Every co-op and condo association has a board— and by extension, a board president. Presidents and CEOs of major corporations are usually compensated handsomely for the time and effort they're expected to devote to their job, but a building's board president is essentially a person who volunteered to be considered for the position and was subsequently elected or appointed to it. With such a position come many extra responsibilities and duties, which require that an effective president be a team player and an effective communicator.
The Right Stuff
A truly effective board president should have either a solid business/management background or be an exceptionally skilled communicator. In addition, says Diane Dangler, manager of community associations for Alderbrook Condo Association in Little Silver, a board president "should be someone with enough time and the dedication, and should probably be someone with a business or very practical background—someone with a knowledge of accounting and good business practices."
Above all, Dangler says, the president is "someone who can represent everyone unilaterally, doesn't have a specific personal agenda, can lead people and be nonjudgmental, and has the ability to work knowing that there may be some neighbors who maybe don't agree with or appreciate them."
Although relations with association residents might not always be easy, Gary Rothberg, president of the Brittany Townhomes Homeowners Association in Plainsboro says the head of the board, "must have an interest in the community, good communication skills and a diverse background." The person must also be well-connected in the community, Rothberg adds.
Norman Levine, president of the Cambridge Heights Condo Association in Ramsey says that personality also plays a large role. Levine says that an [effective president] "has patience, and is willing to listen. There are proactive people, and there are more passive people."
Levine says his background in business, engineering and construction technology gives him an understanding of what it takes to maintain a building. "I think it's a very vital process for the board president not only to work with the membership, but also to lead the board and work with the management company," he says, and adds that knowing what the management company's concerns and challenges are, is crucial as well.
For A Limited Time Only
Although a board president's term of office might be as limited as two years depending on bylaws, their stay in power varies depending on the climate of the building. "I've had board presidents serve anywhere from one to 10 years," Dangler says. "It depends on the needs of the community, the qualifications of the board president, and their ability to give the time needed."
"I'm in my seventh or eighth year," says Levine. "The only time people tend to get involved is when a problem arises and affects them. If the complex is running fine, you're not going to [hear much from] anyone." It's when a problem arises in the building or development that people feel a need for a regime change, says Levine. He adds that he is in favor of term limits.
It's a Dirty Job . . .
Despite the responsibilities and pressures of the job, association board presidents receive no compensation for their position. "In no cases that I've been involved in has there been any kind of compensation," Dangler says. "I don't know of any in the state, or any specific property that allows that." She says most properties' bylaws will state that the board cannot be compensated.
"It's a commitment, and I don't think that most people who live in associations really understand the commitment that their board members and presidents make," Levine adds.
To become board president, Dangler says, one must be elected by other board members. "The homeowners elect the board and the board itself elects their own officers," she explains.
United We Act
The president might sit at the head of the board, but that doesn't mean he or she can act unilaterally when making decisions. "Under normal circumstances, the board president should act in accordance with the wishes of the majority of the board members," Dangler says. "In cases of emergency, I do sometimes have to go to a board president for an immediate decision. In all cases where I've been involved, however, there's been an understanding within the board that if there's an emergency I'm to go to the board president, and I'm authorized to take a direct order from them."
"A lot depends on the bylaws of the association," Rothberg adds. "But generally it's done as a board, so no member has ultimate power or authority to make direction, unless a resolution has passed or it's been documented that someone has a specific authority to do a specific thing."
Levine says a board president often will only vote if there's a tie, but he or she shouldn't act on their own accord. "I think the board should be brought in, and if the board doesn't have the necessary knowledge in a certain area, it should be brought up and discussed. I think it's very important that everyone's in the loop."
Building Better Relationships
Aside from communication amongst board members, running an effective building or community association also depends on several key relationships, beginning with that between the president and the manager. "It should always be in a professional association - it should be cordial, but the board president and property manager should at all times be able to communicate," Dangler says.
"I have learned that the management company is a vital instrument in the association for running a complex," Levine says. "It's really managing the complex, and responsible for the value of your property. It's very important to have a solid management company. It's a relationship—it's like a marriage."
Maintaining the right relationship with residents is equally important. Dangler says the non-board association members should go to the property manager with daily issues and grievances, and then to the board, if their appeals aren't dealt with. "The homeowners should go to the property manager first," Dangler says. "If the property manager can't handle a particular problem or the homeowner feels they are not being attended to properly, they should feel that they can go to the board."
Rothberg says that an association is set up so that the unit owners communicate on a daily basis with the managing agent. "The managing agent will either act on that or come to either the board or the board president for advice concerning any particular issue," he says. "So generally the managing agent acts as the filter between the resident, the unit owners, the board and the board president."
"I think it depends on the individual," Levine says. Levine says he personally takes a more hands-on approach, and if someone calls with a problem, he promises to bring it to the appropriate personnel.
The Call of Duty
Dangler says that an HOA's bylaws and master deed vest the board president with all the powers of a corporation president. "As far as running the meetings, some corporations will refer to Robert's Rules," she says, referring to the standard guide to parliamentary procedure that is routinely followed by both residential and commercial boards, as well as many governmental bodies. She says most presidents she's worked with keep the meeting on track and follow the agenda, and if there's a tie, they vote. "They generally have stewardship of the meeting," Dangler says. "If there's a major problem, the board president should either adjourn the meeting or go into an executive session."
Rothberg describes the president as the presiding officer, who opens the meeting, introduces the participants and staff, and runs the meeting. "He organizes the agenda and the items, coordinates with the other board members to determine if anything else needs to be brought to attention, and interacts with the rest of the community."
Dodging Legal Pitfalls
With any leadership position come certain ethical and legal pitfalls that one must deal with appropriately. For instance, Dangler says, "There's always someone who's not going to agree with you, that's threatening to sue you, or an unhappy homeowner who may spread gossip in the community. The board president should act as the leader, but they should make decisions with the board members, and that gives them some relief from direct attack by owners."
Dangler says potential pitfalls also include micromanaging the property manager. "The board president should basically do the things that a corporate president would do—working with the board, letting the property manager do their job—and things generally flow a lot smoother that way."
Rothberg adds that the number and severity of legal pitfalls depends on a president's position in the "real world" outside the building. "He may have conflict of interests when recommending particular vendors or contractors," says Rothberg. "He may have trouble not following the rules and saying something that can be construed as direction to the managing agent or the residents that hasn't been approved by the board." Rothberg says it's important that when the president speaks, it's clear whether he's speaking for himself or for the board as a whole.
"You're going to have legal issues that come up," Levine says. "One could be just updating the bylaws—that's where you have a legal firm help you change them and bring them up to date, but there's liability issues that are always a concern."
Should a legal situation arise, the president is no more liable than the rest of the board, which functions as a cohesive unit. In addition, Dangler says, "the entire board of directors and volunteers and in most cases the managers are all covered by the association's Directors and Officers (D&O) insurance."
Several resources are readily available to board presidents seeking to improve and enhance their performance. The Community Associations Institute (CAI), the Institute of Real Estate Management (IREM) and other trade organizations all publish a variety of professional development and training material, Dangler says.
CAI, says Rothberg, runs a number of courses and seminars, tracks legislation that may affect association boards and homeowners, and just serves as an overall educational resource for community associations.
While publications and seminars are helpful, Levine says, many skills really require on-the-job learning. "One of the most important things is Robert's Rules of Order for conducting meetings. But that's why it's important to have a solid management company to advise the president and the board itself, and to educate them."
Although it's a demanding job with no material compensation, the role of board president does offer a chance to provide the expertise and guidance that will keep your building community thriving. And that's not something you can put a price on.
Michael McDonough is a freelance writer living on Long Island.