Most of the time, when a problem arises in a multifamily building or community association, the go-to solution is to get management on the phone (or text, or email). The refrain usually goes something like: “Management will take care of it!” “They’ve seen this a million times!” “What can’t they handle?!”
This isn’t a bad thing, of course; the vast majority of association managers are thoroughly-experienced professionals with the know-how to solve just about any problem. But what happens when management is the problem? What happens when the association manager just hasn’t been performing? To whom can a building or association turn when its trusted adviser has lost that trust? Better yet, how can all of this be avoided entirely?
In order to identify and attempt to rectify management problems, it helps if the both the terms of a manager’s role and the board’s expectations are laid out explicitly from the outset. The more the manager’s job is precisely defined, the easier it is to say with certainty that something has gone off track—and the easier it will be to right the ship. And a hands-on board should be able to deftly spot when it is not receiving the service it’s paying for.
“The relationship between a board and its manager is one of the single most important relationships which an association must maintain,” says Michael G. Kreibich, a principal at the law firm of Kovitz Shifrin Nesbit, which has offices in Illinois. “If that relationship breaks down, it can have lasting and widespread ramifications for the community. However, because of the regular turnover of board members, this often gets overlooked. Management is counted on to guide the voluntary board on nearly all aspects of association governance, and the manager is entrusted with a great deal of sensitive association information and matters. Therefore, regular and ongoing stock should be taken about the performance of an association’s manager. Communication about that performance, whether positive or negative, is necessary to manage the expectations of the board. And those expectations should be discussed regularly and shared with management in a constructive way, allowing management to address any issues before they drive a wedge between the association and the management company.”
Of course there are some crystal clear signs that the relationship between association and management has soured, such as if the manager absconds with the association’s reserve funds, or if the manager assaults a resident or board member. But in many cases, the relationship erodes slowly over time, and the board needs to be more attentive to pick up on the signs of trouble.