Board Resource Guide: Being on a Board is a Thankless Task But It's Worth Doing

Board Resource Guide: Being on a Board is a Thankless Task

Being a board member in an HOA or community association is a task rooted in civic pride and responsibility not unlike serving on the local school board or town meeting. Some become board members because they want to protect the investment they've made in their home by helping to oversee management of their community. And others may join to feel that they're in charge, or enjoy hearing themselves talk endlessly.

Being a board member can be an educational experience for newer or even longtime members of the community - allowing them to understand what procedures must be in place to ensure that everything in the development runs smoothly. Some people might be dissuaded from joining the board because they know it's not easy, and can virtually amount to having an unpaid part-time job.

Membership = Time Commitment

Because of the time commitment involved, many people would rather sit out than get in the game. People are busy, work regular jobs, and find it hard to fit another activity in - and not to mention listening to gripes from their neighbors.

Larry Vant, though, is an exception. A six-year member of the board of Renaissance Village in North Brunswick, he got on the board within a couple of years of moving to the community, after he "saw some things I didn't understand." He has been president of the board for four years.

In addition to the two-hour or three-hour meeting his board has once a month, Vant spends about three hours a week working on board business. That work could include anything from informal discussions about the condominium to looking into regulations, litigation, inspections or other tasks, he said.

A typical condo board will have a two-hour meeting once a month, said Denise Lindsey, vice president of Access Property Management in Edison, and a 20-year veteran. A property management firm often determines the agenda of the meeting, which includes an executive session and a regular board meeting, she said.

Michael Pesce, who works for Community Services Group in Clifton, helps with the company's management of 100 properties in New Jersey. In addition to that rigorous schedule, Pesce has himself also been a board member. "I've been on two boards. When I was on a board I spent three to four hours a week on association business," he said.

Dennis Davan, president of the board of The Crossing at Aberdeen, said he spends about two to three hours a week on board business, in addition to a monthly two-hour-long board meeting. He sees the volunteer position as a form of community service, and he enjoys staying busy with volunteering and other activities. "I'm retired and [board business] helps fill up my day sometimes. I retired at 58, and my attitude when I did was I wanted to give something back to the community," he said.

Unfortunately, every board member is not so altruistically motivated as Davan. Some people join a board out of vanity - others join, don't realize the workload, and fail to do the job.

Challenges of Board Membership

When a board member is not performing up to speed, his fellow residents take action. The board member will likely be stripped of his committee responsibilities first, and could ultimately be removed from the board, Pesce explained. For that to happen a certified number of unit owners (usually 25-30 percent) must submit a petition to have the board member removed. "Short of that, you must wait until the member's term ends," Pesce said.

Vant was part of a resident-led rebellion against his board. He was on a subsidiary board at Renaissance Village that sued to force an election. His intention was to help a group of residents (including himself) get the opportunity to represent the master board, which kept canceling elections. Renaissance Village's community government is made up of a master condominium association and smaller boards that govern 100 units or fewer.

While Vant and Davan were happy to speak on the record for this story, other board members contacted declined to comment for fear of controversy resulting from the story, or simply due to a lack of time. The daily time crunch that most people who work normal jobs may experience could be the largest obstacle to getting more people involved.

A major complaint that many board members have is that they don't have enough participation from other residents, Lindsey said. "Some associations will entice people [to come to a board meeting] with a raffle or a gift basket," she said.

"The real issue is that people don't understand what they're doing when they buy a condo," Vant explained.

While it's likely that just a small percentage of board members are Zen devotees, being a member of a board can be an exercise in restraint, some say. "The biggest challenge of being on a board is having the patience to deal with the lack of interest on the part of the homeowners who you represent," Vant said.

Even slightly dysfunctional boards can get things done, though, but dissention is usually not a healthy thing, says Pesce.

In such circumstances, board members need to concentrate on the tasks they are charged with managing, Lindsey said. "You're not always going to like your fellow board members, but you were voted in by your peers and you need to make a positive impact," she said.

Professional Rewards

Newer board members might sometimes be a bit slow in picking up on how the job is done. In that instance it would be wise to avail themselves of professionals who have experience in dealing with the operations of a community or building. Experts such as property managers, accountants, lawyers and others can ease the stress associated with taking on a job that involves knowledge of many different fields. While a few members of Vant's board have experience in different fields, which enable them to make smart board decisions (Vant has experience in contracting, for example), they are not shy about seeking help. "We do rely on professionals," Vant said. One professional always available to help is the property manager, Lindsey said.

Davan said his board sometimes relies greatly on help from Lindsey, whose firm is property manager for The Crossing at Aberdeen. "Board members get an education by working with professionals," Lindsey said. "Through such relationships, board members have the ability to make business-like decisions. The benefit is that they become a more educated board, understanding more, and are able to make better decisions."

Jonathan Barnes is a Pittsburgh writer who regularly contributes to The Cooperator and freelances for numerous other publications.

Related Articles

Social Programming vs. Social Distancing

Social Programming vs. Social Distancing

Communities Are Getting Creative

Social Programming vs. Social Distancing

Social Programming vs. Social Distancing

Communities Get Creative

Board Packages & Interviews

Board Packages & Interviews

The Good, the Bad, & the Illegal