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High & Mighty When Boards Go Overboard

There’s nothing worse than being a unit owner in a building or HOA and seeing someone disregard a rule and seemingly getting away with it—particularly if that person is a member of your association board. Sadly, this scenario isn't wildly uncommon. Some building and HOA board members believe that they are “above the law” so to speak, and seem to be operating under a different set of rules than the rest of the community. This could be anything from giving themselves preferential treatment for parking spots, flouting pet rules, fast-tracking their own alteration projects, or voting on financial matters when they themselves are in arrears.

Denise Lindsey-Becker, VP of business development at Signature Property Group in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey has seen her share of board members try to get away with things, but believes that most of the time such breaches are unintentional.

“I have seen cases of board members not following their own bylaws, but usually they are not aware of it until it’s brought to their attention,” says Lindsey-Becker. “If they are not aware of a certain bylaw that they're in violation of, we’ll bring it to their attention. More times than not, they’ll correct themselves. It usually has to do with landscaping, or parking, or a satellite dish. Maybe they’ll have different plants that don’t follow the landscaping guide—it's not usually anything too egregious.”

“I think every manager has probably experienced a situation where the board has not followed the bylaws. Most times it is not a premeditated decision to not follow the bylaws but more of a misunderstanding,” says Paul Santoriello, president of Taylor Management Company in Whippany, New Jersey. “For example, let’s say somebody were to resign from the board. Oftentimes, the board would then name somebody to replace the resigning board member. But the governing documents might say something to the effect of ‘if there’s greater than x amount of time left in the term then there should be an election.’ Governing documents vary from association to association, and can be a bit vague—associations sometimes have a tough time interpreting them.”

“Sometimes board members make innocent mistakes that are corrected quickly and unfortunately sometimes board members think they are above the rules,” says Liz Comando, vice president of the North Jersey branch of Towne & Country Management, Inc. in Red Bank, New Jersey. “It is always a difficult situation when a board member puts his or her personal agenda ahead of the needs of the association. This can create legal implications for the association and may create personal liability for the board member who believes he or she doesn’t need to follow rules or that it’s acceptable to operate outside the established scope of a board member’s responsibility.”

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