C.M. from Washington State writes:
Dear Mister Condo,
I live in a 44-unit condo in Washington State. Our Association dues started at $99/month in 1997 and are now $225/month. We don’t have a pool or any other amenities. My husband and I were one of the first homeowners to move in almost 18 years ago. He served on the Board as Treasurer until he died in 2008. After he died, a new homeowner ran for the Board and has been President ever since. Most of the homeowners are senior citizens, and do not want to volunteer to serve on the Board or Committees. The Board President has told everyone that he will serve as President as long as he lives in the condo; so there is no one who will run against him or wants to remove him. The others that serve on the Board are merely puppets, and don’t do anything without his approval. We have a Board Secretary, but she doesn’t take or transcribe the Minutes; he does. And he includes, omits, or embellishes what he wants to report. We have a management company, but they don’t really manage; they only send out bills and the monthly financials. He manipulates every aspect of running the Association. The only Board Meeting I’ve attended was the Annual Meeting last December. He manipulated a hand vote on an assessment that homeowners who didn’t attend the Meeting did not want or could afford. Even though many expressed their dislike for how the vote was handled, he insisted it was done “by the book.” Since I don’t approve of how he conducts Board Meetings and will not go, I’ve submitted letters of concern and asked that they be included in the Minutes. He refuses to include my letters, and won’t answer any of my questions. His standard comment is: “your various requests for Board action are denied, no further action is warranted. The Board opts not to distribute your document. Note: best means to be informed on Assoc. business is to attend monthly Board Meetings.” Our bylaws say we can file a complaint with our management company, but I think he controls them, too. What options do I have; and how should I file a complaint? Any help would be appreciated. Thanks.
Mister Condo replies:
C.M., I am sorry to not respond to your question sooner but the volunteer nature of our time needed to reply to the questions only allows us to field one question per day Monday through Friday. There is routinely a 6 to 8 week backlog of questions. Thank you for your patience.
The situation you describe is not all that uncommon, especially in communities where many of the unit owners are elderly or infirmed. Common interest real estate governance requires active participation from unit owners to function properly. The Board president you are describing is apparently taking advantage of his position as a volunteer leader and allowing the power that comes with that position to behave in a manner that is not in the best interest of the association and his fellow unit owners. The management company works for the Board. Since the Board president is effectively controlling the Board, the management company is likely falling in line so that they can continue on as the management company. After all, the Board controls whether or not they have their contract renewed. If the Board is happy with the management company’s performance, it is unlikely they will change how they perform.
I apologize in advance for what I am about to say as the words may come across as a bit harsh or uncaring. I assure you they are anything but…
The real problem here is lack of unit owner involvement. You have stated that you do not attend Board meetings and that “Most of the homeowners are senior citizens, and do not want to volunteer to serve on the Board or Committees.” That is a tremendous problem for an association that is required to govern itself. Community Association Volunteer Leaders are the lifeblood of good association governance. How could you possibly expect any change if no one is willing to volunteer?
I know of plenty of communities like yours that have no problem attracting volunteer leaders from within their membership. In fact, senior citizens make up a vast majority of Board members across the country and for good reason. These are the folks that are most likely to have the skill set and available time required to perform the job of making solid business decisions on behalf of the association. Many have retired from careers where they needed these skills. If your community were full of infirmed and bed-ridden unit owners who were physically unable to serve, I would understand the lack of volunteers. But to simply say “I am retired and unwilling to serve” is a cop out on the part of the unit owners. In some ways, they are getting what they deserve with the current Board president. It would appear he is the only volunteer who is willing to serve. Also, why does the association continue to reelect him each year? Why do the other elected Board members not do anything to reel him in? They all have votes and they can easily outvote him on any item with which they disagree.
My best advice for you is to get active and get involved. You and your fellow unit owners need to stop taking a “victim” mentality and get on the Board and bring some other concerned and active members with you. If you and your fellow unit owners are not willing to make this commitment, the abuse will likely continue and you will have no one but yourselves to blame.
You have an excellent resource in your state to help you as well. The Washington State Chapter of the Community Associations Institute has a website at https://wscai.org. They also have an upcoming event called “Community Associations Day for Condominiums and HOAs” – https://wscai.org/community-associations-day/ that I would strongly encourage you to attend along with other like-minded folks from your association. In addition to regional experts, you’ll have access to hundreds of fellow association members. My guess is that you’ll find folks with similar concerns and even a few folks who solved your problem in their own community association. The event is Saturday, September 25, 2015 and is held at the Washington State Convention Center in Seattle.
I wish you and your fellow unit owners much success in taking back control of your association. Good luck!