What New Boards Members Need to Know (And How to Learn It)

Residential communities such as co-ops, condos, and HOAs are unique in that they take the governance of their properties into their own hands. While most properties do have managing agents to oversee staff and to handle the day-to-day operations, ultimately, it’s the board of directors or trustees that makes policy and determines the continuing health of the community. Board positions are filled by unit owner or shareholder volunteers—the positions are almost universally unpaid. Community members give of their time and expertise freely, and with the intent to do their ‘civic’ duty and protect the investment of themselves and their neighbors.

Often, residents with specific skills relevant to governing and managing property are ready, willing, and able to contribute their knowledge to the community. Boards often feature a concentration of attorneys, accountants, and business management professionals. But even these competent individuals still have much to learn and absorb when they are elected to the board. Every building and community has a history and a set of circumstances all its own. That’s a compelling thing about real estate: every property is unique. 

So how should new board members get, well, onboarded? Should they take a professional course? Should building management or the building’s attorney and accountant hold an orientation to bring them up to speed? Should an existing board member mentor a new member and debrief them on the ins and outs, the do’s and don’ts of the building? Turns out, just as individual properties have their own cultures and challenges, they also have their own processes for orienting new board members—though of course, there is also a lot of overlap, even across regions. The New Jersey Cooperator spoke with several multifamily management and administrative pros across the country to find out how their communities make sure new board members hit the ground running. 

Management Training

Michael Pesce is the president of Associa, a large real estate management firm based in New Jersey that handles properties up and down the East Coast. “I do the training for our newly elected boards personally, with the assistance of our community managers,” he says. “I use a template outline that’s then customized for each of our managed communities.” The template includes sections on fiduciary obligations, legal governing documents, board responsibilities, insurance, and transitions. “The goal is to do more than just a typical review of responsibilities—it’s to provide a roadmap for new board members to know where their power comes from, and what constrains it.”  

Daniel Wollman, CEO of Gumley Haft, a management firm based in New York City, has overseen the induction of new board members hundreds of times on hundreds of boards in his 30 years of managing cooperatives and condominiums. He also makes himself available to new board members. “A new board member needs some orientation,” says Wollman. “They can call me, or meet with me, and I explain the issues of the building—what’s currently going on, the nuances of different matters, projects, staff issues. It gives them insight to beginning their service.” However, along with the guidance, Wollman has some words of caution for new board members as well: “Don’t come with a personal agenda. Come with a view that you are contributing to benefit the whole building.”

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