Ann Farmer in Board Operations on October 24, 2019
By the close of her first year on the board of managers of the sprawling 1,500-unit Leisure Village condo association in Ridge, Long Island, Carole Leonard had made some unsettling discoveries. The community manager had advised a contractor what to bid on a job. He had returned some building supplies and pocketed the cash. And he had dispatched a staffer to work on his personal home on the association’s clock.
“The next day we fired him on the spot,” recalls Leonard, 76, a retired neonatal nurse with a degree in health-care management. “The board wasn’t watching what was going on with the manager. I said to the board, ‘I think we can do it ourselves.’ Management is management.” The board agreed to take on the challenge.
Self-management, though, is no easy feat for any co-op corporation or condo association. At this “active adult retirement community” for people 55 and older, it meant unit-owners had to shoulder an enormous load. The 240-acre property encompasses 490 buildings, 14 miles of roadways, 33 miles of sidewalks, 110 acres of lawn, 68 irrigation wells, 125 street lights, and more. The country club setting is packed with amenities including a golf course, a clubhouse, pool, and theater. The board also oversees an array of social activities. “It’s a city within a city,” says Leonard, who has been board president for the past 10 years.
She initially spent about eight hours a day overseeing the management of the association, and she continues to put in at least 25 hours a week. The other six board members remain similarly dedicated. Each serves as a liaison for different jurisdictions of the property, such as buildings and grounds, security, and recreation. They meet every weekday morning for three to five hours, in addition to two monthly board meetings. Each of the 18 clusters of condo buildings also has a unit-owner who meets with the board once a month, keeping the board apprised of any resident concerns or problems. The workload is shared by an office and recreation staff of seven, plus 10 maintenance workers. “We have an excellent staff,” says Leonard. “Everyone is cross-trained so they can do each other’s jobs in the event of an accident or illness.”
By the time the Leonard joined the board in 2010, the 1970s-vintage property needed a total overhaul. Bit by bit, without the guidance of a property management company, the board restored it. The roads and roofs have been updated, the sidewalks replaced, the pool revamped. “We calculate and say, ‘Okay, we can do this much this year,’” says Leonard. “We don’t put Band-Aids on problems, we fix them totally – that’s an expression I used to use when I was a nurse.”
Planning ahead is key. The board commissioned a reserve study (to be repeated every decade) that details the life expectancy for each aspect of the infrastructure so it can earmark funds for anticipated capital projects. The board has a master plan to budget for yearly fixes.
The board has managed to do all this work without ever taking out a loan or imposing an assessment. The common charges range from $220 to $360 a month, and nobody gets to slide by. If any resident falls two months and 10 days behind on common charges, amenities are suspended and the attorney is notified to begin the lien process.
“Of all the communities that we have,” says the association’s attorney, David Eldridge, a partner at Taylor, Eldridge & Endres, “Leisure Village happens to be one of the most effectively governed. There is harmony in the community and money in the bank.”
Admittedly, presiding over all this requires a tremendous commitment. “But it’s very, very rewarding,” says Leonard. “If you could have seen this place when I moved in here 21 years ago and today — it’s like night and day. Dedication is the key. We all live here, and we’re dedicated to maintaining this property and its value.”
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