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Condominium Q&A

No Owners Want to Serve on Board

June 15, 1997|JAN HICKENBOTTOM | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

QUESTION: Our small condominium complex is about 10 years old. I have served on the board and given a lot of my time to the association in the past, but I am unable to continue as a board member.

Our annual election is coming up soon and no one has offered to serve. Some people feel that they do not have the skills or the time to be a board member.

Several of the owners are also intimidated by one member who frequently files lawsuits against the association. No one wants to serve with the threat of lawsuits from this unreasonable owner.

What happens when the owners are unwilling to serve on the board? If no one else will volunteer, do the current board members have an obligation to continue to act on behalf of the association?

ANSWER: Lack of owner participation can occur for several reasons: a board member who does such a good job that no one else wants to try to fill his or her shoes, an erosion of respect for the board and the association because of mismanagement or a board member who continually complains about serving on the board so that no one else wants to take the job.

It seems that few individuals have that volunteer spirit that compels them to serve for the common good. There are many charities, churches and other places where the altruistic person can give his or her time. Often the board's enforcement role will deter volunteers. Most people do not like to confront their neighbors about rule violations.

So what can we say to convince people to serve their association?

Most people who serve on community association boards say they do so to protect their investments. It is obvious that a dysfunctional association will cause everyone's investment to deteriorate, so that is a good way to convince someone to participate.

Of course, unreasonable owners and lawsuits tend to reduce the number of people who are willing to volunteer. An owner who thrives on conflict can be a nightmare for any board.

This continuing feud needs to be resolved so that the association can function effectively. The board needs to listen to the owner's complaints and see if he has valid reasons for challenging the board's actions. Perhaps mediation can effectively bring out and resolve the underlying causes of the owner's dissatisfaction.

To find nominees for the election, the board of directors should write a letter to all of the owners to let everyone know that the association is looking for volunteers to serve on the board. Some people will not volunteer even if they have the skills and the time. The board must put out an urgent appeal and recruit people by knocking on doors and talking face to face with the other owners.

During this search for volunteers, the board will get an earful of excuses and complaints about what's wrong with the association and the reasons people don't want to volunteer.

But in the process, the owners will have a chance to express their feelings about the association, and they may decide to give some of their time if they find that their opinions and their skills are needed and valued.

If this search for board members is unsuccessful, then it is time to call a meeting of the owners, before the election, to discuss the consequences of a dysfunctional association.

Talk about ways to reduce the board members' duties, such as hiring a management company or an accounting firm to handle the financial and administrative functions. Contracting for these services will increase the association's expenses, so that is another consideration for the owners to discuss.

If owners don't want to volunteer, then they should be willing to pay for the services. In my opinion, that is a fair way of sharing the burden, and reducing the board's duties may convince other owners to participate.

Even small associations need to hire professionals if volunteers are not available. Paying the bills and collecting assessments cannot he ignored. Insurance policies must be renewed, the property must be maintained and rules must he enforced. The board can delegate these duties, but the board retains the overall responsibility of operating the association.

If the board fails to function, the owners can file a court petition to have a court-appointed receiver manage the association until an election is held or until the court finds that the association can function properly again.

If I were you, I would stay on the board and urge all of the other board members to continue serving until nominees are found so that a valid election can occur.

Bylaws May Allow Non-Resident Director

Q: Our homeowner association board has one director who does not live in the complex. His unit is rented to a tenant.

Is it proper for this non-resident owner to serve on the board of directors?

A: Yes, it is proper unless the governing documents of your association prohibit absentee owners from serving on the board. A non-resident owner has the same right to serve on the board as an owner who lives in the complex.

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