Co-ops are corporations, which require management by an elected board of directors. The technical specifics are different with condo associations, but the requirement is essentially the same. Without the board of directors, your co-op or condo association would cease to function. There is no alternative within a corporate framework.
Yet many co-ops and condos have a difficult time recruiting board members. Board positions go unfilled, waiting for volunteers. This has potentially disastrous consequences. So let's examine some of the reasons why it is so difficult to convince co-op shareholders and condo unit-owners to serve on the board of directors, and then discuss the impact of that and what actions you can take to keep your board alive and productive
Lack of Awareness
Many owners of property in common-interest developments have little knowledge of the operation of the homeowners' association. They pay their dues when that bill comes, but know very little about the organization itself or its activities. They may not read the newsletter or visit the co-op or condo's website, or if they do it's only to find out the gym hours. They are remotely aware that it is the board of directors and not the management company that has legal responsibility for the business decisions of the association, but they simply do not connect the operation of the association with anything in which they have a personal interest.
There are those owners who are familiar with the role of the association and its board of directors and who generally stay abreast of its activities and decisions. They read the newsletter or the website, and occasionally attend an open meeting of the board. But they feel their occupations or family responsibilities prevent them from accepting the additional responsibilities required of board members.
Fear of Responsibility
Many property owners in community associations are quite aware of the operations of the association and the function of the co-op / condo board, and they would otherwise have the time to devote to a place on the board. The problem is that for one reason or another they are afraid to accept the responsibility. Perhaps it is a lack of confidence in their own ability or concern about liability should they make a mistake, or they are simply discomforted by the thought of making decisions that are critical to the economic interests of their fellow owners.
Afraid to Enforce
When a landlord tells tenants no pets are allowed or they put satellite dishes on the roof, tenants generally obey the rules. When a condo or co-op board passes similar rules it is often met with profound resistance. Why? Rental tenants "own" their space, at least for the duration of the rental agreement, so why is their disposition toward the landlord's dictates different than that of a condominium owner? Probably because owners feel more empowered than tenants — but whatever the reason, board members, neighbors and sometimes friends, do not want to be put in the position of landlord and be required to enforce the rules.
Us vs. Them
This is the most difficult reason of all. Some owners view the board of directors and the community association as an extension of governmental authority, but more to the point, authority that should be challenged at every opportunity. They do not see a board member as simply a fellow owner volunteering his or her time, but rather an incompetent bureaucrat. These owners often lack the tolerance necessary to acknowledge that board members are unpaid volunteers trying to do their best. This problem serves the dual purpose of insuring that the critic will have no interest in serving as well as dissuading those who otherwise might. This critic may even be right — but this should open the door to challenging an existing board member at the next election, not to providing more reasons for no one to run.
The net result is that boards often have to struggle with unfilled positions, and with few members willing to assist in the operation of the association it makes the remaining board members' jobs that much more difficult — if there are remaining members. If the corporation cannot function because it has no members willing to be directors, the alternative is to seek assistance from the courts, often by petitioning for the appointment of a receiver, a very expensive proposition.
So there is good reason to be concerned. There is also an argument that the entire scheme of association operation and management by volunteer owners is essentially flawed and that the authority to run the business of all multifamily common interest developments should be vested in professionals — arguments that are difficult to refute if owners refuse to step up.
Thinking of buying a co-op or condo? Already bought, and not sure how co-op/condo life and rules work? Learn all about purchasing a place and living in your new community. It's not like renting, and its not like owning a house. What's it like?