The Cons of Condo Board Membership

by Michele Lerner

Early in 2010, UrbanTurf ran a two-part series on the joys and pains of becoming a member of a condo or co-op board. Last Friday, we ran the first installment of the series and today we are re-publishing the second part on the cons of joining a board.

Originally published in January 2010.

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As we pointed out in the first part of this series, condominium and co-op owners have plenty of reasons to join their homeowners association board, particularly if they want a say in decisions that can affect their monthly budget and the future value of their home. The caveat is that nearly everyone who has participated in condo management meetings can share a horror story about the experience.

Richard Levy, a former condo board member at The Lawrence in Columbia Heights, had a particularly unpleasant experience.

“One unit owner stopped paying his condo dues because the condo board had, according to him, failed to notify him in a timely manner about a building problem,” Levy explained. “After sending me dozens of nasty emails, he threatened to sue because I sent him a letter clarifying the amount he owed the condominium association. Fortunately, he sold his unit before it ever came to a lawsuit. Although not as menacing, several other delinquent owners have treated me like I was the bad guy when I confronted them about late dues.”

Condo board members frequently experience harassment from other tenants who don’t understand that they are volunteers and residents themselves, not paid employees of the owners. And other owners just haven’t quite outgrown that college dorm experience.

“Residents think you’re an RA (resident advisor) and knock on your door late at night when they have problems,” a former condo board member in Kalorama told UrbanTurf. “It is totally unacceptable. They should be calling the management company.”

The Kalorama resident recalled that residents used to come by her unit at all hours because they were locked out, regardless of the fact that notices are posted in the building that lock-out service is not offered. Residents also called her late at night to complain that someone had parked in their parking spot. Her response: “Call the police.”

“I’m happy to be a liaison between a resident in need and the management company, or to help a neighbor in an emergency, but people need to understand that condo board members are community volunteers, not house mothers.”

Phone calls about disputes between neighbors was the worst. She had no idea how residents got her phone number, and she started having to screen her calls to let unknown numbers go to voicemail rather than get caught up in personal conflicts.

Another common complaint among area condo board members is that very few homeowners are willing to serve on the board or even attend an annual meeting. At a 90-unit condo building in Dupont Circle, only twenty owners typically show up at the mandatory annual meeting, with just a handful attending the regular meetings, according to a current board member.

“Most unit owners are unwilling to join the board, leaving it to the same few to serve,” Levy lamented. “At the same time, when there’s a problem or complaint, they’re quick to ask the board for assistance or blame the board when things go wrong.”

In many D.C. neighborhoods, condos are filled with a mix of elderly residents who have lived in the building for decades and young, single new owners. This generation gap can create a conflict when it comes to changing the pattern of condo management or introducing a new procedure like emailing the minutes around from the latest meeting.

Like community board meetings, a problem with the building or between residents can turn a short monthly meeting into an hours-long debate, giving those prospective members a bad taste for what their future may hold if they join the board.

Despite the problems outlined in this piece, becoming a member of your building’s condo board does have its benefits as we noted yesterday. You may just want to do some research on the personalities of the people who live in your building before you dive in.

See other articles related to: dclofts, condos, condo buying, condo board

This article originally published at http://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/the_cons_of_condo_board_membership/1671

8 Comments

  1. zonk said at 6:13 pm on Tuesday January 12, 2010:

    We haven’t really had any problems getting people in our building to serve on the board. Perhaps it’s because we’re smaller, 36 units, and hold an annual, in-the-lobby, holiday party that’s well attended and gives everyone a chance to socialize.

    Having a good management firm also helps, which we have. If people have a maintenance issue, they contact the management firm, not individual board members to straighten it out.

    The condo also has a mailing list for anyone to use to bring up any issues and helpful responses are offered by both board and non-board members. I think the mailing list is critical. 

    The article indicates that in one building less than a fifth of the owners attended the annual meeting. Well, that’s not bad. If 30-35% of the units are rented, odds are owners aren’t around anyway. The most important point, not mentioned in the story, is how many people sent in their proxy. If the proxies are accounted for, then all should be good. 

    Serving on a condo board can be managed with communication (email list), proper and clear notice, and clear governance rules.

    No one should ever have to put up with harassment and people with a specific complaint should be told to bring to the board itself, or the management firm.

