Co-op Boards Adapt to Present-Day Demands

By Gordon Hughes

A few months ago I read, with interest, an article in the New York Times real estate section regarding the changing face of co-op boards. There was time when the co-op board meeting was as much a social gathering of tenants as it was a business meeting. Today, however, the expectations and demands of residents have increased. Co-op board meetings have become very serious business as there have been escalating economic demands and more city requirements. The changes taking place within these boards are dramatic (senior citizens being replaced by Gen Xers is just one example).

Obviously, different parts of the city call for different types of boards. For example, residents in “A” buildings on Park or Fifth Avenues and those in other parts of the city that are not so toney will have far different expectations from their boards. You know that something on Park Avenue may have little in common with many co-ops in the West Village. The boards on the upper Eastside would deal with far different expectations than most of those in our Village.

Now, those of you who read my column know I love to do tongue-in-cheek comparisons of our West Village with other parts of Manhattan as well as with the other boroughs. Nevertheless, there are what I will call “business models” or fundamental similarities in all co-ops. The Times real estate article pointed out several common considerations for board membership. There were suggestions such as: all board members should read the co-op’s bylaws and constitution, and board members should have a fundamental understanding of the building’s finances—its budgetary outlook and all fiduciary responsibilities. The article also pointed out that in order to be a good board member you need to know the strengths and weaknesses of your building. I could go on, but for those of you who own a co-op or condominium apartment you really should know what’s up. Board member or not, you need to be aware of how your building is being run. So, the primary reason for sitting on a board is to keep an eye on your investment (which is probably a major part of your portfolio). Being a board member gives you that opportunity.

So what else do you get out of being on your co-op’s board? Well, as a board member myself, let me tell you that neighborly and building personalities are a big part of it. Personalities are the big insight and in the West Village those personalities can be quite theatrical. I have witnessed tears, tension, and drama. As a producer I really appreciate drama, laughter, hysterical fits of anxiety, and (in the end) forgiveness. I have found that most people would rather get along and most co-op board members share a goal. That goal is to have an outstanding building that is a delight to return to at the end of each day. A very good board member must take off his or her personal goal hat, check their emotional guns at the door, and, damn it, get that #%*+=~£ backyard cleaned up so we can sit out in the sun. For God’s sake, it’s March already!

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