talk, word will get around, and you will suffer (deservedly) as a result.  Just because the association employs them does not mean they work for “You” – they work for the association.  Treat them with respect.  They work hard, they put up with a lot of crap, and if you treat them with kindness and respect, it will be reciprocated.    

2. At Least Skim the Bylaws and Associated Rules

That huge document package you got with your condo?  Maybe it’s a paperweight now, or maybe you recycled it.  Go find it (usually your association can give you an electronic copy if you lost your original) – and at least skim it.  I’ll do a longer post on this in the future, but some of the key things to look for:

  1. Architectural control – can the Board control your blinds?  Your windows?  Your balcony?  Your ceilings?
  2. Special assessments – how much can you be levied without a vote of owners?  This one is really important.
  3. Committees – how many are there, what do they do?
  4. Pet rules – under what circumstances can you be fined and for what?
A responsible condo owner navigates the bylaws maze.
Your bylaws may look something like this.

I still refer to and reread my bylaws all the time – I barely remember what’s in there without a refresher.  If you’re a responsible condo owner, you should at least have a passing knowledge of what’s in there before being shocked when you’re hit with a fine or the like.  Depending on the age of your association, there’s likely a rule or a control for pretty much any behavior you can think of.  This is most likely because a past owner did something stupid, thus requiring a rule to prevent future stupidity.  

3. Stay Informed on What’s Going on

Your condo board typically meets every month.  They publish the previous month’s minutes (or should, depending on your state’s laws) every month as well after they approve them.  Let me clarify that: the published minutes you get will always be a month old due to how Associations work.  

You’re busy, and condo meetings are boring.  I know.  But to be a responsible condo owner, you should at least skim the minutes to understand if there’s anything going on you need to care about – upcoming major projects, etc.  Boards are very slow to act in most cases, so they tend to study everything.  The reports and discussions of these studies will come up, so you can get a leg up on knowing when bad stuff might be happening.  If you are really a masochist, show up to the Board meetings in person.  Bring a book or something for when the Board is droning on about whether blinds should be white vs. egg shell, but pay attention in case they start talking about a major project.  Meetings are also a great way to meet your Board members.  

You should also monitor your Board’s electronic forums (if you have one), or online treasurer’s report (if they post them), or whatever other forms of communication they use.  And definitely show up to the annual meeting.  But the real action happens in the monthly meetings – there’s no way around that.  

4. Meet and befriend your Board Members

Ultimately, the Board has the power in a condo building.  If you have an issue with Management, you’ll appeal to the Board.  If you need certain things, like fees waived, usually the Board has that power (your bylaws will vary).  You should go out of your way to meet and befriend these folks.  Monthly meetings are a great way to get to meet them, since very few people show up to those meetings.  You can also chat with them at social events, if your building has them.

A responsible condo owner does not harass Board members in the gym.
Excuse me, can I talk to you about the new pet policy?

Now let me give you a “do not” – do not harass them when they are going about their business in the building.  If your Board member is in the middle of a squat set at the gym, it’s probably not the time to start complaining about something.  Same thing if they’re out at the grill making dinner with their family.  Being social with them is actually not a bad thing – most board members, if they’re like me, are so terrified you’re going to bitch about something inane that we’ll be genuinely excited to talk about sports, hobbies, or just shoot the shit.  But if you do annoy a Board member then they’re going to remember that interaction in a negative way – Board members are only human, after all.

In conclusion…

Like most things in life, a little upfront investment will avoid a great deal of downstream trouble.  If you want to start getting involved in your association, following these tips will make you a responsible condo owner and go a long way towards letting you lead a better condo life.


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