Q. I have just purchased a condominium apartment. There is an election for the building's board of directors scheduled for late November, and I am thinking about running. My own opinion is that serving on the board is really a waste of time, although I know that it is important for the operation of our condominium. There are about 40 units in the building. What do you advise?
A. If you want to be able to control the destiny of your condominium, it is imperative that you get involved.
The concept of condominium involves the essence of democracy. The unit owners elect board members, who run the condominium.
Often, depending on the condominium documents, the board has almost autonomous authority. It can enact the budget, pass special assessments, foreclose on unit owners who have not paid their condominium fees, delegate broad authority to a management agent and take any action necessary for the smooth functioning of the condominium association.
If you do not take an active interest in the operation of the condominium, you may find that budgetary and other policies are being pushed through by a small group of individuals who are the only ones taking an active interest in the condominium.
Take your 40-unit condominium as an example. No doubt, the board of directors has the authority to propose a budget, which is not turned down by the unit owners at their annual meeting becomes the budget for the coming year. At the annual meeting, the bylaws probably suggest that a simple majority is sufficient for a quorum. In your case, 21 people can show up, and if 12 people approve the budget, that will govern the condominium -- and your pocketbook -- for the next year.
Unfortunately, in every condominium association, apathy sets in quite rapidly. If often is quite difficult to find five or seven dedicated owners who will volunteer to serve on the board of directors. Service on the board is a thankless job. The hours are long, the board must make major decisions affecting the building and there is no pay.
More significantly, however, every unit owner who has ever served on a board of directors knows full well the legal exposure for lawsuits based on breach of fiduciary duty. Presumably, your condominium has adequate director and officer liability insurance; if the insurance is not adequate, I do not recommend that you serve on the board until the insurance matter is straightened up.
I recommend that boards of directors in condominium associations be authorized to attend meetings of condominium organizations, such as the Community Associations Institute, which holds annual meetings to discuss problems of common interest to condominium associations.
Not only will the board members learn a lot about the governing of a condominium, but the trip (hopefully paid for by the condominium association) will be an added inducement for service on the board.
If you cannot serve on the board, or if you not elected, you still should volunteer as much time as possible to serve on the many committees that are necessary to keep a condominium functioning.
Whether it is the budget committee, the architectural control committee, the publicity committee or any other committee within your organization, the lifeblood of any condominium depends entirely on the involvement of its unit owners.
Benny L. Kass is a Washington attorney. Write him in care of the real estate section, The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington 20017.