Board Resource Guide: Co-op and Condo Board Etiquette Proper Protocols for Servinc on the Board

Board Resource Guide: Co-op and Condo Board Etiquette

Serving the board of your co-op or condo can offer many benefits, but also bring many challenges. As board members also live among residents they serve, community issues are always present. It can turn into a 24/7 job that interferes with personal time, and when neighbors don't respect boundaries, being on the board can become more of a hassle than it's worth.

Running in Neutral

As a member of the board, your first responsibility is to your co-op or condo as well as your fellow owners and neighbors. It's not a small task and as it is largely a fiduciary responsibility, it's essential to stay neutral and impartial on community matters. This, however, is often easier said than done.

A truly effective board member should have either a solid business/management background or be a skilled communicator. In addition, says Diane Dangler, president of DHD Management, and the manager of community associations for Alderbrook Condo Association in Little Silver, "A board [member] should be someone who can represent everyone unilaterally, and who doesn't have a specific personal agenda. They [have to] lead people and be nonjudgmental, and have the ability to work knowing that there may be some neighbors who don't agree with or appreciate them."

"You are there to serve the entire community and individual biases shouldn't get in the way of your overall decision," says Curt Macysyn, executive vice president of the New Jersey chapter of the Community Associations Institute (CAI). "Once you walk in the door as board member, take off your hat as an individual unit owner. Clearly it's a different mindset, and you must make decisions that are in the best interest of the entire community."

"There's always going to be a personal consideration that's made in every situation, if you're an accountant you're going to look at something differently than someone who is a hairstylist. Everyone brings a different perspective, but a decision itself has to be made for the betterment of an entire community," he says.

It is crucial to avoid the appearance of impropriety as well. "Don't do business with any entity in which the board member is involved," says Donald Onorato Esq., an attorney based in Hackensack, whose practice includes a focus in community association law. In addition, he says, "The board should allow the management company to handle day-to-day functions and avoid direct involvement with vendors."

"Board members share a fiduciary responsibility to the association, which is a position of trust, and that's really what should guide them," says Onorato. From time to time, a board member might be involved in or at the center of a conflict. This is often the case when a board member's unit or personal property is involved in a dispute.

But as a shareholder or a member of a homeowners association, you are still entitled to the same rights as your neighbors. "You don't have fewer rights just because you serve on the board. But you shouldn't use your position as a board member to unduly influence whatever process is going to take place," says Macysyn.

Run-ins with Your Neighbors

Let's face it: when neighbors have something to say, they often won't wait until a meeting to confront board members. In fact, it's probably more common than not to approach board members at inappropriate times. Whether it's via e-mail, in the hallway or while you're spending time with family, there are tactful ways of handling such a situation.

"It happens all the time. Remind the resident that you are only one of several board members, and that they should really direct questions in writing to the board and managing agent or management company, so an entire board can decide on an issue," says Onorato. "Emphasize that the entire board is charged with implementing policies."

Today, it's just as common to see building matters in your inbox as it is to have a neighbor knocking on your door. The advent of e-mail might have made communication faster and easier, but resist the urge to respond to shareholders or residents in a casual tone. While this may sometimes be appropriate, co-op or condo-related issues should be handled with the professionalism they deserve, even when discussing matters via e-mail.

"I don't think an e-mail is any different than a resident coming up to a board member in the lobby or pool. It depends on the subject, but really the question should be directed to entire board or management company. Especially if it's a substantial question, such as what's happening with litigation, a vendor or so on," says Onorato.

"If something is complicated, board members might want to talk to the resident in person rather than through an e-mail," Macysyn says.

Maintaining a Level of Professionalism

As a board member, it might be difficult to separate personal feelings from board obligations. If a meeting becomes heated or an issue hits too close to home, it can be nearly impossible to remain calm, unbiased and neutral.

"Never take an issue to a personal level," says Macysyn. "Never attack the person [who brings the issue up] and keep it professional. Most issues over time are addressed and people move on. What people remember is how they are dealt with, and if they were treated respectfully as opposed to being treated disrespectfully."

