Generalizations About Your Condo Board Of Directors: True Or False?

Important topic?  Yes.

Sure to cause debate?  Abso-freaking-lutely.

In case you missed the story over the weekend about the condominium annual general meeting (AGM) in Coquitlam, B.C. where two people were physically removed by RCMP officers, I’ll post a link below.

But it put the idea on a lot of people’s radars – that residents of a condo, the board of directors, and property management do not often get along in harmony.  So today, let’s talk about your condo board of directors, and go through a series of over-generalizations, to differentiate fact from fiction…

Meeting

The world changed when cell-phone developers figured out how to put a video camera inside, didn’t they?

For better, and for worse, you might say.

But it’s tough to so much as cough in public these days without it appearing online in an instant.

Case in point, the video of two senior citizens being dragged down a flight of stairs by RCMP officers last weekend:

It looks pretty bad, but as they say in the United States, “We don’t know the full story.”

That was sarcasm, by the way.

In any event, the story that accompanies that awful video is one that Donald Trump himself would be proud of: a rigged election.

Seriously, you can’t make this up.

An excerpt from the Daily Hive story that appears HERE:

The incident occurred at around 10:30 pm on Thursday, October 27, and followed a voting disagreement at a condo strata meeting being held at the Best Western Hotel at 319 North Road.

According to Victor Kim, who filmed the altercation, the RCMP were called to keep the peace after insults were thrown and residents came close to violence.

“The vote was rigged, that’s why everything happened,” Kim tells Daily Hive.

Kim alleges the elderly lady in the video approached the ballot box to sign the tape used to seal it and prevent tampering. One of the officers allegedly pushed her away from the box and the dispute escalated.

“Her husband got upset. They’re 80 years old,” says Kim, adding that he ran into the hallway after he heard the screams of their granddaughter.

 


Suffice it to say, this is not the norm.

In fact, despite constant complaining from condominium residents, most condos are run pretty smoothly for the most part.

We all complain.  It’s human nature.

How many blogs have I written about issues with the board of directors, property management, and the like?

But at the end of the day, few issues ever escalate into 80-year-old couples looking at RCMP officers with death-stares so they’re dragged down a flight of stairs instead of being spoken to politely by officers who are young and able-bodied, with ample training, who are being paid by the very citizens the are supposed to protect.

Wait.  That got off topic really quickly…

I don’t know what happened at that condo AGM, and the details are scarce, and probably not entirely accurate.

But there are condos in Toronto with major problems.  Some condos have gone bankrupt.  Some have had money stolen by property managers.  Some have fallen apart after having been built by unscrupulous developers.

And yet, most of us complain when the concierge no longer accepts keys for our dog walker.

First world problems, right?

I guess we stick to what we know, and few of us are dragged down the stairs, and few of us live in bankrupt buildings.

So having said that, let’s talk about attitudes towards the board of directors, and some of the “over-generalizations” that are so prevalent out there!

I see this from both sides, folks.

I see instances of board members abusing power, not listening to residents, refusing to interract, and often acting like demi-Gods.

I also see instances of residents overreacting to nothing of substance, and as is so often the case in society today, people want to critique and complain, but never be a part of the solution.

So here are my top-five generalizations about Toronto condo boards:

 

Generalization #1: People serve on the board of directors because they have nothing better to do.

I hear this a lot.

In fact, it’s the generalization I hear more than any other with respect to condominium board members.

But it’s not true.  Not entirely.

People serve on the BOD for many different reasons.

The first board of directors I served on had five people.

One was a young man who was genuinely concerned about his investment, so much so, that he figured joining the board, and spending his own time and energy overseeing building issues, would help him keep an eye on the going’s on.  He was a very intelligent, capable person, from a legal background, and his efforts were sincere.

One was a young woman who was all about “community” and wanted to act as the “glue,” if you will, that keeps the people in the building together.  She wanted to organize social events and head up a social committee, and handle concerns and complaints personally.

One was the wife of the developer.  Enough said.

One was the nephew of the developer who owned a unit in the building.  See above.

Then there was me.  This was ten years ago, and I wanted to learn as much as I could about the inner workings of a condominium corporation, as well as what goes on behind the scenes, and how the condominium corporation (and residents) deal with “taking over” a building after it’s handed off by the developer.  Of course, I was also an owner, so I also wanted to keep an eye on my investment.

