Volunteerism is arguably the bedrock of co-op and condominium communities. One buys into one or the other with the expectation of participating in the governance and operation of the property. Volunteering for board or committee service, though, is often a matter of time – something many of us don’t have much of these days, especially the ‘extra’ kind. As a result in many communities, it’s the older and often retired residents who have the hours to offer for board and committee service. The result is that often boards are dominated by older, longer-term residents, which in itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing – it’s just a fact.
It should also be noted that the composition of a board is usually representative of the residents of the building or association, and different types of communities tend to draw different demographics. So in a smaller community, perhaps a 10-unit co-op in a walk-up building with only studio apartments in a newly-fashionable neighborhood, everyone living there may be under 40 – thus, that board will likely be composed of younger people. Conversely, in an over-55 community, the board will mostly be composed of older people. But these specific situations may not be typical of most communities.
Can a co-op corporation or condominium association do something specific with its bylaws or rules to require that board seats be distributed between various age groups? “Absolutely not,” says Mark Hakim, a co-op and condo attorney with Schwartz Sladkus Reich Greenberg Atlas, LLP, a law firm located in New York City. “You cannot create age limitations of any kind relative to the board. It’s illegal. And that’s under both federal and state laws and statutes.”
Frank A. Lombardi, a partner at Goodman, Shapiro & Lombardi, a law firm with offices in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, concurs. “Age requirements are illegal,” he says. “Don’t get within a half mile of them.” Doing so is asking for a potential lawsuit, because age is a protected class under discrimination law.
Sima L. Kirsch, a community law attorney located in Chicago, takes a slightly different view of the possibility of introducing age as a factor in board composition. “With the changing demographics of our citizenry,” Kirsch says, “diversity in leadership enables a greater understanding and ability to plan for an association’s current and rapidly changing future needs. Staggering a board by age, although a unique take on the situation, may allow much needed collective perspective. Whether to implement such a rule needs to be made on a case-by-case basis based on the operating documents and composition of the association members and needs.