Condo Living – Dictatorship, Democracy, Or…?

 

Over the years, I have heard individuals where I live complaining that the board does not put issues to the community for a vote prior to taking action.  They usually use the line “This is a democracy and the board should ask all homeowners to vote on the issue”.  To this, I say…..”No, this is not a true democracy and the homeowners should not be asked to vote on every issue facing the community.” These individuals usually disagree with me and the conversation turns to other topics.

 

First off, let’s define Democracy.  To summarize the Wikipedia definition, democracy is a form of government that allows for citizens of a nation to determine public policy, state laws, and permits those who meet certain qualifications an equal opportunity to express their opinion.

 

In my opinion, the key to this definition is that citizens have an equal opportunity to express their opinion.  The definition does not state that the citizens have a right to vote on all issues.  As with all common interest communities, the citizens (homeowners) should always have an avenue to express their opinions.

 

Condo Associations and Homeowner Associations are common interest communities. The American Bar Association Family Legal Guide defines a common interest community as one designed for a certain type of community living that is governed by documents, usually the Declaration and Bylaws, and is administered by a board of directors.  It is the board’s responsibility to enforce rules, collect funds, and ensure the property is maintained and improvements made.

 

A board of directors for a common interest community is more akin to a representative government.  The board is elected by the homeowners to make decisions on their behalf in governing and operating the condo or homeowners association.  The board is the ultimate responsible party for ensuring their community is maintained, preserved and enhanced.

 

The board is not required to seek opinions or place issues up for a vote to the entire community.  It is their responsibility to make decisions and move issues forward.  If they are not doing so, then the board may not be living up to their fiduciary duty.

 

Now, as in a democracy, all homeowners have the right to express their opinion.  So, if one wants to express a democratic “right”…attend a board meeting, contact a board member, or call the manager to express your opinion on an issue.  Your opinion can be expressed, your vote may not be asked for.

 

As a best practice, when dealing with projects or decisions that may have a greater impact on a community, such as a remodel of a clubroom, the board should communicate the remodel plans to the homeowners.

 

For example, a board could assign the remodel project to the Architectural Controls Committee (ACC) for community discussion and recommendation.  The ACC, comprised of volunteers, conducts open meetings and seeks input from owners who want to participate in the process.  The ACC makes a recommendation to the board for action.  Typically the ACC recommendation is determined via a majority vote of the committee…Democracy!

 

Upon receipt of the clubroom remodel recommendation, the board may or may not take action.  The board may decide to modify the ACC recommendation or they may decide to start the project anew seeking different professional resources for a new solution/bid/design of their choosing.

 

In this example, the board responsibly sought community input through the ACC which afforded any interested person an avenue to express their opinion.  The ACC participants voted and the majority recommendation was achieved.

 

The ACC recommendation is not required to be implemented by the board.  It is simply a recommendation for the board to consider, nothing more.  The board is not required to seek a community vote on the clubroom remodel and they have the authority to start the project without delay, or not.

 

Typically most declarations or state law will outline specific situations that require a community vote.  Usually an amendment to a declaration requires a 2/3 majority vote to approve a change.  Some require a community vote for a board to borrow money and some do not.

 

If you live in a common interest community, take a moment to read your declaration and bylaws.  You may be surprised at how much authority these documents assign to the board of directors on your behalf.

 

If you want your vote counted on every decision, volunteer to serve on a board of directors.

 

 

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About midtowntim

I'm a licensed community manager, community volunteer and I live in a multi-family high-rise condo.
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