Training New Board Members Shortening the Learning Curve

A condo or homeowners association is the cornerstone of a building community. The condominium or HOA maintains order and continuity by preserving architectural integrity, maintaining the common elements, protecting property values, and often providing for recreation and community engagement among neighbors. To be effective, a condo or HOA needs a strong board of directors or managers, who both individually and collectively understand the role and mission of the association. Operating a condo or HOA involves many of the same responsibilities as any other business, although board members are volunteers and generally serve without compensation. 

While some board members may have pertinent experiences from their personal lives—accountants, attorneys, brokers, and managers—most are only armed with a desire to serve their building communities. A newly elected board member will need solid instruction and training to fully understand their role and fiduciary duties. Serving as a board member can be a valuable service and a rewarding experience, but like any other position, proper training and instruction is a must. 

Johnny Law

While in many states board member training is merely a suggestion, in 2010, the Florida legislature passed a law (see Chapter 718 of the Florida Statutes) requiring board members of condominium associations to get certified by the Florida Department of Business & Professional Regulation (DBPR) within a year of getting elected, or within 90 days after accepting the position. The same law for HOAs   (Chapter 720 of the Florida Statutes) was passed in 2013.

According to Eric Glazer, an attorney and owner of Glazer & Associates, P.A., which has offices  in Fort Lauderdale and Orlando, there are two ways to receive this certification. The first, which Glazer recommends, is to complete an educational course certified by the DBPR. He points out that free courses abound that will certify directors (he has taught over 12,000 Floridians himself), and that oftentimes, new board members leave exclaiming “‘’Wow! I had no idea I had to know all of that stuff!’” 

The second route to certification is for the board member to sign an affidavit stating that he or she has read Florida Statutes Chapter 718, as well as his or her association’s declaration of condominium, articles of incorporation, bylaws and current written policies; that he or she will work to uphold such documents and policies to the best of his or her ability; and that he or she will faithfully discharge his or her fiduciary responsibility to the association’s members.

Glazer is not a fan of this approach, calling it “the lazy man’s way of getting certified.” As he explains, “Many of the declarations and governing documents in existence contain illegal provisions. The aforementioned affidavit would technically require a board member to uphold those illegalities. It makes no sense.”

Given the ease of access to courses, Glazer—as well as other legal professionals—feel that opting out seems downright irresponsible, especially considering the power the position holds over owners’ living situations. As Glazer says, “Anybody who is not willing to take a course for a few hours is simply undeserving of sitting on a board of directors.”

Building an Informed Board

Part of training a good board is starting with good candidates. Most pros suggest looking for prospective future board members among individuals currently serving on committees. Likely candidates could be invited to sit in on a board meeting to observe the board in action, see the nuances and timing of an actual meeting, and consider which board positions might be a good fit for her talents and interests. 

Raymond Dickey, president of the Atlantic City, New Jersey-based Brainerd Communications and publisher of AssociationHelpNow Media, also believes in a proactive approach to board member development. “If you know someone who is interested in running for a board position, include him or her as much as possible in board activities prior to being elected into their position,” he says.   “This way, when and if that person is elected, he or she can hit the ground running. Also nominate potential board members from those who are regularly at meetings. These people already know a great deal about current issues in the building or association.” 

Dan Wurtzel, president of management firm FirstService Residential New York, the largest property management company in North America, with offices throughout Florida, believes that some of the responsibility for educating new board members might lie with the manager themselves. Aside from the Sunshine State’s own requirement, “It is in the best interest of all parties to bring new members up to speed as quickly as possible so that they can be effective contributors,” he says. His own firm does that by preparing a Board Member Resource Guide, detailing the responsibilities and fiduciary duty of new board members. 

Greg Carlson, a property manager and the president of the National Association of Housing Cooperatives (NAHC), does not mince words when it comes to educating boards; “No training is not acceptable.” He acknowledges it takes some time for a new member to get up to speed, and the learning curve can bog down a meeting when new members frequently ask for clarity and explanations. That’s where Florida board members can go to the head of the class.

Utilizing Outside Tools

Industry veterans also strongly advise utilizing the professional expertise of community association managers, the board’s attorney and accountant, among others, to keep both new and veteran board members in the loop and abreast of important information on legal and financial issues. 

Private real estate educators, management companies, professional organizations like CAI, and most law firms regularly offer board certification classes giving newbies an overview on federal, state, and local laws, emergency planning, financial management, and just about every other aspect of association administration. For more information, go to http://www.myfloridalicense.com/dbpr/lsc/condominiums/BoardMemberEducation.html.

At a local level, Carlson also encourages the use of various organizational websites for information on classes, trade shows and events. “The South Florida Cooperator’s annual Expos offer many educational seminars, as well as opportunities to meet with vendors and industry professionals.” Carlson also recommends monthly trade publications like The South Florida Cooperator for regular reading by all board members.

For his part, Dickey encourages new board members to participate in CAI chapter events. As an organization, CAI is dedicated to building better communities, and provides education and resources to community association homeowner leaders, professional managers, association management companies and other businesses and professionals who provide products and services to community associations. There are eight active chapters in Florida, and all represent an invaluable resource for new and existing board members and property managers. You can visit CAI (www.caionline.org) to find the chapter nearest your condo or HOA, and find out what educational programming it offers. 

In addition to CAI, Dickey recommends connecting with other organizations such as the Building Owners and Managers Association International (BOMA), which has seven Florida chapters, and the Institute of Real Estate Management (IREM), which has four. He encourages new board members to get on the mailing list for the local chapters of these organizations. Email blasts and printed mailers will notify when the groups have a seminar or conference. “Many of these events are low-cost or free to attend for homeowner board members,” he says. Dickey also recommends periodicals such as The South Florida Cooperator that focus on the industry and bring issues to the attention of board members concerning the day to day running of an HOA.

All the Moving Pieces

Newly-elected or vastly experienced, the bottom line when it comes to condo and HOA board members is that they must act in the best interest of their building or community, putting personal interest aside via a succinct message. The pros believe that an understanding of each board member’s individual role helps the board to understand how to work better together and the importance of working as a unit; When walking into the boardroom, the ‘I’ cap must be taken off and the ‘We’ cap put on. 

Dickey offers one last piece of advice for all board members: “Remember that this industry is constantly changing. Laws change, new obstacles come up, such as ways associations deal with Internet security or recent powerful storms. A standardized orientation is great, but the pursuit of knowledge should never stop.”                         

Ann Childers is a freelance writer and a frequent contributor to The South Florida Cooperator. Staff writer Michael Odenthal contributed to this article.

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