One of the unique things that sets co-op, condo and HOA living apart from living in a single-family home, or even a rental, is the buyers’ choice to live in a community-within-a-community. By purchasing a unit in a particular building or development, an owner or shareholder is – consciously or not – signaling that he or she identifies with that community’s personality and overall vibe.
Part of what sets the tone for any given building is its board. Nonprofit organizations like co-op corporations, condominium associations and HOAs don’t operate on their own – and while virtually all co-ops, condos and HOAs have contacted management, they also have governing boards composed of individual unit owners or shareholders. Generally, these board members are also residents, though owner/investors who may lease out their units can serve, and often have an economic interest in doing so.
Boards are almost exclusively volunteer positions. The question is, why volunteer? Psychology Today magazine lists five reasons on their website why people typically volunteer, whether for something like a neighborhood soup kitchen, or for their condo board: Volunteering is good for your health – those who volunteer live longer, and are healthier than those who don’t; volunteers establish strong relationships with colleagues and fellow volunteers; volunteering is good for your career – it’s a great way to network; it’s also good for society in general, and can make you feel really good about yourself.
Dana Greco is a board member at her co-op in New York City. She is also a therapist who specializes in working with couples. Greco has lived in three different co-op buildings over the years, but didn’t get actively involved as a board member until moving to this apartment. In part, she attributes that to the fact that in her first two apartments, she was younger and raising children. She notes though, that when her children were younger, she often stepped up to volunteer in support of events and other activities at their schools. Now that she has more time, Greco actively pursued participating on her board.
“I’ve always been an active volunteer,” says Greco. “I’m always about community, any place where I can do some volunteering. It’s my need to contribute – and by serving on the board that need gets filled. It’s especially rewarding because it’s the place where I live. That’s the place where I want to build community, so I’m making a personal investment. This is my new community.”
Greco says she felt a duty to participate. “I was only there a year when I ran for the board – and I’m on other committees as well.”
Dr. Andrew Griffin has lived in a well-known co-op on Lake Shore Drive in Chicago for more than three decades, and served on the board for several years. “I had a very positive experience,” he says of his time helping to administer the community. “It’s a great way to get to know your neighbors in depth, those who you otherwise might not meet.” During his time on the board, Griffin says, “We did a major lobby project and it was a major accomplishment. It made me happy to see the building working in harmony. There were many differing opinions, all of which were heard.”
Understanding How Things Work
Mark Quiello has lived in two condominium communities: one in New York and now an HOA community in Pompton Lakes, New Jersey. He has served on the board in both properties. He came to board service in the Pompton Lakes property in a more unconventional way, in that he was appointed, rather than being elected. The property was experiencing some minor management and board related problems at the time, and Quiello felt he could have a positive impact.
“I’m an honest person who has done the right thing,” Quiello says. “It was important to me to understand how the association was being run, and how our money was being spent. The benefit of board service I feel,” is the satisfaction one gets knowing the right things are being done. That to me is the big personal benefit. I do feel personal satisfaction serving on the board, as well as the duty to insure proper supervision of the property.”
Protecting Your Investment
Supervision of one’s home and investment is a major reason board members past and present cite for getting them involved in their community. Richard Power lives in the Great Island district of Pine Hills, a planned community HOA in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Pine Hills is an over-55 community and has been around since 2000. He has served on the board for the past seven years – five years a president, and now for two years as treasurer. Prior to the establishment of the board, during the development phase of the property, he served on the advisory committee, the antecedent of the present board.
“The job I have serving on the board is to make sure we maintain or improve the value of the entire community,” he says. “It’s a value proposition. I have a weird sense of control,” he remarks of his board experience. “I don’t have to be in control as long as somebody is. I don’t have to fly the plane. If someone else is flying that’s fine, but even though I don’t know how to fly a plane, if no one else is flying it, I will grab the wheel. I’ve got to know that someone is in charge.”
Do Board Members Get Paid?
Service on a co-op, condo or HOA board is a volunteer position, and therefore unpaid – usually. According to attorney Michael Ungerbuehler, formerly of The Association Law Firm in Orlando, “The issue of director compensation—whether for a condominium or a cooperative—is established in the association’s bylaws. Most residential condominium associations and cooperative associations have been created as not-for-profit corporations managed by a volunteer board of directors, with the bylaws specifically prohibiting director compensation. As such, the directors are volunteering their time and efforts, and thus could not be paid, or they would not be considered volunteers.”
But that’s not to say that compensation is entirely outside the realm of possibility. While rare, and even unlikely, board member compensation falls mostly under the aegis of an association’s bylaws. “Florida statute chapters 718, 719, and 720 currently all expressly provide that directors serve without compensation unless their membership votes to allow it,” explains Richard D. DeBoest, a co-founder and shareholder attorney with the law firm of Goede, Adamczyk, DeBoest & Cross, PLLC in Naples, Florida. “The Florida Condominium Act established as Chapter 711 in 1963 provided that the bylaws must provide for ‘compensation, if any, of officers and boards,’ so it has been this way since the beginning.”
However, while the bylaws can technically allow for board members to profit from their service, most documents refrain from doing so. As Allen M. Levine, a shareholder attorney with the law firm of Becker & Poliakoff in Fort Lauderdale puts it, “A great majority of associations hire a licensed community association manager to handle the day-to-day activities of the association, and have a volunteer board to oversee such activities as to protect their constituents’ interests. Eligible candidates have, for decades, continued to vie for positions on their condominium and cooperative boards without the promise of compensation.”
Other states run things a bit differently. While New York and New Jersey explicitly forbid board members from being compensated for their service, attorneys in Chicago and Massachusetts have indicated that in very limited circumstances, they have encountered condominium associations that provide a small stipend to board members.
Michael Kim, a community law attorney in Chicago, notes that these situations have occurred in very small associations – say six units or fewer – where there is no full-time, contracted management and one or two of the residents have to assume heavy responsibility for the operation of the property in place of a manager. David Abel, a property manager in Massachusetts for FSResidential, has also seen this type of situation with small associations.
Overall, time commitment for board service is usually not onerous. According to Greco, “The time commitment varies. It’s usually no more than about five or six hours per month. Right now, we are in the middle of a lobby renovation, so we meet a little more often.” And, adds Griffin, “you should serve. It’s fun and it’s not taxing.” Quiello says he commits to about five to eight hours a month as well, and he is the president of the board, which can require a slightly more time-intensive commitment. Powers estimates board members contribute about 20 hours per month in his community.
As for getting people to volunteer, well, it’s a volunteer situation – and you can’t push too hard. Greco explains that her board begins by planting a seed when they interview someone looking to purchase a unit. They mention all the various committees the building has, as well as building-wide social activities, and ask the purchaser what interests them, gently directing them toward getting accustomed to working with the building. “You never know,” Greco says, “that person may be a potential board member someday.”
In Quiello’s community, “We ask for volunteers. We just got two volunteers for a subcommittee on some construction we need to do. They are both in that industry.” Subcommittees are a good way to get residents involved gradually, and position them for potentially serving in the longer term.
Powers offers some good advice about board service: “We’re all still neighbors. We go to the same social events and we want everyone to participate, so we don’t get political – we don’t create factions.”
When asked about board service, more often than not we hear the negative aspects of the experience. There is another side and another story, however. As Quiello says, “There’s the satisfaction of knowing you’re doing something good. You are helping people, even if they don’t want the help! There are those who are very appreciative, and they tell you so. I’ve had some very positive feedback.” Perhaps that makes it all the more worthwhile.
A J Sidransky is a staff writer/reporter for The South Florida Cooperator, and a published novelist.