Q: I have just become the president of a medium-sized condominium association. Although we are in pretty good shape, I would welcome your advice and ideas on some of the things I should be looking for as I proceed with my presidential duties.
A: I don't know whether to congratulate you or give you condolences on your assuming the presidency of your condominium association.
The job takes long hours, has many responsibilities, and you will suffer the abuse of some of the unit owners on any policy decision that is made. And, as you know, you don't get any pay for taking on these responsibilities.
The very first thing I would do as president of a condominium association is to sit down with the management company. Spend a couple of hours going through all of their procedures, ranging from collection of condominium fees to handling of building maintenance to personnel and, if your condominium has some staff assistance, employment matters.
I also would review your condominium documents very carefully. Discuss the declaration, the bylaws and the house rules (if any) with the former president of the condominium association, as well as with the attorney for your association.
The bylaws and the rules and regulations may have been adequate when the condominium was first established. But as the years go by, you will find that changes may be necessary. Some of these changes can be incorporated into the rules and regulations, and you will not have to go through the difficult -- if not impossible -- task of amending the bylaws.
You may want to buy a copy of Robert's Rules of Order, to determine how meetings are to be conducted. There are professional parliamentarians who will be happy to spend some time (for a nominal fee) giving you guidance on conducting the board of directors meetings as well as the annual meeting of the association. Conducting meetings is an art, and you must have complete confidence so as to be able to control the meeting -- while at the same time permitting the membership an opportunity to fully discuss all of their concerns and problems.
It is also suggested that you review all existing contracts. Some of these may be outdated, and by comparative shopping, you may be able to save your association a lot of money.
You also should review the insurance coverage with the insurance company that carries the master policy for the association. Make sure that you understand the extent of coverage (or lack thereof) for all possible insurable claims. For example, if a fire occurs in one unit and spreads across the common element hallway into another unit, is there coverage for both units and, if so, what is the deductible under the terms of your policy?
From your point of view, make sure there is insurance for directors' and officers' liability. As a director and officer of the condominium association, you have a fiduciary responsibility to all of the unit owners. Invariably, lawsuits will be filed against one or more of these directors, and you should make sure that there is adequate coverage to protect yourself.
You also should determine whether the level of communication to the unit owners is adequate. Does your condominium association have a newsletter and, if so, how often does it come out? It is strongly recommended that every condominium association, regardless of size, have some form of communication to each of the unit owners at least three or four times a year. At the very least, summaries of the board meetings should be available to all unit owners.
What is the policy regarding board meetings? Are they open and accessible to all unit owners? Do you meet in a small apartment which does not permit more than a few board members to attend. Secrecy in condominium associations is perhaps one of the biggest problems that you will face as president of the condominium association. It is recommended that most of the board meetings be open, unless you are discussing individual hardship cases or personnel matters affecting the condominium staff.
There are a number of publications regarding condominium associations, and you should contact the Community Associations Institute in Arlington to get a list of their publications. If you are not a member of this worthwhile organization, you may want your association to join so you may participate in their various conferences and seminars.