So when I hear people say, “The only people who serve on the board of directors are people with nothing better to do,” I feel that’s said more out of spite than anything else.

Having said that, it does happen.

There’s this one woman on my condo BOD who has been around as long as I’ve been there.  Years ago, I saw her outside watering the flowers (they have staff to do that, fyi…) – as though they were hers, and this was her house.  I always found that strange.  But even more strange, was when I found out that she didn’t even live in the building!  She lived in Leaside, and this was an investment for her.

That is having too much time on your hands, and there certainly are people that fall into that category.

But on the whole, I think a lot of people serve for a lot of different reasons.

 

Generalization #2: The only people on condo boards are old people.

I hear this a lot as well, and it sort of goes along with the sentiments expressed above.

“Board of directors are always old people who have absolutely nothing better to do.”

It’s like ketchup and french fries, eh?

But there’s a good parallel in THIS story.

Did you hear about this?  The 19-year-old student from Brock University named Sam Oosterhoff who won the nomination for a November 17th by-election in the Niagara West-Glanbrook district.

Not every young person out there is a “lazy millennial.”

And by the same token, there are a  lot of young, ambitious, hard-working condo-owners that want to have a hand in how their condominium is run.

Whether it’s the “young versus old” mentality that’s so prevalent in condo management, or whether it’s just a young person looking to learn, contribute, and be involved, I’m seeing a lot more young people taking part in the BOD’s downtown.

 

Generalization #3: People on condo boards love to power trip.

Comments like this are usually said after a condo resident witnesses a power trip, so I won’t say it doesn’t happen.

And in case you haven’t noticed, a lot of these generalizations go hand-in hand, as this one will lead to the ones below.

But as is the theme here – with “people who have nothing better to do,” and “boards that don’t want your input,” you might assume that people in a position of power, like those on the BOD, will take power trips.

Well, gee, what else is new?

Show me one person in a position of power, anywhere, over anybody, who hasn’t taken a power trip.

There was a great article in Macleans a couple of years ago called, “Condo Hell.”

My favourite part of that article:

Once they get into power, LePage says many condo boards end up operating less like businesses and more like mini-governments. Owners campaign for election to a volunteer board, raise taxes and set the rules for how other owners can behave—often going to great pains to police their neighbours.

“It’s gotten to a level where people who are on these boards take it as: ‘It’s my job to make sure that you’re in your unit at 10 p.m., the lights are out and I want to know you’re in your room,’ ” says Bernice Winter, who runs Condo Check, a Calgary company that consults with condo boards and reviews condo documents on behalf of prospective buyers.

Well, it can be true.

Combine everything we’re talking about here – people with nothing better to do, older people without jobs, those with personal agendas, and perhaps you get power trips.

It’s not uncommon.

In fact, I think of all the items on our list today, this is probably the one that’s got the most truth behind it.

 

Generalization #4: The condo board does not care what you have to say, and doesn’t want your input.

As with the above, this is always said by somebody who has tried to speak to the BOD, but who has not been satisfied in doing so.

A friend of mine attended an Annual General Meeting at 168 King Street in 2006 (things have changed in ten years…), and seeing as it was his first ever AGM, he went into it with a positive outlook, and high expectations.

He found that the BOD, who were almost all in their retirement, had no interest in speaking to the residents.

He said they spoke, and acted, like they were in an empty room, and talked at residents rather than to them.

Whenever somebody asked a question, the president of the board would nod, then say, “Right….so…..”and move on.

My friend called the president out, and said, “You’re not answering anybody’s questions.  You’re just cherry-picking what you want to speak about.”

And to that, the president nodded, said, “Right….so…” and moved on.

This happens.  There’s no doubt about it.

A lot of BOD members truly do not want to talk to residents, perhaps because they feel superior, or they think they’re smarter, or some other awful, terrible reason.

But then again, most of the people who approach BOD members do so with something negative to say.  It’s always a complaint, and never a pat on the back.  People want things to be better, and they want it yesterday.

 

Generalization #5: The condo board is there push their agenda, rather than what is best for the building.

I suppose if you had a particular agenda, or something that you wanted to protect, or change, or oversee, the best way to do that would be to get a seat on the board of directors.

But more often than not, the idea of a BOD’s “agenda” isn’t one particular thing, but rather an ideology.

