Carol J. Ott in Legal/Financial on October 7, 2015
Begin there, says attorney Lisa Smith, a partner at Smith, Gambrell & Russell, who has had several red-tagged clients in recent years. Boards and managers get so wrapped up in the situation that they overlook this starting off point. "You're already shut down, so the health and safety crisis is out of the picture," she says. "[The shareholders have] seen the fire trucks or they've smelled the gas. They need to know what's going on."
Doug Weinstein, executive director of operations and compliance at Akam Associates, takes it a step further. "You have to manage expectations," he says. "That's tricky at the beginning because there's more that you don't know, than do." In a red-tagged building that he advised, the gas was shut off on a Friday afternoon. "We put out a really dinky memo right when it happened saying, 'We're looking into this. It might only be a week or so.' We didn't have a lot of information to go on at that time, so we kind of soft-pedaled it," he said. Weinstein knew that the gas-out would probably last much longer than a week, but the board needed to get out something fast. He adds: "A week later, when we had a lot more information, we started doing very comprehensive memos."
Following a frequent communication schedule will put your board in a proactive spot. This is where all experts agree you should be. You might not know what the plumbing investigation is going to find, but you can tell everyone when apartment access is needed, what progress has been made, and what steps are still to be taken. "Frequent" means, at a minimum, weekly. Slip notices under owners/shareholders' doors, put them in the mailroom or some other common area, e-mail them, and post them on your building's communication system (if you have one). Get the word out.
And be prepared for frustrated residents who take to the web or the press to vent, because they will have months to do so. "You really are a punching bag for the some of the owners," says Orsid Realty's Dee DeGrushe. In the case of Chelsea Seventh Condominium, DeGrushe adds that the situation was improved because the board provided its own communication instead of simply relying on management: "They live there. I think compassion from the board is really key."
"Like a lot of things in life," says Mitch Firestone, the condo's board president, "communication is almost more important than the actual issue."
Photo by Jennifer Wu
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