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How to Win Over a Mega Super-Majority

Marianne Schaefer in Bricks & Bucks on July 10, 2019

Melville, Long Island

Super Super-Majority

Northgate board president Fred Gross (left) and a building awaiting its new vinyl skin.

July 10, 2019

The Northgate homeowners’ association in Melville, Long Island, was built in the late 1980s, and the wooden facades on the 20 residential buildings were showing their age. The board knew it had to do something, but it felt paralyzed. 

“Their offering plan states that when the exterior surfaces are replaced with a different product, it requires approval by an 80-percent super-majority of the 119 residents in order to pass,” says property manager Harry Seid of Fairfield Properties. “The same super-majority is needed to take out a substantial loan for repairs.” 

The board hired the architectural firm H2M to examine the exteriors. “They told us that the original product is not used anymore in home construction,” says board president Fred Gross. “They recommended a vinyl product, and their estimate was $1.5 million to $2 million.” Though the vinyl siding carried at least a 30-year warranty, the board did nothing. “We thought this kind of super-majority was just too much of a hurdle to overcome,” Gross says. “So we talked, then talked some more. We postponed. Finally, we said, ‘This has to be done. If we fail [to get the approval of the super-majority], we fail. But we have to try.’” 

What followed was a calculated campaign to get a yes vote from every single resident. In spring of 2017, the first of many meetings with the community took place. Everybody involved – the board, the property manager, the architect, the lawyer, and the accountant – explained the need for the project and answered all questions. “We also kept minutes of the meetings, including all questions that were asked and answered,” says Gross. “People who didn’t come to the meetings got a hard copy and an email so they knew exactly what was going on. This was very hard work. We set a firm foundation why we need to do this, the approximate costs, and the variables involved. And we were constantly updating them.” 

The next step was interviewing and checking references of construction companies. JEM Consolidated was the board’s choice. At the same time, options and terms for a loan were investigated, and again the community was informed by hard copy and email. “From then on, all our meetings also included the prospective contractor and the accountant,” says Gross. “People knew how high their assessment would be, based on the loan size.” 

Finally, after two years of communication, research, and persuasion, it was time for a vote. The board sent out ballots and gave residents 30 days to submit their vote in a sealed box. The board kept track of who had voted and who had not. “During the voting process we asked people in the community to be captains for us, because we knew anybody not voting counts as a no vote,” says Gross.  “We had at least one person in each building who would ask people to vote – and vote yes, of course.” Those captains reported back to the board, which then sent out several reminders to stragglers. The maraschino on the sundae was a phone call to all holdouts. 

The big day arrived in January of 2019. The board’s lawyer and a representative from Fairfield came in to help with the vote count. “And sure enough, we came in with not just 80 percent, but with 89 percent,” says Gross. “Only four people didn’t vote. Only three people who live on the property voted no; the other five [who voted no] were absentee owners. In my view, we got 90 percent yes.” He believes the key to this stunning success was that the board worked together and made sure the community was fully involved and informed. 

The work is now under way, and the residents are thrilled. “People who voted no, they’re now seeing what is taking place,” says Seid, the property manager. “They see the quality of the work, and they tell me that if they could vote again they, too, would vote yes.”  

PRINCIPAL PLAYERS – ARCHITECT: H2M. CONTRACTOR: JEM Consolidated. PROPERTY MANAGER: Fairfield Properties.

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