U.K. from Fairfield County writes:
Dear Mister Condo,
I live in a Co-op with a dysfunctional board and Property Manager who interferes with our Board. The manager attends all of our unit-owner meetings, directs the Board on all decisions and is a bully to all. The Board is comprised of unit members who have no knowledge of community living, accounting, our by-laws or rules/regulations. All decisions are made on a whim. Our monthly meetings are unorganized and usually end with an argument. Recently the board has implemented a new rule that unit members could not run for the board if they did not have a background check and if they had an outstanding bill of any kind with the Management office. Is this legal? Is there a state statue in Connecticut that states who can run for the Board of a Co-op? Myself and many other members do not think it is fair We know that the Manager put the board up to this new rule because the current board is full of Seniors and he has them under his finger and wants to keep it that way, and these rules are now deterring a lot of good members from running for the board because they do not want to give their personal information to the board. Can we do something about that new rule?
Mister Condo replies:
U.K., I am sorry that you and your fellow coop owners are having such difficulties. The laws in Connecticut that will most likely be of use to you are the Non-Profit Corporation Act and the Common Interest Ownership Act (also known as CIOA). Additionally, your own coop documents are going to be very important in determining your rights as a coop owner. I am not an attorney so please consider my advice as friendly. You may well wish to get a legal opinion from a qualified attorney to assist you in rectifying your issues.
Let’s start with the relationship between the Property Manager and the Board. The Property Manager is hired by the Board to provide a wide range of services. If the Property Manager is acting beyond the scope of those services or performing those services poorly, the Board may terminate the agreement (fire the Property Manager) or simply choose to not renew the contract when it comes up for renewal. Choosing not to renew is preferable, as it does not open the association up to a potential lawsuit whereas terminating a Property Manager could.
Your governing documents, including who is eligible to serve on the Board, are part of your By-laws, Covenants and Restrictions, Declaration and so on more commonly referred to as “the documents”. The documents clearly spell out the governance of the association and likely detail who can serve on the Board, how offices are decided, how votes are held, percentages of votes required to modify documents, etc.. My guess is that all that is required to serve on the Board is that the nominee be a unit owner of record. Votes for Board members are usually held at the association’s Annual Meeting. If enough votes are received, the nominee is elected and begins serving their elected term. If the Board is attempting to modify the language in your governing documents, they likely require a full vote of all unit owners. In other words, it is unlikely that they can add a provision about a background check or not owing any money to the association as preclusion to service on the Board. An attorney could better advise you of your legal rights in this matter.
My guess is that your current Board, for whatever reason, is OK with the behavior of your Property Manager. If you and your fellow unit owners are not, it is time to take action and get a new Board. You need to find candidates that are willing and able to serve and then get them elected at the next Annual Meeting. If the Property Manager gets in the way of you or anyone else asserting their rights as unit owners, hire an attorney and file a lawsuit against the Property Manager. In our state, Property Managers require licensing and they require performing within the bounds of the law. In my experience, the vast majority is completely professional and incredibly helpful to the associations they manage. However, if you have found a bad apple, be sure to take appropriate action to remove the problem. Good luck!