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Advice for New Board Members After Election, the Real Work Starts

Almost every condo owner, from time to time, has thought about running for the board. Most quickly discount the notion, but a fair number throw their hats into the ring, and some of these even get elected. But what does it mean to be elected to the board? What kind of person does it take to serve, and what are their duties?

Not surprisingly, most board members are ordinary people like Karen Krolak and her husband, Jason Ries, who own a condo in a four-unit building in Somerville, Massachusetts. They are also both volunteers on their association’s board of directors. It’s a small, informal board, with each volunteer sharing the officer responsibilities of president, vice president, secretary and treasurer.

Other board members have more than a smidgen of business experience — like Rob Harrington, founder and chairman of the online home resource site OptHome.com, based in Southborough, Massachusetts. Besides his day job, Harrington also volunteers his time on several condo boards, including a larger 48-unit building.

Board members in homeowner associations and condo buildings are typically made up of volunteers — like Krolak, Ries, Harrington and others — who take time out of their busy schedules to attend meetings, run committees and make sure their investments are protected.

A Thankless but Important Job

Volunteering for an association board can be a time-consuming position that includes a host of responsibilities — such as enforcing governing documents, performing fiduciary duties, and dealing fairly with both fellow board members and residents alike, while being in charge of millions of dollars in assets. At the same time, these dedicated volunteers can be liable if anything goes wrong, often with a threat of litigation. It’s often a thankless job, but nonetheless an important one.

“A board is like a republic,” says David Barrett, ARM, with American Properties Team in Woburn, Massachusetts. “The boards answer to the unit owners. Just like we elect Congressional members to act on our behalf, but we don’t get to see everything they decide. If we don't like the board, the only thing we can do is vote to remove them or vote in new ones.”

So why run at all? New volunteers join the board because they are unhappy with what the board is doing (perhaps they disagree with how much money is being spent or how it is being spent), because there is a particular issue they want to address or, ideally, because they just want to get involved. Some may even have an expertise in a subject that can help the board or the association.

In his complex at West Roxbury, Harrington’s financial expertise ended up saving his board a lot of money. “I reviewed the insurance and found if we changed everyone’s washing machine hoses from rubber to steel, we could drop the annual premium by over $6,000 per year!” he says. “Maybe you know about energy savings, landscaping, or you know a better way to paint the property.”

If you are considering joining your board, consider this brief tutorial on the responsibilities of board members and officers and what you should know before coming into your first meeting. The more educated you are, the easier it will be to navigate your way through a meeting, make decisions and cast votes on behalf of the homeowners and campaign for an officer’s role.

Board of Directors 101

Boards vary in size from community to community with smaller associations, such as Krolak’s, having just a few members, to larger communities having a dozen or more board members. Most boards have a chain-of-command — a president, vice president, secretary, treasurer and general board members, who do not hold titles, but attend meetings and hold voting privileges.

Larger boards may have other positions too, such as an assistant secretary or an assistant treasurer. In most larger communities, new board members aren’t likely to be voted into an officer position, although on smaller boards there are greater opportunities.

“There are no regulations and nothing in the condo documents that say that a board position has to have a line of succession, so it’s possible that someone new could come in and be president,” says Barrett.

However, he says that board members should be aware of their responsibilities before joining. “The most important thing they need to know is that board members have a fiduciary responsibility to the association to use good business judgment and make decisions on behalf of the unit owners,” says Barrett.

To help you learn more about your responsibilities, Krolak urges all new board members to read the condo documents and the previous board meeting minutes before attending the first meeting. “I know that they aren’t the most exciting documents, but they describe how your organization functions and what belongs to the condo association as opposed to the unit owners,” says Krolak. “Each organization is different, so don't assume that the rules from another condo that you have owned will apply to another building. The minutes will give you a better picture of the issues facing the board.”

These documents include the rules and the bylaws, which explains homeowners’ responsibilities. The bylaws explain that the board member must act for the benefit of the association, not the benefit of individual board members. They can't discriminate by favoring one homeowner over another, and this is frequently hard for new board members to do.

Harrington suggests potential board members review the insurance policies for coverage on actions they may make as a trustee. “This usually takes the form of directors and officers [D& O] coverage,” says Harrington. “You need to know if you are covered or have new liability exposure.”

Weigh Your Ability to Commit

Finally, consider what kind of a commitment you are able to make before getting involved. How often does your board meet and how long are the meetings? Most boards meet at least once a month, but some communities with a smaller staff may meet just a few times a year.

Summer can also be a time when things slow down because of people taking vacations. Will you be expected to serve on, or head, a committee? If so, how much additional time does that take and how many of those meetings are held? If you really can't make that kind of commitment, you may want to reconsider or take on a lesser role.

