Q&A: Apathetic Ownership

Q We have trouble finding people to serve on our condo board. We have a five member board, although only two or three of us actually do much work. We are a small complex. We have tried several things to entice owners to serve on the board, but have had very limited success. We have several owners who have their adult children living in their units, as though they were the owners, and we would like these resident/children to serve on the board. Can the parent/owner give a power of attorney or a proxy in some form that would permit their resident children to serve on the condo board as if it were the parent/ owners that were serving?

—To Protect and Serve

A “No, an owner cannot grant a power of attorney or proxy that allows a child or other resident to serve on the governing board,” says attorney J. David Ramsey, chair of the Community Associations practice group and partner in the Real Estate Department at the Woodbridge-based law firm of Greenbaum Rowe Smith & Davis, LLP. “Typically, the bylaws contain the qualifications for serving on the board. In most condominiums there is only one qualification: that the trustees be unit owners. Any person serving on the board must be an owner. While powers of attorney may be used in many circumstances, they cannot be used here. The rationale is that the trustee him or herself must have the qualification to serve, otherwise the purpose of the bylaws in imposing such requirements is violated.

“There are, however, other alternatives. The bylaws may be amended to specifically allow residents to serve. In some associations the preference is to allow spouses of an owner to serve, because although the spouse may not be an owner because of estate planning or other reasons, the spouse likely has just as much knowledge and interest in the community. Any amendment allowing residents or spouses to serve should, however, be carefully drafted to avoid unintended problems. For instance, you may wish to consider an amendment that requires the resident to spend a certain amount of time actually residing within the community each year so that they have the requisite knowledge and ability to attend regularly scheduled meetings of the board.

“Another form of amendment you may want to consider where there is insufficient interest in serving on the board is to allow board members to be compensated to some degree. Virtually all bylaws state that board members may not be compensated; but this is not a matter of law, it is solely a limitation imposed by the bylaws. You might want to consider allowing board members to receive compensation equal to a certain number of months common expense fees to induce more people to consider serving on the board.

“One final comment. When amendments to the governing documents are suggested many board members respond that it is virtually impossible to obtain the necessary vote. With a carefully created amendment strategy, however, most amendments can be obtained. First, remember that the vote on an amendment need not be completed on the first date the vote is scheduled. Meetings of the members to vote on amendment may be adjourned while additional proxies are obtained to seek the necessary majority (often two-thirds of all owners, but in the case of bylaw amendments often only a majority of all owners must approve).

As a matter of law this process may go on for eleven months from when the first proxies were signed, or longer if your bylaws specifically authorize it (most don't). Second, you can use various community events to pursue obtaining the votes. If you have a pool registration schedule, or a community Labor Day picnic, those times can be used to put proxies in front of people and ask them to vote. And, of course, old-fashioned door-to-door solicitation of owners who have not yet voted, while requiring a bit of work, is often successful in obtaining the necessary vote.”

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  • Our condo association 's board consists of 5 members. 3 seats are up for election in October. What aew our options if we have no condo owners willing to put their names on the ballot.