Whether you serve on the board of a co-op, condo or HOA, chances are you and your fellow community administrators are volunteers. Perhaps you're fortunate enough that you or one of your colleagues has professional legal expertise to bring to the table—but even if that's the case, sooner or later you'll need to consult with outside legal counsel on some issue, whether it be the sale of an apartment in the building, or an acrimonious situation between neighbors, or between a resident and the board itself.
When that day comes, it pays to keep a few things in mind before picking up the phone (and starting the billable hours clock) to call your building's attorney. We polled some co-op, condo, and HOA lawyers across the country to find out the top half-dozen things they wish boards knew...before lawyering up.
Don't 'Just Wing It'
Any board worth its salt is concerned about controlling costs and working within a budget; they know it's not fiscally responsible to get a lawyer (or accountant, or architect, or engineer) involved in every little issue that crops up. While that may be true, the converse—not ever calling in the pros, can be just as problematic, and costly.
“Use your professional resources,” advises Ryan D. Poliakoff, a partner with the Boca Raton, Florida-based law firm of Backer Aboud Poliakoff & Foelster. As senior counsel, Poliakoff most often finds that boards fear using the association’s attorney services for a variety of reasons. Besides budget concerns, a board may not realize when it's time to call for professional consultation. Poliakoff points out the importance of calling upon the right resource for the need at hand, whether it be a property manager, bookkeeper or an attorney. “An elected board creates and defines policy but these professionals have specific knowledge on liability and risk for complex issues,” he says.
Jennifer Loheac, a shareholder attorney with the law firm of Becker & Poliakoff in Morristown, New Jersey, agrees. “Rely on your association professionals! The board should not be defending choices in insurance. Let the insurance agent speak to his or her own recommendations, and why. If there are delinquency actions or litigation or other questions of liability, that’s why you have an attorney. As a board of volunteer community members, let the association professionals speak to the various professional actions or inactions."