Attorneys and community association managers can be a godsend for the board of a co-op, condominium or HOA. Most boards consist of volunteers who usually have quite busy external lives themselves, so having an experienced professional on the team for advice, guidance, and enforcement of policy can be a huge help.
But even so, it’s the board that is elected by residents to uphold their community’s best interests, and the board that is accountable for major decisions. Over-reliance on third parties such as managers and attorneys can sometimes lead to internal issues, especially – but not only – if those third parties are not acting in good faith. That’s why it’s imperative for board members to understand when to delegate and when to handle things internally, as well as how to identify when that trusted adviser may be overstepping his or her bounds. A board that hands over the keys to its kingdom to an unelected party is courting trouble—and the wrath of its constituents.
Know Your Role
“A board needs to make sure that it has all of the information necessary in order to have productive discussions and make proper decisions,” says Pamela Lytle, manager of Winnetka Mews Condominium Association in Winnetka, Illinois. “I believe that the best boards use their professionals – whether manager or attorney, accountant or engineer, etc. – liberally, and that a liberal use will shield the board from liability.”
To be clear, however, a board should think of itself as the primary decision-maker on all association matters. Any advice should be evaluated on its merits—not followed blindly.
“I recommend that boards ‘trust but verify,’” says Sean Jordan, director of property management with FirstService Residential in Canton, Massachusetts. “We have vendors that we trust – they’re vetted, they’re timely, they’re dependable – but at the same time, the board shouldn’t close off a potential opportunity for a new vendor or new way of doing business just because it has this established, long-term relationship. This is only to say that the board should always be learning new techniques; there might be something that someone has come across that has been a continuing problem at your property, but this third party has actually dealt with it before and figured out a way to resolve whatever problem. But your board wouldn’t be aware of this were they not to engage other opportunities every once in awhile.