Views from a Condo Board President :
As more baby boomers retire and decide to go into condos or townhomes that have homeowner associations, they better realize that condo/ townhouse living is different than living in a single family home. Living within a set of rules after living on your own for several decades takes some adjustment.
People go into condos for different reasons. Some don’t want the responsibility anymore of cutting the grass or maintaining all the elements of a single family home. They want someone else to do it and they are willing to pay monthly association fees for those responsibilities to be performed by someone else.
From special assessments to rules about your pets, they need to adjust their thinking that you share common areas and are not exempt from guidelines as well as building laws created to make the complex operate effectively and efficiently.
They also need to realize that the majority rules. If you think you’re “special”, stay out of condo buildings and homeowner associations. If you cannot live within the rules, stay in your single family house. You and all the unit owners will be much happier.
BEING ON THE CONDO BOARD
Being on a condo board is like being a village trustee. You have a fiduciary responsibility to all the other owners and should take the job seriously. The problem with many condo boards is that it is made up of the wrong people and when that happens, problems arise.
Elections should not be popularity contests or voting for people who make the best apple pie. Everyone who is elected as well as those who elected them should realize that the board has responsibility to protect everyone’s investment. It also requires more than just showing up at the monthly meeting.
This is a good article that describes the general roles of those on the condo board.
Some articles discuss being on the condo board as “running a small business”. I do not agree with that perspective. Condo boards are more of a microcosm of village (municipal) boards. You need to develop and operate an annual budget based on revenues (association fees), establish and enforce rules, and are responsible for the building to adhere to municipal laws.
COMMON PROBLEMS THROUGHOUT THE YEARS
Some board presidents think they have been elected to “landlord of the building”. This is a bad situation. You represent the unit owners, you don’t own the building. This type of president should be removed immediately because they will only cause friction and actually cost the building (and its unit owners) money.
Some board presidents have never been in a position of power before and it goes to their head. They become a dictator. This type of president should also be removed immediately because the rush of power for the first time in their life is inversely proportionate to the amount of leadership qualities and management knowledge they really have. Again, like the landlord-type, they will only cause a lot of friction and cost everyone money.
Others think this is a way to be taken out to lunch and dinner by the contractors working in the building. Mrs. X was the owner of the general mechanical company that had several contracts with the building as well as maintenance contracts with individual unit owners. Mrs. X’s company made a lot of money off the unit owners by charging a half-hour travel time each way. This even happened if the maintenance technician had three units to go to in the same day. That’s three hours of travel time charged. Pure profit – especially when their headquarters was only five minutes away.
One president remarked at a meeting, “Oh Mrs. X is so nice, we had dinner together.” I remarked right after, “I would be nice to you too, if I was overcharging all your unit owners.” That remark got me elected to the board. It also got that practice of double and triple charging off the maintenance agreements – saving everyone money.
All condo boards have to remember, “You manage the vendors. They should not be managing you.”
Some condo buildings are contractors’ cash cows and when the economy slips like it has in the last several years, some contractors look to the building as a way to make up money lost from accounts that no longer exist or that have cut back.
You constantly have to make sure you are getting a dollar’s worth of service for every dollar spent. You have to review bills and question suspicious “add-on” charges. A good example is snow removal. The bill says they used 60 bags of salt to spread on the ice. Did they? Overpaying for expendables is a quick way to burn up operating cash. If only 30 bags were used, you just paid double what you should have paid and now they have more material to use for some other job that doesn’t pay them as much.
Having the right people as board members really alleviates managing the budget. You need to have someone good at accounting. It would be great to find someone who knows about building operations and engineering. It is also good to find people with prior municipal background who understand the need to maintain building operations.
You also need people to work as a team. When it comes to condo boards, having some or all who are familiar with team dynamics is critical.
You also need to bring in more people on committees. Maybe they cannot serve as a board member right now, but do want to do something. Establish a Gardening Committee, a Pool and Exercise Room Committee, a Common Area Committee. These committees help formulate priorities and run the building operations.
The more people who feel they are helping run the building, the more people will agree and go along with your everyday operations as well as special projects that need special financing (and special assessments). The people on committees might be future board members. You want to encourage participation rather than scare it away. Remember, no one is the landlord.
The worst boards I have seen are ones trying to restrict access. ALL meetings should be open to Unit Owners and ALL should have a designated time for any feedback from Unit Owners.
PETS, CARPETS AND SHOPPING CARTS
Some of the biggest problems are nit-picky things that waste many people’s time. Pets are important to many people’s lives especially if they are the only other companion sharing the condo. Some buildings allow no pets and it is a strict By-Law rule. I cannot speak for those buildings, nor would I want to live in any of them.
Buildings that allow pets sometimes have a maximum weight law (like under 15 or 25 pounds) and I find that ludicrous. Some of the worst dogs I have seen are the 10-15 pound, forever-yapping, undisciplined, nipping dogs that do not obey their owners. The owner thinks that dog training classes are for large dogs like shepherds and hounds, so they never take little Pookie or FiFi to class.
They make it bad for the large dog owners who do take their dogs to training and socialization classes. A 100-pound shepherd is more likely to be obedient and responsive to commands than precious Pookie. You always have someone saying we should ban pets when actually we should ban their irresponsible owners.
Other little things that should be closely monitored are the everyday, “Oops I spilled my coffee on the carpet” people who mess up the common areas, but are always in too much of a hurry to clean it up. Those stains cost everyone money. When you equate it to raising association fees (Monthly Assessments), you will find more owners policing others to keep things clean.
Another huge recurring issue is abusing a convenience provided by the building. Like many multi-story building, our building provides several shopping carts to move groceries and things from the underground garage to the owner’s unit. Some people think that it’s their own property and they can keep one by their parking space or by their unit’s front door. We constantly are reminding people to bring them back for the next person. If having one is so important – buy one.
Again, if you think you are “special”, do not move into a condo building. If you do move in, try to help out and remember that if you do get onto the board, think of yourself as an elected representative, not as a landlord or dictator.
CARLINI-ISM : A Condo President and board are elected unit owners – not landlords.
Copyright 2013 – James Carlini