    Some people are serving on boards in condos that have neglected maintenance, and a board’s inability, reluctance, to make difficult decisions and bring special assessments issues to the owners can complicate cordial relations in a building. But that’s a separate issue to explore.

  1. rdhd said at 10:09 am on Wednesday January 13, 2010:

    I live in a huge condo—600+ units.  I sat on the Budget and Finance committee for two years and sat the remaining four month’s of a departing (quitting) Board member’s term.  I will never do it again.

    I’ll try to keep it short:  In my experience, many people in my condo are rude, know-it-alls, who have no qualms about yelling at you or calling you names.  They wouldn’t hesitate to call Mother Theresa a liar and cheat.  They do not step foot outside the building so have no perspective on the reality of the real estate market.  They treat staff (mgmt and doormen, etc.) as their personal employees.  They are hypocritical, threatening to sue the Board over a perceived violation of our by-laws in one instance (which counsel agreed on, so the required vote was held) over a project they disagreed with but not in an identical situation a year later over a project they wanted.  They have driven off management staff who follow the rules, but threatened suit over the firing of another staff member who continually violated employee rules, because they didn’t like one, but liked the other.

    They are unbearable and I refuse to have anything to do with them.

  1. Former-Board-Member said at 12:56 pm on Wednesday January 13, 2010:

    I’d like to echo a some previous comments - both conflicts caused by older long-term owners vs. new owners, and the negative, nasty people that seem to be in every building.

    I seved on the board of my co-op in Adams Morgan for all 4 years I lived there (I now own a rowhouse). We had a lot of divisiveness between older residents and new residents. The older residents tended to be extremely frugal, to the point of being unrealistic about the cost of repairs and services, vs. newer, younger residents who generally were a lot more affluent and wanted a lot of amenities. I think a lot of this was the result of the rapid increase in home prices in the neighborhood while I lived there in the early 2000s.

    We spent a lot of time and energy fearing needed elevator upgrades which would probably cost $150,000—because of a law that was going to require all older buildings being brought up to code. I wonder if that has been implemented? We had older residents asking if we could just not have an elevator and make the building a 5-story walk up due to fear of a special assessment.

    Meanwhile all the younger people were pining for roof deck upgrades that the older tenants could not have cared less about. Even just re-painting the hallways for the first time in 17 (!) years was a somewhat agonizing cost to consider. There is absolutely no way we would have paid board members!

    Over the 4 years though a lot of the problems worked themselves out because most of the older tenants eventually cashed out their real estate gains and left, and over time more of the residents were on the same page and the financial resources of the building improved. But there was a lot of stress and nastiness. I think most people in the building saw me as a pretty easygoing person, but even so I got yelled at, called a “bitch”, etc. We also had a board meeting where someone had to be held back from punching someone. All over arguments about money and the dreaded fear of a special assessment.

    I have very mixed feelings about my tenure on the board - on one hand it was valuable mangement experience I also think ended up helping me in my real job, plus, the building was in much better shape at the end of my tenure, somehting I think I helped accomplish. But I don’t think I could handle that level of day-to-day stress again.

  1. Nancy said at 6:51 pm on Wednesday January 13, 2010:

    Oh my, you don’t WANT to be paid if you’re a Board member.  That takes away your volunteer status and will lead other tenants to truly (and rightfully?) treat you as staff.  I know it’s tough dealing with issues that are not properly Board or Board member issues, but at least I have the ability to explain “I’m a resident just like you, I volunteer my time to help make this the best building it can be.  You should run for the Board next year—you clearly are passionate!”

  1. roots said at 12:20 am on Friday January 15, 2010:

    I asked earlier in another article but how much should you pay in management fees a year per unit? Just curious.

    What management companies have others had a good experience with. I feel as if we may be paying too much for our management but I have no comparables. They do a good job but not sure the value is there.

  1. TB said at 11:39 pm on Tuesday January 26, 2010:

    I am in the real estate business in Atlanta, GA. I have been in sales, leasing, risk assessment and now I manage Condo Associations and HOA’s.  I have also served on my condo association Board for eight years.

    Pricing on what management charges you is based on the type of facility you live in.  A high-rise requires more attention and work vs a 20 unit condo association with no elevator or pool etc.