Getting elected to an association’s board can be a big job in and of itself —but the truth is that winning a seat is only the beginning. After making the decision to campaign for a seat, and then winning it, new board members can find themselves failing to understand exactly what they’ve gotten themselves into. Here’s a breakdown of the roles and responsibilities:

Officer Selection Process

Board members are elected by the homeowners during an annual meeting. However, the officer positions are decided by the board themselves. Each title brings with it different responsibilities. For example, the president is in charge of the board and owner meetings and appoints committees. The vice president works alongside the president and if the president can't fulfill his duties — for example, can’t attend a meeting — the vice president stands in.

Next to the board president, the role of treasurer is usually the most time-consuming position on a board. The treasurer receives management reports and invoices, and will review financial matters and the budget with the association’s accountant and manager. Because of this, board members with a financial background are often asked to serve as treasurer.

The secretary’s main function is to record minutes and keep copies of the records. In most associations, the managing agent or the property manager is the direct contact with the building professionals — accountant, contractors, etc., but there may be one liaison from the board who communicates with the professionals as well. “For example, typically, the treasurer will build a relationship with the CPA,” says Barrett. “Some treasurers ask for input from the CPA while doing the draft of the budget.”

The board also communicates with the unit owners, so it’s important to be a people-person. Oftentimes, homeowners will stop you — in the elevator, in your driveway, etc. — and use that opportunity to ask you questions about a complaint they filed, or try to find out information.

Establish Guidelines with Homeowners

Homeowners who know you personally may contact you by phone at any hour, day or night, to talk about community business. It’s important to establish guidelines and express to other homeowners that their matters will be taken care of during regularly scheduled board meetings. Do it respectfully and responsibly.

Barrett suggests, however, that any potential board members who joined just to focus on one platform or suggestion should reconsider how they approach their responsibilities.

“If you promised in a campaign that you were going to lower fees 10%, it might be very difficult to do that once you get inside, without knowing the full scope of the property,” says Barrett. “Once you are voted in, you may find out that the cost-savings were [already] implemented and there’s not much else you can do. Instead, come into the association, learn what’s going on and then try to implement some of your ideas.”

Lisa Iannucci is a freelance writer for New England Condominium magazine.

