My path to becoming a board member was a little unusual. Unusual good, not unusual bad. I wasn’t provoked by any financial crisis or by maintenance problems brought on by years of neglect. To the contrary, the Bay Club was governed by a very able and diligent board. However, at a unit-owners’ meeting one night several years ago, I felt it necessary to speak out. After listening to the complaints from some residents who I thought were being hyper-critical, I stood up and said, “Hey, the board is doing a good job and, in fact, the condominium is being managed and maintained quite well.”
I dared to defend the board. Odd? Perhaps so, but sometime after that unit-owners’ meeting, I was elected to the board. So, contrary to the unfortunate experience at other condominiums and cooperatives, I did not run for the board to correct what was going wrong. Rather, I ran to preserve what was going right.
The Bay Club consists of two 21-story buildings with 1,037 apartments. It is a wonderful place to live with a magnificent health club, a restaurant, a grocery store, and many other upscale amenities (visit our excellent website at bayclub.net). During my tenure as president, I have tried to communicate to our residents that our condominium is more than just a high-rise structure of concrete and steel. The Bay Club, like every other condominium and cooperative in New York, is essentially a community.
Communities need governments and this is no less true for condominiums and cooperatives. The condo or co-op board is perhaps the most fundamental level of government and is the one closest to our residents. Large national issues such as the war in Afghanistan and local controversies such as the proposed prayer center near Ground Zero are surely important, but they touch most of us only peripherally.
On the other hand, so-called “mundane” issues -such as noisy neighbors, expensive repairs, and surprise assessments directly affect the residents of our communities. Although these matters may be small on the universal scale of weights and measures, they are the ones that push our buttons and are among the many problems that boards must tackle.
Condo and co-op boards serve as legislatures, establishing policy and spending money, usually lots of it. We maintain our infrastructure and we tax ourselves in the form of common charges and maintenance fees. Our residents also play a role in our government. They elect us and they have a voice in what we do. Sometimes they even yell. Although board members may be protected in court by the Business Judgment Rule, we are still responsible to explain our decisions to the residents of our communities.
In my experience, the most difficult and contentious task a board can undertake – and one that can inflame the entire community – is a lobby or hallway renovation. Decorating is so difficult and individually subjective that it is impossible to meet everyone’s expectations. The Bay Club is currently in the midst of a hallway renovation. Our board has made every effort to avoid the problems that plague these projects. We recruited volunteers for a hallway committee. The committee interviewed and recommended a well-known and respected New York City design firm. Our green committee recommended eco-friendly materials. We had unit-owner meetings. We engaged in a comprehensive bidding process. Accordingly, having worked together on this project, our community looks forward to beautiful new hallways.
As residents of condo and co-op communities, we live in close proximity to each other. We develop friendships, or at least regularly share an elevator ride. Many of us have spent major parts of our lives in our buildings. Residents move out while, sadly, others die. But new residents continuously arrive with fresh energy.
By day’s end, we live together more or less in peace and harmony, sometimes more and sometimes less. Our small communities are maintained by those who have come and gone and by those who are here today. We in turn will pass the baton to others. Serving on a board is not easy. We don’t always get credit when things consistently go right, and we invariably take the heat when things sometimes go wrong. Nevertheless, board members share a common goal to ensure that our condominium and cooperative communities remain great places to live. That is my goal. That is my passion.