If a condo owner wanted to change a by-law or rule, or had some feature of his or her condo that was under threat, then sure, that person could run for the board, and protect his or her interests.

But in terms of “pushing their own agenda,” it’s usually an overall vision, theme, or lifestyle that the board tries to instill.

This can be simple, or it can be complex.

It can have little to no impact, or the effects can be felt each and every day.

Let’s say a board member was scared or accosted on a personal level one day in the condo.  Perhaps he or she was approached by a person in the building that shouldn’t have been there, or there was some sort of personal incident.

Then let’s say that this board member makes it his or her mission to “secure” the building.

The board member rallies the other four members to switch security companies, and to focus on “security guards” rather than “concierges.”

The board member instructs property management, to instruct concierge/security, to no longer “buzz” through residents, but rather residents – even those known to the concierge/security, must use their FOB.

The board member works with property management to change procedures and protocols, such as no longer accepting keys at concierge, or allowing dog-walkers or cleaning ladies to access the building, or no longer allowing visitors to park underground without first coming to get a parking pass.

And on, and on, and on.

It’s not one particular “thing” that BOD members do to push their own agenda, but rather a vision, or an idea.

One condo in the downtown core suffered from a BOD member who was obsessed with “competing” with new condos.

He/She convinced the other BOD members to approve massive changes and renovations to the building, to try and “keep it current.”

In the end, the building spent a ton of money, and it did nothing to increase unit values.  But it did massively increase maintenance fees!

So there you have it, folks.

I encourage you to share your thoughts on these five “generalizations,” or provide your own!

8 Comments

Post A Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Clifford says:

    All I know is I purchased my condo 3 years ago and every single year the fees have gone up…a lot. I don’t know if it’s the board, the builder, whoever. It just pisses me off. Maybe a better understanding of what they actually do with the fees would help. Perhaps a topic for a different day.

  2. Condodweller says:

    I believe the root of most issues between condo board members and owners is the lack of knowledge of the condo act and how a condo corp operates. Every condo owner should be required to take an introductory course to the condo act and their own rules.

    It is very easy to be critical of a board from the outside looking in as most owners have no appreciation for the responsibilities of board members.

    During a hand over meeting our lawyer advised us once to immediately replace the management company the builder put in place to make sure they serve the board and not the builder. I think this is very good advice. It is such a huge conflict of interest it would never be allowed in the corporate world.

    I’m sure there are many boards with unqualified members, however, there are many with highly qualified members. I wonder if the condo act could be updated to require at least one board member to be qualified for the job and if it is not possible, mandate the corporation to hire an independent advisor to guide the board.

  3. Paully says:

    I was on a condo board once. If you want to get an idea of what it was like for me being on a condo board, just take a pencil, sharpen it, and shove it into your eye!

    I am still glad that I served that year, so that I know to never do it again!

  4. Kyle says:

    IMO condo boards, by nature aren’t in a good position to run a building well. The cards are stacked against them by the management companies, contractors, vendors. They have disparate interests and most board members don’t have the required experience or knowledge to run a building well.

    I’ve heard of stories where a consortium of investors buy units in a building and then gradually take over a building through the board. Once they control of the board they basically make life hell for the other owners to get them to sell.

    1. H Marshall says:

      Investors buying units to force others to sell happens in parts of the US and Vancouver where the land is really valuable. Haven’t heard of this happening in Toronto.

      Having boards stacked by the developers or by a property manager wanting to keep their contract is common everywhere. Boards staying in power because they promise the owners they will not to raise the fees is far, far too common.

      1. Kyle says:

        you’re right it is more common in Vancouver, but the second story i posted is an example from Toronto. I also recall way back that Skyline International was trying to take over New Times Square to run hotel units.

        I’m actually surprised that it doesn’t happen more. As an aside i’m also surpirsed Co-ops aren’t taken over more often to be converted to condos. IMO condo boards made up of random residents are sitting ducks compared to organized investors.

    2. Negotiator says:

      Not to mention the fact that putting 3 or 5 lay people, who likely have no legal, accounting, or engineering experience, in charge of a corporation with a budget of several million dollars a year, that is responsible for an extremely complicated building, is a tough situation. They are forced to rely on their professional advisors, and if they’re also not up to the job then it leads to a bad situation.

TWEETS