Any recent web search of condominium news will reveal countless blog posts from disgruntled unit owners, many of whom feel their individual associations have been less than transparent in controversial board decisions. But these calls for increased transparency have left many board members puzzled.
Recent years have seen changes to condominium law throughout much of New England. And as board members scramble to keep up, many questions have arisen as to the facts about board transparency—what attorney Foster Cooperstein in Newton Centre, Massachusetts, calls “the new legal buzzword.” So, just what is transparency, in concrete terms? Or, for that matter, do concrete definitions even exist?
“In any organization, there needs to be a reasonable degree of openness,” says Cooperstein, who has practiced condo law for nearly three decades. “Even if the board makes the best decisions in the world, if everything is done behind closed doors, without any possible input from unit owners, there’s always someone who’s going to suspect [wrongdoing]. If people have the opportunity to understand why decisions are made, there is less likelihood of problems.”
But striking the balance between transparency and reasonable confidentiality can be a frustrating process for condo associations. And it is just this question of balance that often creates the greatest headaches for those who sit on condo boards. Regardless of the individual state, board members are legally bound to admit all unit owners to any general session—and to provide them with written notice beforehand. Beyond that, many other legal requirements are subjective at best. And though few easy answers exist, experts say there are some governing principles that can help in navigating the murky waters of transparency.
“I think it’s a balancing act,” says attorney Samuel “Sandy” Moskowitz of Boston’s Davis, Malm, and D’Agostine, PC. “As far as the management company goes, they have to be completely transparent with respect to the board. Between the board and the unit owners, that’s different. And I think in that case it really comes down to a question of what is the statute.”