THE BIG PICTURE
You’ve moved into a co-op, and one of your new neighbors says: “Why don’t you join the board? I think you’d make a great addition to the group.” You’re flattered. You say, “Yes.” But what does that really mean? You’ve just committed yourself to what is essentially a full-time, uncompensated job that you will presumably do out of love: love for your building, love for your neighbors, and love for New York City.
Being a good board member means that you have to work with your fellow members to do what is in the best interests of the building, ensuring that it maintains its financial stability. You must try to improve it physically, making sure that the various regulatory work that the city mandates on many buildings gets done in a timely and cost-effective manner. And if you’re in a co-op, you must get ready to vet prospective renters and purchasers, people who are potentially going to be your neighbors.
Being a good board member also means playing nice with everybody because the role also has a PR component. You represent the board, and you will be interacting with your fellow residents. Your new position will become known very quickly in any building – no matter what size it is – and people will approach you with a complaint, or they will request a favor, or they will ask that something be done in the building. And it’s hard to say no to your neighbors. But you need to find a way to say that you’re open to it without committing to it.
The last thing you want to happen at the annual meeting is to have everybody stand up and say, “You promised me this.” Or, “You said you did that, and you did nothing.” Because, while you can speak one-on-one to your fellow residents, board decisions are made as a whole by the group. A lot of boards like consensus or a majority. If you’re a board of five, there needs to be three; if you’re a board of seven, there needs to be four. You can’t be a lone wolf and be a good board member at the same time. The two are just not compatible.
Don’t forget: at the end of the day, everyone in the building is counting on you and your fellow board members to do a couple of things. First, maintain value in the building. They want to know when they go to sell or refinance that the bank will look favorably upon the building and give them money. Second, maintain the building. Nobody wants to come home at the end of the day to a dirty hallway, peeling paint, and smelly garbage.
Finally, you must ensure that the building is compliant. Nobody wants to have to deal with a lot of violations and notices from the Department of Buildings, or have operating funds sucked up by a bunch of fines.