A friend of mine wants to know how to deal with condo boards. The question itself implies that he isn’t happy with his own board, so I’m going to assume that his board is difficult.
This is a common complaint, and it doesn’t seem to manage how big or small the condo building is. There are often issues that arise that are frustrating for owners who feel the board isn’t listening to their concerns. I’ll address a couple of common scenarios and what you might do to address them.
I have a friend who lives in a condo where a number of the row units experienced seepage a few years ago. The condo board brought in an expert who came up with a very expensive quote that would have seen owners paying a huge special assessment. She didn’t know what to do and was getting pretty stressed out. I suggested she get a second opinion and gave her the names of two experts I highly recommended.
One of them, Chris de la Roche from Ardel Concrete, came up with a much less expensive option. When it was presented to the board, the board agreed that was the way to go. The unit owners still will have to pay a special assessment but it will be about half what they expected. So that’s one way of dealing with things: provide them with good information to help make their jobs easier.
I have often heard of condo boards where the members have lived in the complex for years, are getting on in age (and are often on fixed incomes) and don’t want to raise condo fees to pay for necessary repairs. Of course, this kind of short term thinking makes no sense at all. When things get neglected, the cost of fixing them later on is much higher and if the reserve fund isn’t large enough to cover them because of low condo fees, there will have to be special assessments.
I’ve seen condo complexes hit with $20-75K in special assessments because of this kind of attitude. Eventually, the piper has to be paid and sometimes the piper doesn’t give you much time to come up with the money.
This is a much tougher problem to solve. Meetings are usually closed (except for the Annual General Meetings) so you may not know which board members are being recalcitrant. I’ve learned over the years that people don’t change much, so unless you can get broad support from other board members to act, you may be stuck.
You can try to get on the condo board yourself but that means taking on a huge amount of work, and you may well be out-numbered when it comes to votes anyway. (I’ve seen many situations where clients sat on condo boards and quit out of frustration because they couldn’t get anything done.) You can try to requisition a meeting to have problem board members, or even the entire board replaced, but that requires support of your fellow unit owners. Changing a board is not easy, and these people are also your neighbours.
The best advice I can give in this situation is to do your due diligence up front before you buy. Make sure you get a status certificate review done by your lawyer and that you understand what’s in it. A good lawyer can flag concerns with reserve funds, engineering studies and pending issues, before you complete the deal and since we make the deal conditional on these clauses, that means you can get out if you’re not 100% satisfied. Ask lots of questions!Ask your realtor if they are aware of any problems. Most of us know which property managers are good and which ones have less stellar reputations. A good board will have a good property management company working with them: that’s the first step, although even a great property management company will have problems if the board won’t accept their advice.
But if you have purchased and you are having problems with the board, be sure to read the bylaws and other documents, and know your rights.
If you are in a condo high rise, you are living in a vertical village. Noise, garbage, pets, pot, shared laundries where people don’t unload their wet clothes — other people live in your backyard and your front yard and now they’re in the attic too. The condo rules should spell out how these things are to be managed to minimize friction. There’s no point overloading your condo board members with these kinds of complaints: contact the property management company instead. It’s their job to resolve them. If they don’t, then you can complain to the board. Property management companies can be replaced, are replaced all the time if they aren’t doing a good job.
If the issue is larger, however, like my friend with the leaky basement, you may need legal or expert advice. If you absolutely can’t resolve things, and it’s affecting your quality of life, you may have to sell. A special assessment will make it harder; no question about it.
A well run condo board with a good property management company providing support and operational services is terrific. A poorly run one can be a nightmare and worse, it can devalue your property. Condo life isn’t for everyone. Sometimes we have to cut our losses and move on. The best way to avoid that situation is find out as much as you can about the condo board management before you firm up the deal.