Getting a grip on being a board member of a residential association has proven to be more difficult than one would expect. After all, you have your governing documents- the Bylaws, which tell you how the association is to be structured and handled from an administrative viewpoint; the Declaration of Covenants, which delves into the details of operating the association including what the association is responsible for and what the owners are responsible for; and then you’ve got the rules, which are a compilation and clarification in more detail of what is stated in more general terms in the other governing documents, created by board members themselves. So essentially one is handed a blueprint of how it should all work and who should do (and not do) what. Seems easy, so what happened?
People happened. Your friends and neighbors, their visitors – and they brought along their pets, their cars, their satellite dishes, their loud music, their smoke, their cooking smells, their opinions, their rebuttals, their ideas of what looks lovely in the shrub bed out front – that’s what happened. And that’s why it isn’t easy.
People… the usual suspects are in your community. The uninformed – they “didn’t know, didn’t realize” because they didn’t read all their documents received at closing or were ill informed by their realtor. The rebels – they were informed, they just don’t “believe in rules,” making for yet another difficult situation. There are the special folks who also know and understand how associations work; they just need for you to make an exception for them, for a myriad of reasons. And of course there are the experts, who are willing to tell you what you are doing wrong, but not willing to offer their time to be on the board. Worrying too much about these folks distracts the board from its true responsibilities.
Standard Diversions – that too often take precedence over fiduciary duties and other board duties – are pets, parking, satellite dishes, trash, noise, and now smoking. Many of these issues have been with us since the inception of condominiums and community living, and they are still focal points of discussion today. It’s not likely that you will come up with universally equitable solution for these matters that won’t also use up every available hour of volunteer time.
Deviations from the governing documents and attempts to clarify them are extremely taxing on the time that volunteer board members have to offer. Precious hours are spent on the issues that should not be a board’s primary focus. Those hours should be redirected.
Years ago CAI developed a brief general description of the duties of the board that today’s board members would do well to follow-preserve, enhance, maintain and protect the assets of the association. Does it translate to breaking up neighbor arguments? Muzzling dogs?
Particularly in this day and age of huge shortfalls in budgets due to delinquent accounts, which in turn result in deferred maintenance as well as a new and expanded focus on massive numbers of delinquent accounts, board members cannot afford to be distracted. Management companies are of great assistance in the strategic planning that is needed to keep an association solvent and improving. If a board doesn’t consider the management as a business partner but instead as another entity to blame when the noisy dog keeps barking, the board is choosing a path of dysfunction that will not help the association to flourish.
Dysfunctional vs. Functional – A functional board will create a mission statement and will consider that mission statement whenever it embarks on a project. If the project will not play a role in the mission statement, it should be set aside. Another factor in the mission statement is determining the community culture – are you a stringent group with lots of rules that are enforced without fail, or are you a more flexible community with general rules aimed at avoiding only the most heinous of association crimes?
A functional board will develop a contracting policy and a contracting package to streamline the process, the work load and help prioritize work to be done. An association cannot “fly by the seat of its pants” as it will have no pants if there is not a carefully thought out plan of action. The budget is the result of the plan, and the plan needs to be followed.
A functional board will hold reviews, just as an employer reviews its employees. Set up a review of the management company, the landscaper, the pond and lake service provider, etc. at six-month intervals, so that they know how they’re doing in the eyes of the board, and vice versa. They will also discuss areas to improve and give positive feedback on good performances. And don’t forget the self examination as well. A functional board should check its own progress and actions annually to see how they match up to the plan, the budget and the mission statement!
A functional board, in opposition to a dysfunctional board, will be respectful to each other and leave personal feelings aside; they will be cooperative not combative; they will be dedicated to the best interests of the community as a whole; and they will listen. Unilateral decisions will never be allowed as the board is a team.
Be reasonable. Be realistic. Communicate, communicate, communicate. People want to be informed and they deserve to be. Distribute newsletters, email blasts, fliers, etc. Tell the community what has been decided, how the community stands financially, and what the future plans are.
And when lost, ask for directions! Management companies are in the business of offering guidance. Let them help you help your association.
Christine E. Evans, CMCA, PCAM
President and CEO
Vanguard Community Management