Condo, HOA, and co-op boards are generally made up of volunteers—and they're frequently a pretty diverse group. There’s the stay-at-home mom who’s looking to get involved with something beyond homework and housework. Maybe there’s also the young doctor who just moved into the building and immediately took an interest. Or perhaps there's the retired school bus driver who's got a green thumb and delights in chairing the landscaping committee each spring. No matter what their background, most board members share a genuine desire to serve their building community and have a hand in the way it’s governed. What they may not have in common is a firm grasp of the law and the legal implications of their decisions as board members.
Of course, some boards are lucky enough to have a practicing legal professional among them who can give sound advice and guide their decision-making process. Those not so fortunate may take a more laissez-faire approach to decision making—which may seem a more friendly, collegial way to run things but which can lead to serious and unforeseen headaches in the long run.
For example, if an association or building has had a no-pets rule for years, and all of a sudden the rules are bent—rather than changed officially and through proper channels—to allow a resident to harbor a pet, “You’re creating a lot of problems by allowing just that one pet, because it will be hard to enforce the rule against other owners in the future,” says attorney Barry Kreisler of the Law Offices of Barry Kreisler, P.C. in Chicago.
Or consider the board president who decides to hire his brother for various construction jobs in the building. “The board member may be subject to liability for doing that if something goes wrong and [the brother] wasn’t skilled,” says David C. Hartwell, partner, Penland & Hartwell, LLC in Chicago.
So how do you prevent board members from doing things their own way? Let's take a look.