Boards, Management, and Term Limits in HOAs Living to Serve

Boards, Management, and Term Limits in HOAs

Most residents of a condo, co-op or HOA know at least a few of their board members—or at least know their names. Often, the same people serve on the board year after year. But what makes them want to serve? And why don't new people constantly volunteer for the board? Is there any real way of evaluating their performance as board members, and how they conduct themselves?

Fresh Faces, New Ideas

To begin with, how does an association attract or recruit new board members? According to Ronald Perl, an attorney with the firm of Hill Wallack in Princeton and national president-elect of the Community Associations Institute (CAI), the best way is to bring them in is basically from the ranks of committees.

"A healthy community association has a committee system which serves to develop new leaders. Encouraging committee involvement not only foster a sense of community, it helps to educate members as to the workings of the association as well as the roles and responsibilities of owners and volunteer leaders," says Perl.

Indeed, the great majority of board members serve on committees first, then run in elections for the board. "Committees are a good resource as one moves up the ladder," says Jack McGrath, president of CAI-NJ, that organization's New Jersey chapter.

In addition, during meetings, current board members often encourage association members to get more involved, and describe to them what the board does. That's what Shaun Witten, board member of The Palisades development in Fort Lee, reports.

In some developments, even when residents decide to take a swim, they can't get away from hearing pitches about serving on the board. Vincent D'Agati, president of Washington Commons, says he talks to people about volunteering at poolside and at condo functions.

Why They Volunteer

With all the appeals for new blood on the board, however, inevitably, only a minority ofthe residents will be interested. For those who volunteer to serve on their boards,why do they do it?

There are many different motives. Many board members volunteer to protect their financial investments in the development—they want to know how their money is spent. Other people, sad to say, join to boost their egos.

Some people join because they're interested in one particular issue, whether it is pet rules or noise complaints, and want to influence policy on it.

For example, Herman Marmon, former board member of Sands Point North, had getting a professional management company into the development as his main cause. "It was a fight because a few were using the in-house manager as their personal flunky," he says. He hasn't been on the board since the management company took over, but is pleased that the development "never looked back at self-management in this day and age."

All in all, people interviewed for this article agree that most people do it out of a sense of responsibility, of identification with the community, of wanting to make life in their developments better.

Once they're on the board, some members learn about the ins and outs of governance and administration as they go along. Others have particular skills they bring to the board, be they legal, financial or technical.

"There are very large financial considerations—money has to be spent. Boards need people who have business skills who know people,who know how to work with people," says Steven McLaughlin, board member of Ramapo Ridge III in Mahwah.

Term Limits?

When it comes to service on the board, how long is too long, however? Everyone (including this author) knows of people who've been on their board for 20 years. Sometimes, the old-timers may take one term off, but then come back again. In some condos and co-ops, the faces change, but one particular "slate," analogous to a political party, can control the board for years.

What is the solution? Is it instituting term limits?

"There are certainly cases in which board members serve on boards for too long a period," says Perl. "In these cases, the board members become so entrenched that they begin to 'rule' rather than 'serve.' I don't favor term limits, however, because in some communities, it is difficult to get volunteers to serve."

In these cases, he says, the committee system can ensure that new leaders will be available when vacancies come up—which frequently happens when members get new jobs with new responsibilities, move away or become ill.

Perl, however, does believe that in those communities where residents show a lot of interest on serving on the board, term limits might be appropriate. McGrath, his colleague in CAI, says that the organization's state and national policy is that board members shouldn't serve more than six years, with some exceptions.

Interestingly, D'Agati of Washington Commons, as board president, has set up an advisory committee for former members who still wish to have an input on policy. "I find that their input helps me in my decision-making," he says.

How to Bring Them In

In smaller developments or HOAs, the limited number of residents may definitely be a reason why it's hard to get people to serve on the board. And in all housing developments, people have busy lives, busy schedules, cutting down on the number of potential board members who would be available.

In still other cases, the reason is simple—apathy. It's even a problem in trying to attract residents to meetings, never mind serving on the board or committees. Some residents like to complain constantly, but when it comes to doing the work, their attitude is, "Let the other guy do it."

The increased complexity of board operations also plays a part in the problem of how to attract volunteers. "It is not solely because of apathy. It is a harder and more thankless job to be a board member than just a few years ago. Increased potential liability, government regulation and lack of civility are a few of the reasons why individuals will not serve," says Perl.

Whatever the reason, at least one board member believes that condo owners are motivated to serve in a greater degree than co-op shareholders. "You attract people who want to help the community more so in a condo than a co-op," says McLaughlin. "Co-ops are very different than condos. In a condo, you own your unit, you're not buying shares—you own it from the walls in."

How to Get Them Out

We've established that most board members are attracted to volunteering because they have a genuine interest in their community. But even the best board members, over time, might run into situations where they pay less and less attention to board business, come to meetings less often or are constantly late, and, in a worst-case scenario, make constant mistakes. It could be illness, it could be family problems, but whatever it is, it's not good for the association.

If the situation is really out of control, is there any way to remove a board member who is not performing satisfactorily?

Perl says that the association's bylaws typically say how board members can be removed. Generally, it is done by a vote of the owners. Still, most people agree that it's not that easy.

"We haven't come across this yet, but we did suggest changing positions during elections for a board member whose talents were better suited to other areas," says Witten of The Palisades.

Probably, the best way to remove a board member that you don't like, unless there's an emergency, is the old-fashioned way—to wait until the next election, then vote him or her out.

Resources for Board Members

Once an HOA resident has been elected to the board, what resources can bring him or her up to speed, particularly if he's never been on a board before? (Some have been known to live in one condo development, serve on the board there, then move to another one and serve there, as well.)

Of course, the other members will help as much as they can. However, there are also resources, such as courses, organizations, lecture series, websites and more, that can help board members who want to do the best job they can.

CAI, says Perl, is a good source of education and training for association members. It has publications, seminars and the like, given all over the country. Also under the CAI umbrella is the Center for Community Association Volunteers (CCAV), whose board is comprised solely of association volunteer leaders.

For more information on CAI and its programs, interested readers can log on to Their comprehensive web site includes, among other thing:information on forums and meetings, newsletters, membership directors, books and guides; a Directory of Credentialed Professionals; a Board Member Tool Kit; sample letters, notices, resolutions, standardized forms, and document templates to adapt for use in your community; and recommendations on how to educate homeowners on community-association living.

The site also, of course, contains a link to the aforementioned local chapter, CAI-NJ, headquartered in Mercerville. CAI-NJ is having its annual conference and trade show in November, and this will include a political update of happenings in the state as well as seminars and forums.

In addition to CAI, Witten adds another "good resource"—this publication and its directory. Another useful support organization for management professionals is the Institute of Real Estate Management (IREM), which provides training and professional development tools.

Not 'For the Love of Money'

HOA board members, of course are volunteers. Should they receive any compensation, however? All of the people interviewed here said an unequivocal 'no' to that question! Still, whether or not to compensate board members for specific expenses does turn up as an interesting debate.

One such instance, says McLaughlin, might come up when board members are invited to attend meetings in locations away from their home base, such as in Atlantic City. In these situations, he believes, they "should not be restricted" from having their expenses paid.

Another perk, which McGrath has heard of, consists of certain boards waiving association fees for board members.

"It would be nice to be compensated monetarily," says Witten, but "that's not why we do it.

"The reward is the satisfaction that you've contributed to a stronger condo association, and the health and wealth of your building," he says. "You've had a hand in its improvements."

Ranaan Geberer is a freelance writer living in New York City.

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