A condominium or a homeowners association is the cornerstone of a building community. The condo or HOA maintains order and continuity by preserving architectural integrity, maintaining the common elements, protecting property values, and often providing for recreation and/or entertainment for the community. Board responsibilities may run the gamut from basic maintenance to sophisticated special services. To be effective, a condo or an HOA needs a strong board of trustees or directors who, individually and collectively, understand the role and mission of the association. Operating a condo or an HOA involves many of the same responsibilities as any other business, although board members are volunteers and generally serve without compensation.
While some board members and trustees may have pertinent experiences from their personal lives—as accountants, attorneys, brokers, and managers—most are only armed with a desire to serve their communities. A newly-elected board of trustee member will need solid instruction and training to fully understand her role and fiduciary duties. Serving as a board member can be a valuable service and a rewarding experience, but like any other position, proper training and instruction is a must. So who performs the training, and when and where do the instructions take place? There is no one simple answer, but there are several excellent options for motivated boards and board members.
Building an Informed Board
Currently, there are no federallaws in place that require any form of training for condo or co-op board members, thus states are free to implement legislation as they see fit. That said, according to Matthew N. Perlstein, an attorney with the law firm of Perlstein, Sandler & McCracken, LLC in Farmington, Connecticut, some states, including his own, have provisions that, while not mandating further education, strongly urge it. Within Section 47-261a of The Connecticut Common Interest Ownership Act, there is language that “requires an association to ‘encourage’ officers, directors, managers, and unit owners to attend a basic education program,” explains Perlstein. And while, to the extent of Perlstein’s knowledge, this precise type of official suggestion is unique to Connecticut, it’s worth noting that, effective July 1, 2016, Illinois will implement an Ombudsperson Act that operates quite similarly. But, regardless of what the state insists or suggests, most experts in the field recommend that board members who want to perform their duties in an effective fashion seek out some form of higher learning. Florida board members, for example, are required to get board certified with appropriate training 90 days after they are elected.
Experienced managers also suggest “succession planning” as a way to identify good candidates for future board positions—looking for interested and/or involved residents who may or may not be serving on a committee. A manager may then invite those individuals to sit in on a board meeting and observe the board in action. The visitor can see the nuances and timing of an actual meeting, and observe which board positions might be a good fit for her talents and interests. Then, the individual could serve as an assistant or intern. During this phase a prospective board member can observe and participate in board functions such as reading, presenting and understanding a report. And to provide background and a sense of continuity, it’s a good idea for the manager to supply and review two years’ worth of minutes for assistants and/or new board members.
Raymond Dickey is president of New York-based Brainerd Communications and publisher of AssociationHelpNow™. He, too, believes in a proactive approach to board member development. “If you know someone who is interested in running for a board position, include him or her as much as possible in board activities prior to being elected into their position,” he says. “This way, when and if that person is elected, he or she can hit the ground running. Also nominate potential board members from those who are regularly at meetings. These people already know a great deal about current issues in the building or association.”