Here’s the scenario: the developer of your suburban building, who still owns enough units to throw his weight around, hires a property manager who plays fast and loose with the municipal tax codes. So much so in fact, that he winds up in jail—and your building winds up owing some significant back taxes. The sponsor then brings in a new, wet-behind-the-ears property manager, who pays the tax bill with an unmarked—and untraceable—starter check, which the city cashes…without crediting the proper account. It’s like a parking meter ate your quarter, but instead of 25 cents, your building just lost thousands of dollars.
This is exactly the position one co-op board president found herself in a few years ago. After an uphill battle against the municipal bureaucracy, after title search upon title search, after interminable time spent on hold to no avail—and after hiring a new firm to manage the property—the board member finally untangled her building’s snarled finances. Taking scissors to all that red tape was neither glamorous nor lucrative work— to the contrary, it was painstaking and beyond tedious—but it’s all part of the compensation-free job of a conscientious board member.
Most people view serving on their building or association board in one of two ways: either as a thankless chore with more headaches than rewards, or as an opportunity to influence—and hopefully improve—the quality of life in their condo, HOA or co-op community. The reality, underscored by the experience of the board member above, lies somewhere in between the two poles. There are benefits and there are drawbacks: the good and the bad. There are also challenges—the ugly—which highlight the positive and negative aspects of the job.
Contrary to popular belief, there are plenty of benefits to serving on an HOA board—after all, why else would sane individuals serve on boards for decades at a stretch? For one thing, board members are similar to officers within a corporation in that they are taking an active role in managing what represents, for most people, a substantial chunk of their finances. Board members occupy a powerful position, influencing their neighbors’ investments and quality of life.
“There are no perks,” jokes Jack McGrath, treasurer for the last seven-plus years of The Grande at Colts Neck Condo Association, “aside from the satisfaction of knowing that your condo is being handled the way you’d expect it to be handled and that your property value is protected. When you’re on the board, you can keep the look, approve the way you think it should be and protect the value.”