10 questions to demand of your board candidates

Who will fill the seats on your board? (Flickr photo by dolphinfxt)

Annual meeting season for condos and co-ops is in full swing.

Although many residents may skip the meetings, routinely check off the names of existing board members or casually sign away their votes to proxies, they may thereby ignore the single most powerful way to protect their interests.

Please bear in mind that the state invests the boards of co-ops and condos with fiduciary responsibility.  It is their job to see that funds are collected, not wasted and obligated in a manner otherwise consistent with the law.

Since the burden of responsibility is heavy and rarely shouldered equally by board members, I have developed a list of questions that I think each incumbent candidate for a board should be required to answer–publicly.

My list grows out my membership and presidency of both a condo and a co-op board.  The latter board is one from which I resigned mainly because of time commitments that grew increasingly burdensome in all areas of my life and because of my disgust with the other members. Here are the questions in random order of importance:

  1. What percentage of board meetings did you attend?
  2. For what percentage of board meetings did you arrive late or depart early?
  3. How much time did you spend per week on average on board work (excluding casual conversations with your neighbors)?
  4. On what committees or defined activities did you work and what did those efforts achieve?  If you were an officer, how would you characterize the work you performed in conjunction with your role?
  5. What would you say were you personal accomplishments?
  6. What did the board as a whole accomplish?
  7. Have you suggested any initiatives to the board and seen them through to successful implementation?  What were they?
  8. Were you aware of any conflicts of interest by you or other members of the board, and how were they resolved?
  9. What was your biggest challenge as a board member?
  10. Have you been in arrears with your maintenance/common charges during your term?  If so, what was the longest amount of time?

I asked a hard-working and long-serving former board member what he thought of the list, and his point is that it can be difficult to pull together enough board members who wish to serve in the first place, unfortunately for everyone.

In his experience and mine, the main work always falls to those two or three individuals who not only are committed enough to donate the time but also have the talent and smarts to see it through.  Says he:

Some of your questions might preclude someone who just doesn’t have particular talents or gifts for organization or even follow-through, but is still willing to do the grunt work of taking minutes, or finding space for the annual meeting, or at least give a good-faith effort at representing the interests of their neighbors at board meetings.

It’s the lazy, casual ones who just don’t give a damn, or who have an axe to grind, or who foment discord, who are the problems.  I’ve had plenty of board members in my boards whose talents were limited in many aspects, but who still, on balance, made a positive contribution.

It’s easy enough to complain about a board that does not meet your expectations.  It’s common to gripe about escalating maintenance fees, deteriorating service and the quality or style of renovations.

That doesn’t help much.

What helps is taking the time and making the effort to learn how well your board functions.  If you don’t take seriously your responsibility to hold board members accountable for their actions–or sloth–you have no one to blame but yourself for the way your building runs.

The annual meeting occurs, by definition, only once a year.  It’s your best chance of ensuring that your building runs as right as possible.  My advice is to take advantage of that opportunity.

For my part, I will do everything possible to get my questions answered.

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Malcolm Carter
Licensed Associate Real Estate Broker
Senior Vice President
Charles Rutenberg Realty
127 E. 56th Street
New York, NY 10022

M: 347-886-0248
F: 347-438-3201

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