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36 Comments

  • I have just been selected as Treasurer of our 78 unit Condo Association. Yours is the first article I've read in my efforts to educate myself. Note that I have no professional financial expertise.
  • cAN A TRESURER FROM A BOARD ASSOCIATION DO THE WORK OF A SECRETARY?
  • This was very helpful!!!! Thanks a bunch.
  • Should a board member remain on the board if he is suing a unit owner?
  • Should a board member remain on the board if he is suing a unit owner? CAN A TRESURER FROM A BOARD ASSOCIATION DO THE WORK OF A SECRETARY?
  • Question: Can a new board member (VP) see management reports from the previous board
  • Does the individual condo association board members and president have the legal right to remove a treasurer from duties without due cause and deny a chance for rebuttal?
  • Can a secretary and treasurer be a position shared by the same individual
  • can a Board member of a condominium also be the liason of a landscape committee, rather than allowing the committee to have its own liason?
  • The Board Members at one of the MA condos decided they wanted a $250/mo stipend of the volunteer Treasurer and since it couldn't become part of the bylaws, they want to incorporate it into the operating costs but will need a 2/3rds vote to do this or so they say. Is this legal?
  • I would like to know if a trustee member has threatened others through emails can she be censored or removed?
  • I have been the target of an "email assault" for an extended period of time from a fellow trustee that making all manner of accusations and allegations towards me. This started with a board decision they felt slighted by and progressed to other issues. nothing I have tried has stopped it. What recourse do I have?
  • Can an Assistant Treasurer give opinions on financial matters to other Board Members without going through the Treasurer? This is either through e-mails or at Board Meetings?
  • pATTY, jeannette & Paul. Unless bylaws specifically say no, see no reason why secretary and treasurer cannot be the same person.
  • As a member of condo I would like to know if I can look at the financial records from the treasurer at anytime?
  • You can ask for your financial records anytime. It should be with forthought. You have to give the manager/board a chance to prepare info and set a reasonable time to view the records
  • My board has voted to allow Fios. Verizon will be installing it in all units and will only install if they can enter and install their equipment in every unit. I'm opposed to this, can my condo association force me to take a day out of work to allow Fios to come in? This will cost me money to lose time at work.
  • I was the only member of the board of a 12 unit association until I was overthrown by 7 units who don't pay, now they organized the condo association with a board of directors, and a board of trustees and voted in the officers from outside of the board, they are all screwed up
  • Gareth forgets to mention that when he was repeatedly asked for financial records, he declined. Now that he has been voted out, he still refuses to provide receipts, financial reports, copies of bills, & explanations for withdrawals from the Association's bank account into his personal PayPal Account. Yes, the Association is now organized, cutting costs, rebuilding its bank account, providing financial reports, and the Unit Owners are involved - hooray for them! We'll be contacting the DA.
  • I'm a board member of a 50 unit suburban condo association. Two residents have put up awnings on windows, without board approval. This is longstanding. One resident admits he did it; one says it was there when she purchased the unit. We're not approving any awnings and just denied a request. Our Board President says the owner who admits he did it without approval must remove it at his expense, BUT the owner who bought here with the awning will have it removed at OUR association expense. I don't agree. I feel the buyer bought everything and is responsible for it now, years later.
  • I am the treasurer of a 24 unit condo. I have sold my condo. Is it legal for me to stay on as just the treasurer.
  • Is a board member considered to be a Trustee? For instance if you serve as President or Treasurer, are you automatically considered to be a Trustee? If not, can you wear two hats, be President and Trustee
  • can our board remove our fountains without a vote?
  • A unit owner got enough votes to become a board member. The current board members didn't like the person and didn't tell the unit owner she was elected--so she didn't get on the board. Is that illegal?
  • None of the Board Members of our condo association reside at the condos is the legal? The President bought the condos about a year ago, there were 5 empty units and he has since rented them out and has appointed his wife, son and daughter positions on the board. He says because he own 5 units that he has 5 votes. There are ten units and because one of the other unit owner also a none resident has sided with him the other four unit owners that reside there have been alienated. We pay our HOA fees but see little or no maintenance, we believe he is using the fees to line his own pockets.
  • The simple answer to your question is that there are no laws governing condo associations, trustees , directors and their third party managers. No laws or agencies regulate how condos operate which makes the condo docs- master and unit deeds- irrelevant. They are under no obligation to make common area repairs or conduct safety inspections if they chose not to. There is no agency to enforce healt and safety code violatiopns. They can pick and choose if they want to repair common area issues affecting certain units but not others. They can backcharge any unit owner for repairs made to another unit wiithoug obligation of proof for what you have been charged. They can manipulate water bills so that some unit owners percentage (Trustees) is less than others and the rest of the owners end up subsidizing Trustees and larger families. They can take your deeded parking space any thime they want it without asking nor paying you. . They can affix late fees any time they want w/no burdon of proof. they can raise fees or charge special assessements anytime they choose without accountability. They can ignore roof warantees , work without a budget or if a mangaement company wants to increase their profits they will insi9sit fees must be raised by 10% iacross the boartd only becvause it's "typica, industry standard" and if the trustees are too lazy to research it, unit owners must pay up. Trustees and Management companiies are under no obligation to provide documentation for any charges. If the Trustees agree that one owner has 5-10 votes (married) that's the way it is. They are not liable for meetingl safety regulations because condominiums are not not regulated by city state or local laws. In other words, associations are completely immune to laws which protect the rest of citizenry. I will never own another condo there is no one to protect us- no laws, no lawyers, no government agencies, no consumer agencies, we are completely on our own and if the Trustees won't make common area repairs so negligent that one's unit has been destroyed you have no options if you can't afford to make repairs for damages that will never go away until the exterior repairs are made.
  • In electing candidates for the Board in MA and there is a Tie...what is the rule? Thanks
  • I am going to put my apt for sale, I am active board member, i would like to know if this is within the law to be continued serving on the Board?
  • we have a unit owner who has left their unit vacant for an unknown period of time. What is the Association's liability? HOAs are being paid.
  • Is it legal in the state of Illinois to have a condo board with no president?
  • Our 58 unit condos hasn't had a president or vice President in 3 years. Just a treasurer and secretary. Is that legal?
  • In MA can the deeded co-owners of one condo unit serve at Trustees at the same time? Our association exceeds 25 units, the docs require there be a minimum of 3 trustees.
  • A Mass. law regulating condo fees has changed, now allowing ownership percentages and condo fees on Affordable units to be raised to equal ownership percentages and condo fees of Market units. affordable units. Where can we find state rules related to making these changes in our association? Thank you.
  • Very good questions. What do I have to do to find out the answers?
  • My wife and I live in a townhouse and there are 25 other units. Our board had three members but one member sold and moved out. The board is running with only 2 members and the board says they can do that. Also the 2 board members don't pay condo fees at all, they say that is what the get for rinning the baord. That comes out to we'll over 2000.00 a year. Is this legal in MA. Thank you, Pete
  • Mr. McDonagh: Kudos to you for trying to keep your board informed at best and honest at worst! The By-laws for your community will most likely contain the recommended or minimum number of board members required for your community. The by-laws should also speak to the fact that members are required to serve without compensation and it is highly unlikely that provisions exist for board members to serve in exchange for condo fees. Please feel free to e-mail me directly at askthepropertymanager.com with any other inquiries. '