Term Limits for Board Members: A Breath of Fresh Air or a Lack of Oxygen?

Term limits are often a hot issue at all levels of government. Does capping the tenure of an elected official clear the way for new ideas and re-energize governance, or does it cut off expertise and knowledge that can really only be acquired over time? There are compelling cases to be made on both sides of the debate - and the issue faces condo and co-op communities too. Would term limits bring new ideas and ways of doing things to traditionally sluggish and stodgy boards, or would they usher experience right out the door?

Board Participation

Unlike elected positions at local, state, and federal levels, serving on the board of a condo, co-op or HOA is an unpaid, volunteer position. As such it is often difficult to get more than a handful of owners or shareholders to run for the board at any given time. Elections are often non-competitive and individual board members often serve for many years unchallenged. In this reporter’s own co-op, there have been two presidents in the past 20 years, each serving for a decade. Board members serve six to eight years on average, often retiring exhausted from the experience - and prospective new board members often have to be cajoled to run when a board seat becomes vacant.

Is it Legal?

“There isn’t any legal impediment to adopting term limits for directors or managers,” says Leni Morrison Cummins, an attorney with Cozen O’Connor in Manhattan.  “Such limits belong in the bylaws of the condominium or cooperative.  Therefore, in order to adopt term limits, it would require the building to follow the amendment requirements contained in the bylaws.” 

Cindy Petrenko, president of Complete Property Management in Vernon, New Jersey, says, “If a community wants to institute term limits, that provision will have to be added as an amendment to their governing documents. Their master deed would have to say so. Changes of this type must be made permanent.” 

Benefits vs. Drawbacks

“Yes, there are benefits” to implementing board term limits, says Morrison Cummins, “so long as the terms of managers or directors are staggered. Fresh blood is a good thing in any type of board – new ideas, perspectives, and trends can be introduced. However, this is only if the term limit provision doesn’t end up forcing an entirely new board, and if there is a good level of volunteerism in a building. Some consistency is important, especially for ongoing projects.” 


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