    From serving on the Board, I can tell you it is a thankless job. Most covenants state Board Member’s cannot be compensated.  Frankly, I think Board Member’s should be compensated and maybe more people would be willing to serve and more people would attend annual meetings to vote.  From a Management perspective, your experience with a particular company is based on how good your property manager manages the property and the interaction he/she has with owners.  Of course it always helps if the manager has a good support staff.

    I can tell you Property Management ranks as one of the more stressful jobs.  If you don’t believe me, be a portfolio manager for a year and you will understand what I mean. For example, a homeowner has not paid her dues, we cut off her water after getting a judgment.  A homeowner called to inform me she had a plumber there to turn her water on, so I went to the property.  Four hours later and after a police officer, Sgt., and two LT. confirmed I had not assault the woman and they did not arrest me.  She wasnt happy with the decision of four officers so she made application for a warrant for my arrest.  Well, on to criminal court and the judge threw out the case because she did not prove a thing.  Cost to the Association, about $5000,  She has now told my attorney she is filing application for a restaining order for stalking.  I’ve seen her once at the property and once in criminal court.

    I have other stories, but the above gives you some idea what a manager has to deal with and has to manage other properties in a portfolio while juggling a homeowner working the system. In Geogia we can foreclose on owners and this person will go to foreclosure and have the opportunity to keep her home after she pays her dues, all expenses related to turning off her water, all legal fees associated with her bogus accusations etc.

    If you have a good Property Manager, count your blessings.  Let them know you appreciate their work.  I know our job is to save our associations money and shop quotes. But, if you have a property manager who saved you half of what you were paying for insurance or knew someone did not calculate common area property taxes and your paying $18,000 for something that has no fair market value…and the figure goes to $10.00 annually, I’d consider giving your manager a bonus.  I took over two properties in 2009 and did this for the properties.  Previous management didn’t shop insurance and previous management did not understand you don’t pay fair market value for property you cannot sell.

    Long story….I’ve been on both sides.  After eight years and my Board thinking I have all the right answers because I am in the business,  am about ready to throw in the towel and then they can pay me a consulting fee for my time.  I have an unlisted number and homeowner can email me.  Otherwise, it is a very bad idea to knock on my door or approach me with attitude outside my unit.  Most people know and know they don’t need to take me on.  I too know the law and the responsibilities of a Board Member and I have no problem sending a violation letter to a homeowner who mistreats a board member and then fine them each time the are abusive.  Charge them and keep charging, if you can cut off their parking, shut them out of the property and let them walk on.  Sorry, you can’t deny access to their unit. You can make them walk up 24 flights of stairs if the swipe card is deactivated…check you state laws first.  Your attorney should advise your before you make any moves.

    Serving on a Board should be something everyone does at least once.  Being a Property Manager will give you grey hairs before your time.  I enjoy so many of my homeowner and Associations, they can be a pure delight. Then you have some homeowner’s and you start to wonder why you are in property management.  For those of you who are nice to your managers, trust me they appreciate you. 

    My story on Board’s and Property Management from experience.

  1. Stephen Kurtz said at 6:09 pm on Saturday February 27, 2010:

    I have just resigned from my board having sat on it for four years.  We had “irreconcilable differences” over such issues as transparency, illegal investments in our Reserve Fund, the way the board did business.  Here, in Ontario, Canada we have very comprehensive government legislation. Our own condo has a good Declaration (or as you say covenant) but if a board chooses to disregard the law or its own rules it should be called to account. As an owner and not a board member you can bet that I will be asking a few questions at the annual meeting.
    One final note to all potential board members:
    remember the “prudent person” rule and make sure that if you are dissenting, record yourself in the minutes that way. Avoid abstaining.

  1. Barb said at 7:36 pm on Sunday April 13, 2014:

    I own a condo in Washington state. There are 14
    condo’s in total.  I live in my condo.  There is a guy who owns eight of the condo’s and rents them out.  He has control of the votes and how our money is being spent.  When there is a meeting, he is so nasty and mean to the three people who live in there condo’s and are women.  We have had to leave meetings, record our meetings and receive his nasty emails.  How can we reduce the authority of this terrible person?  How do we get some power over this person?

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