One of my favorite sayings about Condo Associations is “the emotions are so high because the stakes are so low.” Now that’s not to say that serious things can’t happen. Sometimes you’re dealing with major projects or special assessments that have huge impacts on your Owners’ quality of life and personal finances. On the other hand, sometimes you’re dealing with people upset over trivial issues like the color of blinds, a tree needing to be replaced, or dirty windows. Being a good Board member means you need to learn how to sort real emergencies from non-emergencies and treat Owners with respect regardless of the situation. Doing so allows you to limit Overreaction in a Condo Association, which makes everyone happier.
Recognizing a Real Emergency
Relatively often our Board will receive emails from Owners that are in all caps, or have doom-and-gloom subject headings. Things like “Issue that needs Immediate Attention from the Board!” pop up. Honestly sometimes the titles look like clever spam mail subject lines. Nine times out of ten, the issue is not urgent – even if the Owner feels it is. But that one out of ten times IS urgent – and requires the Board to take action. Here are examples of the types of things that are true emergencies:
1) Someone is threatening legal action, regardless of validity. Even if frivolous, you need to triage and send to your lawyer or make the decision to call their bluff.
2) Something has broken and is causing damage to a unit or common area in real time, like a broken pipe.
3) Something has been identified that looks like it WILL cause damage to a unit or common area, like a sudden unexplained crack appearing in the building.
4) There are allegations of assault, abuse, or something that requires the authorities – make sure to involve the police immediately and provide assistance
In these cases, yes, you need to move quickly. Hopefully your Management team is involved and can act as the first line of defense. If you’re self-managed, you’ll need to take direct action yourself. Don’t let them fester. Acknowledge the Owner and take appropriate action. Having a policy in place for these incidents is also very helpful.
Recognizing a Non-Emergency
Of course, if the above are emergencies, that means there are non-Emergencies – from the Association’s perspective. However, just because it’s not an emergency for the Board doesn’t mean the Owner doesn’t think it is. This is where a common disconnect between Owner and Board occurs, and why so many Owners get mad at their Boards. Examples of this might include:
1) The Owner wants permission for something the Board controls (say, interior remodeling), and they want it NOW because they scheduled their contractor without approval. You can make the decision to either force them to wait until the Board has time to meet, or scramble to reach consensus. Either outcome is acceptable as long as you are polite.
2) The Owner takes umbrage with a cosmetic decision of the Board – like new landscaping, a dead tree, whatever. In most cases, unless there’s something about it that escalates it (like a dead tree about to fall on their car) – this is not an emergency. Acknowledge the email and note the Board will research the issue.
3) Waiving of fees or other requests. Like any instance where the Owner requires Board permission, this is at the Board’s discretion. You do not need to respond immediately.
The trick in all of these cases, as you may have figured out, is that you need to acknowledge the Owner and note the Board has received it and is working on it. You might also include a rough timeline: days, weeks, months are helpful. Explain why it will take time. For example “We want to improve our landscaping, but we need to receive bids. This process will likely take several months as the Board reviews all the options to make the best decision for the Association.” This satisfies most reasonable people. If they’re not reasonable… don’t waste your time.
One of the key attributes of a veteran Board member is that their heart rate doesn’t increase every time they see a crazy subject line in their Board email. They read the email first before deciding if it merits an increase of blood pressure and heart rate. Remember, you represent the Association, which means the good of the whole trumps the needs of the individual. What you can do is be polite and respectful when you respond- and avoid Overreaction in a Condo Association.