You Won the Election, Now What?
By: David Silver
Congratulations! You threw your hat in the ring, ran a vigorous issues-based campaign promising to shake up the establishment, and ultimately won a seat on your association’s board of directors. Once the champagne stops flowing, consider the following tips to get your term off to a productive start.
- Know and Appreciate your Duty. As a director of an association, you are elected to act on behalf of the association and the members that comprise it. You owe a duty of care to the association, which is a legal obligation that generally requires you to act reasonably. The ins-and-outs of your particular duty and how to meet it will depend on what type of association (a condo or homeowner association) you represent, and your governing documents. Suffice it to say, you must act in the best interests of the association.
- Read Your Governing Documents. One of the best ways to make sure you are acting in the best interests of the association is to read the governing documents for your association–the Declaration or CC&Rs, Bylaws, Articles and Rules & Regulations. In most cases, it is presumptively in the best interests of your association to follow the governing documents. Sometimes that may not be possible, like if your documents conflict with the law, or if you receive a request for a reasonable accommodation under the FHA. But generally speaking, for most of the questions that you will face as a director, your instinct should be to consult your governing documents before you answer.
- Be Professional. Serving as a director can be tough at times. The decisions you make impact your friends and neighbors, and you may be subject to criticism and challenge. Avoid the temptation to allow a dispute to get personal. When you and your fellow directors are communicating-particularly by email-try to ensure your communications would be appropriate and not embarrassing if read in front of the entire association. You might be approached casually by an owner to talk about association issues, or for approval of their remodel request or something of that nature. Avoid the temptation to respond on the spot, and instead instruct the owner to come to the next open forum to share their thoughts with the board, or to place their request in writing for board consideration.
- Do Your Diligence. Fulfilling your duty of care means making informed decisions. Depending on the situation, that might require consulting with construction, landscaping or other experts, obtaining advice from legal counsel, or taking recommendations from your manager. Directors are not required to be experts at everything, but they are required to investigate, listen, learn, inquire, and weigh competing factors before making decisions on behalf of the association.
Diligence also means not rushing into office and trying to fulfill every campaign promise on day one. You should take a more deliberate approach. For example, if you promised owners you would improve the play area, and you rush onto the Board and write a check for new equipment, you may be neglecting important details you would not necessarily have been aware of before joining the board. After all, now that you are a director you owe a heightened duty of care compared to when you were “just” an owner. Perhaps there is a prior equipment contract that ordering new equipment would cause the association to breach. Or maybe there are voting requirements for spending over a certain amount of money that buying the new equipment would violate. Failure to take the time to analyze the potential impacts of your actions can create legal problems, cause the association damages, and erode owner confidence.