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Board Membership 101

They got you, too, didn’t they? Told you, “oh don’t worry it’ll only be an hour per week!” And, “you won’t even realize it til it’s done!”

They got you thinking about volunteering.

I’m sure you’re thinking back to the last time you got hoodwinked into volunteering for something—maybe your kid’s soccer team needed a snack mom, and somehow when you volunteered for that, you ended up coaching for half the season. Or maybe your cub scout’s troop needed transportation for a camping trip, and suddenly you’re the chauffeur for the year.

I promise, this isn’t like that…mostly.

Even though it may feel a little like you’ll be hoodwinked based on past volunteering experience, you really aren’t going to see a lot of that as a board member. Is there a lot of responsibility? For sure. Your community association’s Board of Directors is arguably the strongest pillar of the community and is largely in control of the day-to-day minutia. But it’s a rewarding position to be in, and one of the most necessary parts of everyday home ownership.

What is the Board of Directors?

Every kind of community, whether it's a homeowners association, a condo association, or a co-op, has a Board, or Board of Directors or Board of Trustees. It is the elected body of homeowners in the community tasked with maintaining the common areas or common elements, and sustaining the financial health of the community. The board ensures that at the end of the day, the community can afford to stay pristine and maintain curb appeal.

They're also responsible for cultivating the community--not the residential community, but the actual interactions of homeowners within them. It's incredibly important to ensure that homeowners feel that their concerns and desires are heard and being taken seriously.

It's not just homeowner politics, though. The board of directors has a legal responsibility, called their Fiduciary Duty, to ensure that the association is run responsibly to the best of their ability. Fiduciary Duty is taken very seriously and can even be argued in a court of law if any of the decisions made by the board wind up in a courtroom dispute.

What is a Board Member?

A board member is part of the larger body responsible for making sure your community stays up and running. But before anything else, a board member is a homeowner in the community, making them the ideal candidate to handle internal affairs.

Board membership in a community association is strictly voluntary, so board members must be willing to take their sense of pride in a healthy and happy community as payment for their service. (Although, preserving property values is in the best interest of the board members too, since they are usually members of the community themselves.)

What are the Positions on a Condo or HOA Board?

Like a small government, board positions may have term limits and a limit on the amount of time they may serve before being re-elected by the shareholders. These restrictions will be detailed in the Community Bylaws. Ultimately, the Board is held accountable to the community members, who cast their votes to decide who should represent them.

  • The President of the Board is not the leader of the board per se, as he or she gets exactly one vote, the same as any other board member. However, the President is responsible for running board meetings, and is often also the primary signatory for contracts, stock certificates, proprietary leases and other major transactions on the community’s behalf. It helps for the president to be a position of seniority so that they are familiar with the history of the association. Another useful skill is training in Parliamentary Procedure, so that the meetings he or she conducts can be run quickly and smoothly.

  • The Vice President is the President’s backup, so whenever the president is unable to perform their duties, the Vice President needs to be able to step in.

  • The Treasurer takes on the role of focusing on the community’s financial position. The treasurer will be responsible to present a treasurer’s report at each board meeting, detailing the investments, expenses and collections status of the previous period, so that the board can discuss any financial issues or anomalies. The treasurer is also generally the primary signatory for any checks that are cut, and plays a key role in preparing the budget for the membership to approve in the annual general meeting.

  • The Secretary is responsible for keeping the records of the board meeting. The most important of which is the Meeting Minutes, which outline who was in attendance, the topics that were discussed, motions that were made, and the results of those motions. The Minutes are a legal document that are the official record of the process of running the community association. Your state or governing documents may even require you to keep minutes available for a length of time to be used for resolving disputes or as evidence in legal proceedings.

  • A Member At Large or simply Director is the standard voting board member position. The roles and responsibilities of directors vary based on their knowledge and skill level, as well as what committees they are involved with.

  • Sometimes, the board will bring on a Non-Voting Board Member to act as an advisor to the board. This individual would be allowed to attend meetings and provide input, but would not be allowed to cast a vote in any decision. Other professionals such as the Condo Attorney, Property Manager or Banker may also be invited by the board to act in an advisory position.

What Does a Board Member Do?

The obvious answer is that you go to meetings. Religiously. And you don’t just go, you host the meetings, and you run the meetings. These meetings will help you hear out the rest of the homeowners (or at least those who attend the meetings) and understand what they want to have happen in the community. Then, you make it happen.

The board is tasked with writing, enforcing, and updating the rules by which the association and its' members are forced to live. That means that even though Mrs. Mullins' seven cats running amok doesn't personally impact you because you live two streets away, they does impact her next door neighbor Mr. Patterson and his herb garden (which could cause serious harm to the cats if they eat the wrong plant, he claims). And if rules aren't made or enforced to assist in settling this predicament, malcontent starts to grow and once you've got one angry homeowner, you've almost certainly got a dozen more who very suddenly notice that they, too, have grievances with the way the community is run.

What Board Members Can’t Do

While the board is responsible for making decisions on behalf of the community, there are some things that are too big to take on by just the board alone. In those cases, a majority of the membership needs to vote on the proposed change. For example, the exact percentage of Condo Owners required to cast votes is defined in that Condo’s Bylaws.

Passing a budget, changes to election procedure, or any amendments or additions to the Declaration or CC&Rs are the most common examples that require a larger percentage of consent. These matters are often presented to the association members at the Annual General Meeting (AGM).

The board cannot pay themselves, whether in a salary or through perks. They cannot commit fraudulent activities such as personally profiting from the interest in investments of community funds or signing checks to themselves on behalf of the community. This is considered unethical and a breach of their fiduciary duty.

The board also cannot award contracts or provide monetary benefits to themselves, their business, or a family or friend’s business without first demonstrating a fair and equitable process. For example, if the Board President’s brother-in-law owns a landscaping company, the board could not automatically award him a contract to perform landscaping for the community. However, if a sealed bidding process was conducted, gathering multiple bids from competing landscapers, the brother’s landscaping company could win that bid competitively.

What If A Board Member Has A Conflict Of Interest?

As representatives of the association, each board member is responsible to act in the best interests of the association, not their own personal interests. That means that hiring the board president’s brother-in-law to do landscaping for the community is generally frowned upon. When a decision is on the table for discussion in which a board member is personally invested in, it is that board member’s responsibility to declare the conflict to the other members of the board and recuse themselves from the discussion if necessary.

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