"There's always someone who's not going to agree with you, that's threatening to sue you," says Dangler, "or an unhappy homeowner who may spread gossip in the community. Board members should act as leaders, and they should make decisions with their fellow board members. That gives them some relief from direct attack by owners. The board president should basically do the things that any corporate president would do - working with the board, letting the property manager do their job - and things generally flow a lot smoother that way."

Using good judgment also means knowing what not to reveal to your neighbors. There are some areas of board business that board members should never discuss with shareholders.

"In areas where confidentiality needs to be maintained, you can't breach that with discussions with other residents," says Macysyn. "These include personnel issues and litigation. Board members must keep an appropriate level of confidentiality in such matters. The rest is common sense. The community should expect a level of transparency in operations, but in certain situations there may be a need to maintain confidentiality, at least until issues are resolved."

Avoid discussing with residents or shareholders anything that impacts individual privacy, arrears, employment issues and any issues protected by attorney-client privilege. Those would be best discussed at an executive meeting, not an open meeting, says Onorato.

"If you have any doubt as to whether it's a conflict, discuss it with the board attorney," Macysyn says.

They may be your friends and neighbors, but fellow residents have to remember that board members must remain impartial in disputes. "Every community should have a method to resolve disputes. Guide residents to that method. You're not there to resolve disputes," says Macysyn. He notes that every HOA should have a mediation process or committee in place, to help residents resolve disputes.

The president might sit at the head of the board, but that doesn't mean he or she can act unilaterally when making decisions, says Dangler. "Under normal circumstances, the board president should act in accordance with the wishes of the majority of the board owners," she 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."

Remember: First and foremost, your responsibility as a board member is to the shareholders or fellow owners you serve. Your community as a whole depends on an ethical board to keep everyone's investment safe. In many cases, the board is responsible for representing a large number of their neighbors, making it difficult to always act accordingly. Separating your personal interests and feelings from your position on the board might be difficult, but it's necessary to work in the best interest of your co-op or condo.

Stephanie Mannino is a freelance writer and published author living in Hoboken, New Jersey.

Related Articles

Mediation as conflict compromise and solution management tiny person concept. Disagreement and fight communication settlement with help from third party vector illustration. Business deal conversation

Conflict Management

How to Handle When Things Get Out of Hand

Managing Conflict

Managing Conflict

When Boards and Residents Take Sides

Social Programming vs. Social Distancing

Social Programming vs. Social Distancing

Communities Get Creative



  • Can you tell me of anyplace that states where condo association meetings can be held? I have an upcoming hearing and my board routinely meets in the open at either a Barnes & Noble bookstore coffee shop or Panara Bread restraent. I do not wish to hold my hearing in such a public setting.
  • There are assigned positions to each board member. After discussion among board members it was conceded by all to take out some trees that proved to be a hazard in walking paths from the slippery fruit droppings. Question. Was it not proper then for the lawn person along with the president to proceed without any other discussion? Is there not a protocol in this situation? In this situation, is it not right/proper for the lawn person and the president to act according to the owners request? We are talking safety. Many elderly live here. ALSO, isn't it respectful to work through the person in charge of buildings, lawn, etc.? Lawn companies in particularly do not want to take "orders" outside of their contact person . We have 2 "power people" on the board. With all due respect, I could be mistaken, but they do not understand protocol. Please use my emil too if you can. I need assistance quickly.
  • We have had problems keeping our Board together and now have only 3 members. At a meeting last evening one member would not attend because he did not receive his meeting package more that two days in advance of the meeting. So we were left with 2 members at the meeting. We are aware that there are a couple of residents who have indicated that they are considering running for the boRd at our next AGM. Can we invite these people to join the board without a special residents' meeting. The one member who would not attend is continuing to be argumentative and very inflexible at our meetings and we achieve very little at the meeting. Thank you for your advice
  • What is allowed by a condo board under an emergency protocol.