Even among otherwise conscientious, community-minded condo, HOA, and co-op residents, the idea of running for and serving on their board often ranks somewhere between taxes and dental work. It conjures thoughts of endless meetings...arguing about the minutiae of vendor bids...confrontations with neighbors unhappy with board decisions...gossipy remarks in the elevator...the list goes on. More often, however, the issue is simply apathy. Many if not most condo, HOA, and co-op owners just don’t care enough to take on the responsibility and challenges of board service—they’d rather their neighbor do it. Consequently, those who are willing to serve often hold the same position for years—sometimes for decades—and that can bring its own set of problems.
The Roots of Apathy
Aside from the thanklessness (both real and perceived) of serving on the board, there are other reasons owners and shareholders shy away from participation. They range from lack of knowledge and experience to what’s sometimes referred to as a ‘renter mentality.’
‘Renter mentality’ is a common phenomenon in condominium and co-op communities. Owners of condominium and co-op apartments are typically entering the ownership market from the rental market, and are often surprised by how different life is when there’s no landlord. For instance, repairs within one’s unit must be completed—and paid for—by the unit owner or shareholder. New owners/shareholders might also lack awareness that they must be involved to some degree in managing and maintaining the common areas of their property.
Jack (not his real name) is president of a 212-unit co-op in Greenwich Village. He has led his building through Hurricane Sandy and a fire on the property. He gives a good example of the mindset held by many of the shareholders: “Many residents look at it as the co-op should do this, or the co-op should do that, but they don’t want to take ownership. They’re full of ideas, as long as someone else will execute it. They want the board to do everything—people don’t understand that it’s a volunteer position.”
Another factor in the hesitance and misunderstanding around community participation is residents’ belief that they lack the knowledge or experience needed to sit on a board. Many believe that only those in the building with direct experience in related fields—attorneys, accountants, real estate professionals, and architects, for example—are qualified to serve and make decisions on behalf of the community. It’s not an unreasonable thing to think—but what if none of your neighbors fits into any of those categories?