Communications: When the board has different priorities

Communications: When the board has different priorities

Aug 31, 2021 | Articles, Association Governance

Written by: Sarah R. Karl*

Makower Abbate Guerra Wegner Vollmer PLLC

Communications: When the board has different priorities and how all players can navigate a resolution.

The successful and effective administration of a community often depends on several players, each bringing a unique, and necessary, factor to the equation. This composition includes the diverse background of the community association board members, and potentially other resources, such as a community association manager and legal counsel. Ideally, these components work in harmony with one another towards shared goals for the community. However, there will inevitably be instances when there are differences in opinion or association objectives, and knowing how to successfully navigate through those challenging times will lead to the best results for the community.

It is often said that serving on the board for a community association is a thankless position. Board members become the face of every pitfall of the community and the ear for every grievance, regardless of whether the issues relate to items the association is even able to address. Those that serve on the board may have run for, or volunteered for, the position for very different reasons. It may be with the sole focus of keeping assessments low, or with specific objectives in mind, such as leading certain improvements for the community. Whatever their reason for serving, the fact remains that these board members are willing to take on a position that so many others are unwilling or unable to accept.

Each board member brings a different experience and background to the table for consideration. For instance, in larger community associations, some board members may not be aware of conditions in all areas of the community and certain board members may have further insight into issues or concerns for a specific part of the community. Even when their objectives vary from one another, board members serve their community best when they listen to one another, even if another’s idea may seem contrary to theirs. Through open dialogue and thoughtful consideration, there may be solutions or a middle ground to solving issues troubling the community. A problem concerning a small area of a community should not simply be brushed aside because it is an isolated incident. Likewise, a board member’s platform of lowering assessments should not automatically be brushed aside, but rather, discussed with open minds and a willingness to review the board member’s presentation. Perhaps assessments cannot be lowered by $100, as the board member is requesting, but there may be a solution that lowers assessments by $50. Even in those instances where a majority of the board is in agreement on the course of action, the minority deserves the benefit of being heard out. 

When a community association has the benefit of a property manager and legal counsel, these additional parties bring significant knowledge and experience to the table, but they also become other potential sources of conflicting opinions. While there is always the potential for new experiences to arise, there tends to be similarities between communities and their trigger issues. It can be tempting to apply the same solution across these communities, which can often effectively address the issue. However, there are instances where a standard recommendation will not work for the community in question, or the board puts up significant resistance to the recommendation. Similar to having an effective dynamic between the board members, these concerns from the board should not be disregarded.

Certainly, managers and attorneys practicing in this field have a wealth of knowledge and experience that benefits these community associations. There is significant value in bringing that expertise to the table, but in doing so, the material should not be conveyed with an air of superiority. The board lives in the community and is in the best position to know what may or may not make sense for the community. They will also have the most accurate read on what the residents want. What may be seen as a priority for the community by a property manager or legal counsel may not even be on the radar for the board or the residents. Something that may seem trivial to the property manager and legal counsel may be the very thing the board is getting pressure on from the other residents day after day. Having empathy for the board and the issues they make a priority goes a long way in strengthening the relationship and trust between the board, the property manager and legal counsel.

Sometimes this communication can simply be acknowledging the concerns of the board and addressing those issues in the normal course, which may be as straightforward as sending a notice of violation to a resident at fault. Other times, a more thorough analysis must be performed with a subsequent strategy developed. In those instances, the property manager and/or the association’s legal counsel may voice issues or concerns regarding the board proceeding in the course it is considering. Those concerns may be based off legal parameters and ensuring the association does not run afoul of the applicable laws, while other times they may be based off the mere practicality of what the board is requesting. Rather than disregarding or downplaying the board’s desires, it is more effective to propose other avenues towards the overall goal of the board. For instance, instead of downplaying a board’s concerns regarding the state of an air conditioning unit window casing, recommending the association adopt rules regarding the same, including the association’s enforcement remedies, helps guide the association towards their eventual goal. Responding in this manner will show the board that the association’s property manager and its legal counsel are working cohesively to advocate for the board’s priorities of the.  

Whatever its composition or assets available to it, the successful and effective administration of a community association depends on constant and thoughtful communication. It is a cooperative experience, whether limited to a three-person board or as expansive to include the board, a property manager and legal counsel. When conflict arises in the administration of the association, which is surely to happen from time to time, maintaining thoughtful communication between these components will lead to resolutions that benefit the community.

*Sarah R. Karl is a Michigan Condominium Attorney and an associate at Makower Abbate Guerra Wegner Vollmer PLLC. Ms. Karl focuses her practice primarily in the areas of Michigan Condominium Association and Michigan Homeowner Association law. Ms. Karl is a member of the Real Property Law of the State Bar of Michigan and is also a member of the Community Association Institute.