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Board Newbie

So what does a new condo board president need to know?  My work in preparing reserve fund and transition studies requires me to attend many annual or special board meetings.  In Maine, this can be an eye-opening experience, as Maine condos are often run without the benefit of a professional property manager or lawyer.  So from my perspective, if I were to give advice to an incoming board member, these would be my top 10 suggestions.

  1. Hire a property manager and lawyer with condo experience.  This is not a good place to save money.  Have your attorney run future elections and prepare annual meeting notice package.  This will avoid contested elections and the perception of wrongdoing by the board and property manager.  Your lawyer will manage the accurate vote counting and the proper use of proxies including opening voting envelopes in public and having the proxies document the date, time, and election with the name of the proxy in writing.

  2. Read and follow the condominium documents.  This is especially true for new board members who were on previous boards in out of state condos.  Never assume if it was true for one condo, it must be true for the next.  Always remember the order of priority is federal law; state law; Declaration; Bylaws; followed by rules and regulations adopted by prior administrations.

  3. Pre-meeting planning.  Know your timeline.  Plan backwards.  The bylaws will detail mandatory meeting dates; time for notices; need for nominating committees; etc.  Just because the previous board ignored a bylaw scheduled meeting on the first Tuesday of each December doesn’t mean the new board should.

  4. Have a written meeting agenda and stick to it.  Start the meetings on time.  Document a quorum count has been taken and record it in writing.  Keep a good set of minutes including who attended and actions taken by the board.  Sensitive issues such as delinquent accounts or disciplinary actions should be in executive session with its own set of minutes released only under the advice of your attorney.

  5. Provide the opportunity for good communications with the owners.  Define the time owners can present their concerns or complaints but don’t cut off a presentation in mid-sentence.  All meetings have distractors who throw FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt) on the table.  It should be kept in mind even the most persistent curmudgeon has a valid complaint or even a good idea on occasion.

  6.  Only have approved meetings.  Avoid any pre-meeting discussions on important issues by e-mail; over lunch; or at a bridge game.  Owners deserve notice of any future board meeting or confidence in the board will be corroded.

  7. Raise assessment when needed.  Too often boards wait too long to raise assessments even when everyone knows the community’s condition is not what it should be.  Often the argument is heard “I haven’t got a salary raise in a long time, why should we raise the assessment level”?  The board has a fiduciary obligation to maintain the common elements.  This obligation is independent of the state of the owners’ checkbook.  The association should maintain a level of reserves to proactively meet future capital repair needs.

  8. Proactivity is the key to a board’s success.  Preventing problems is generally less expensive than paying for the solution.  Having good committee leadership with defined goals to be on the watch for problems and presenting solutions to the board are the hallmarks of a well-run community.

  9. Avoid the potential or perception of conflicts of interest.  Don’t hire insiders as venders or service providers.  Get multiple bids whenever possible.  Always have a second set of eyes check the books.  Never fire a vendor abruptly but provide an opportunity to respond or explain circumstances prior to a termination.

  10. Learn when to ask for advice.  If you have doubts of when the board needs to call its lawyer or accountant or property manager, ask them.  All too often boards will call and ask, “Should we have done this”? rather than calling and asking “Can we do this”?  True, advice can result in a bill but board volunteers should never be put in a position of having to act beyond their competency.  Today’s world is always changing and no one board member should be expected to have all the answers. 

So these are my words of wisdom for board members.  I’m sure there are 10 more pieces of advice just as good but if the suggestions above are followed I guarantee condo life will be easier for all concerned.

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Article written by Jack Carr, P.E., R.S., LEED AP, Criterium Engineers

Published in Condo Media, May, 2016

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