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Get the FUD off the Table

Article written by Jack Carr, P.E., R.S., LEED AP, Criterium Engineers
Condo meetings can be awful. Not all, but some. My job provides me the opportunity to observe first hand a large number of condominium meetings including board meetings and full association meetings. From what I hear the New England meetings I attend are mild compared to the ones seen on You Tube or those described by our Florida office where the guards wear Kevlar vests.
When I was invited to be a speaker at CAI’s National Conference held in New Orleans this April, I decided rather than plow through a tedious power point speech; I would use a case method style format. My presentation would show how tough issues should be handled in condominium meetings by using actual events to illustrate the points I wanted to cover. The following are some of the highlights of two of these case studies.
In “Get the FUD off the Table” we discussed the methods of dealing with the classic condo curmudgeon who tries to disrupt every meeting with negativism and other disruptive tactics to postpone or avoid any decision that may create change or spend money. I refer to this as throwing FUD on the table. FUD as in Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt.
Of course the best method of controlling this type of behavior is to not lose control of the meeting. This takes discipline and training. They do not teach effective condo board management in school. It is often a learn-on-the-job type of education. I have always admired the Community Association Institute’s role in training both board members and property managers in the art of the meeting. After all, condos are not businesses but they should be run in a business-like manner.
The first step in meeting control is to maintain a system of consistent rules and policies. Having a prepared agenda is key to setting the tone of a meeting. It establishes a chart to navigate through the presentation of issues, orderly discussions, and framework for the decision process. Educating meeting attendees on how motions are made and seconded, time limits on discussions, and voting rules goes a long way in creating an environment for a successful meeting. A well written policy statement handed out to all attendees is helpful as people have a hard time arguing with a piece of paper rather than a real person.
A good board will be open to new ideas from all sources but will have the means to control the condo commando who wants to take over the session. Boards often set up Homeowner Forums of ½ to 1 hour at the front or end of a meeting with strict time limits for each speaker. A well prepared board will have the facts and answers that will sweep the FUD off the table.
The second case study was called “Don’t Hang Out Your Dirty Laundry”. Associations often have to face difficult problems and make hard decisions. Perhaps it has just been determined that all of the exterior siding or roofs have to be unexpectedly resurfaced. Maybe the plumber just advised the board that all of the heat system piping in a 12 story high-rise has to be replaced. When the initial sticker shock hits and the specter of a hefty special assessment in the near future are realized, unit owners begin to panic.
It is at this time that firm leadership needs to step up an remind everyone that they are all in it together and whether they know their neighbor or not they are all in a sense a family and as a family they must keep their family business within the family. This means one does not tell the hairdresser about the roof leaking, or the butcher about the siding falling off, or even the brother in law about the pipe failure. This is critical because when the hairdresser passes the rumor on no one in the association would recognize the story by the third iteration.
Today’s real estate world is much more in tune with condos in distress from either high foreclosure rates or underfunded reserve funds. Disclosures should be made in an orderly way with a timely reserve funding plan in place.   
These problems are not solved by hanging out the laundry but rather recognizing the problem and establishing a plan to fix it. A plan of action that the family of unit owners can feel confident that their equity will be protected and by joining together their goals will be met.
Though these two cases have different stories they have a consistent theme. A successful association will have a board prepared to deal with a difficult future and the rules to guide and the sense to follow.