Kass Q We have been exploring the idea of hiring a board of directors for our condominium association. There are about 150 units in our complex, and we have encountered serious difficulty getting unit owners to show up at the annual meetings and to volunteer to serve on the condominium board. Many people have suggested that we hire a professional board of directors to govern our association. What do you think about this idea?
A I don't like it.
First, most condominium bylaws state that a member of the board of directors will not be paid for service on the board. Thus, from a practical point of view, you will have to amend the bylaws. And if you are having difficulty getting people to show up at meetings, how do you think you will muster enough votes to get the amendments to your bylaws adopted?
But more importantly, the concept of a condominium involves -- indeed, requires, in my opinion -- that unit owners themselves serve on the board of directors. Your association needs guidance from within its ranks. If you are having difficulty getting members to serve on the board, I strongly suspect that your hired board of directors also will suffer a lack of guidance and leadership.
Let's look at the practical problems involved with a hired board. First and foremost, who will elect (or select) that board? If you can have a quorum at an annual meeting for the purpose of hiring a board of directors, it certainly seems to me that you should be able to find a few unit owners who are willing to take the time to serve their community.
After all, a community association is a minidemocracy. It is a government in its own right, and certain functions just cannot be delegated to "hired guns."
To paraphrase President Kennedy: "Ask not what your condominium can do for you, but what you can do for your condominium."
All too often, condominium unit owners do not understand the function of a board of directors. The board is the governing body, and it makes the rules and regulations to guide the life styles of the unit owners. If a majority of unit owners do not like certain rules and regulations, they can throw the old board out and elect directors more sympathetic with their views. As with any other election, the electorate is the ultimate watchdog over the elected officials. What mechanism would you adopt if you were dissatisfied with the plans and policies of your hired board?
Service on a condominium board of directors has been described as a thankless task. All too often, directors have to serve long hours and take the heat -- and the grief -- from the other unit owners. Board members even have been physically assaulted by angry unit owners.
But a properly run board can correct this situation somewhat. The hired staff should be your management company. Once the board has selected a competent management company, most of the day-to-day operating details should be delegated to that company. Let the project manager take the heat for enforcing the rules or for taking a hard-line position on collection of delinquent accounts.
A well-run board need not meet weekly or even monthly. If the relationship between the board and the management company is working, the board needs to meet perhaps only once every three months.
Of course, in emergencies, the board -- and only the board -- will have to respond. Perhaps the concept of a hired board of directors is one whose time may come. However, I am very much against it. If you live in a condominium, a cooperative or any other complex with a homeowner association, you purchased your unit knowing that there were some obligations connected with that purchase.
We often overlook very valuable assets within our own ranks. Look around your complex. Surely there are a few people able to serve. Maybe they never have been asked. Retired persons should be approached and urged to serve. Tenants also may be a very valuable asset to serve on the board (subject to the bylaws) or at least to assist with the many committees necessary for the smooth functioning of your condominium.
Don't be discouraged, and don't pass the buck to a hired board. That board will only be as good and as responsible as the membership it serves.