Why would anyone today want to sit on a building's board? What used to be considered a thankless job recently became both thankless and risky.
Volunteering to sit on a cooperative or condominium board, and assuming the responsibilities of a board member, requires a serious commitment of time and effort. There are complaints to investigate, issues to address, people and vendors to supervise, finances to watch, decisions to make, research to do, meetings to attend. A board member's critical service to the community often goes unrecognized and unappreciated. It is when the board's job doesn't get done that people notice.
Over the past several weeks, boards have been held to a higher level of accountability for not doing their jobs. Westchester County enacted the first of its kind coop transparency law in connection with the purchase process. And the building collapse in Surfside FL has resulted in a flurry of lawsuits, driving a deeper level of scrutiny to boards across the country.
Coop boards in Westchester will need to provide reasons for rejecting a buyer, thereby making the process of buying and selling a cooperative apartment more transparent. Boards will be required to specify minimum financial qualifications for buyers including “preferred” minimum income and debt-to-income ratios, as well as total asset and credit score requirements. Finally, boards will need to act upon purchase applications in a timely manner. BRAVO! Less discrimination, more inclusion, less passing the buck, more accountability. Let's hope that the New York State Legislature enacts similar legislation which is currently pending so that not just Westchester County is protected. We need this in New York City and in the rest of our state.
The horrific and sad circumstances in Surfside will play out over time in the court system and most likely with new governmental regulations. Board members will have more explicit responsibilities and be held accountable for their actions and inactions. The Surfside condo board's crucial role in building safety has raised the bar for minimal standards of acceptable service.
Also to be addressed is the role of the trusted professionals hired by boards - lawyers, management companies, accountants, architects, engineers, insurance agents. And what about building superintendents and other building workers? All of these vendors and employees bear responsibility and must be held accountable to certain standards of professionalism. And they will be.
Most board members, and their trusted professionals, act responsibly, with integrity and in the best interests of their communities. They have nothing to fear. Let's be sure to thank all of them for their service. It is the slackers, the ones who refuse to make difficult but necessary choices, the board members who fail to do their homework or attend meetings, who delay, ignore the obvious or make bad decisions that must change their ways, resign or face the consequences.
A Board's two most important jobs are to enact and enforce the community's rules, and to monitor the maintenance and physical condition of the property. Last month's passage of Westchester's Coop Transparency Bill and the lawsuits resulting from the building collapse in Surfside will increase the visibility, accountability and liability of Board members who neglect their jobs. This will ensure that our collective safety and other interests are properly protected, which is a silver lining to the pain and suffering we've experienced. Hopefully, qualified and committed volunteers will still be willing to serve their communities.