Given that a condominium or co-op board is charged with representing the interests of a diverse group of homeowners or shareholders, it follows that boards themselves should embody the diversity of their resident population. In New York City, owners of apartments tend to skew older, as real estate prices are astronomical and entry-to-mid-level wages fairly stagnant; many folks in their late 20s or early 30s cannot afford to make a down payment on a home. But with more financially-successful millennials increasingly looking to buy into established residential buildings, are older, long-standing residents – some of whom may even be original tenants of the building – willing to move over and give these younger people a seat at the board in order to guide the association into the future? Is there an incentive to do so? Or do boards generally yield to 'experience'?
A Seat at the Table
Frankly, the combination of more mature ownership, more pressing maintenance or financial issues, and the difficulty inherent in coaxing younger residents to volunteer their time at all may render a conversation around generational representation a lower priority. That said, it's worth considering whether your board could strive to be more inclusive.
“I have not seen specific age-related planning in the composition of any boards we represent,” says Dennis H. Greenstein, a partner with the New York City law firm of Seyfarth Shaw LLP. “There are a number of buildings that have proposed and/or discussed staggered terms and term limits, which ensure some continuity year-to-year while compelling new board members to serve. And most boards welcome young candidates who have backgrounds that will add a helpful point of view and expertise.”
As with just about every other aspect of board activity and decision-making, whether a board actively seeks to cultivate younger, newer members is largely a matter of a community's character, preferences, and priorities. “I've seen tight boards that stick together for many years, often starting out young and aging together to protect the 'ideals of the founders' who bought something in the 1970s or '80s,” says T. Austin Brown, Esq., of The Austin Brown Law Firm in Manhattan. “And I've seen boards unofficially approach younger cooperators, or simply new owners, to encourage them to run, and thus incorporate some 'new blood.' Sometimes this is successful, but sometimes the new members get pushed out by the aforementioned old guard.
“As a younger person who has been a board member, I can say that some older members are resistant to having younger members come in and change things,” Brown continues. “The older set is often worried about noise. And sometimes the younger members get frustrated with the slow pace of change. But on their end, the young folks would be wise to hear and respect the institutional wisdom of their forebears.”
A Spot to Be Filled
Elections are not the only way in which an owner or shareholder can find themselves on the board. Occasionally, a member has to resign for any one of many personal reasons or circumstances, at which point bylaws usually dictate that the sitting members may appoint someone of their choosing to fill that void until the subsequent election. In these scenarios, even a more set-in-its-ways board may be willing to take a chance on a younger resident in order to shake things up -- or out of sheer desperation to fill the vacancy.
“I had a condo board that was made up primarily of long-time, older residents,” relates Bram Fierstein, president and co-founder of Gramatan Management in New Rochelle. “In the past few years, however, the purchasers have skewed younger. When a position on the board opened up due to a resignation, this board specifically decided to appoint a younger member who had probably owned for around four years. They wanted age diversity to ensure that all unit owners felt represented.”
Eliot H. Zuckerman, a partner with Smith, Gambrell & Russell LLP, a Manhattan law firm, relates a similar story. “I had a situation where a board solicited nominees to fill a vacancy, and four or five candidates came forth,” he says. “They leaned toward a younger nominee because they felt as if they as a board were getting older, and time had come to get representation for the younger shareholders. Younger here being 30- or 40-somethings, as most of the board was 60 and up.”
Zuckerman felt that move by the board was wise. “That board now consists of a majority younger membership,” he says. “Filling the vacancy in that fashion started off a chain of events.”
Ingrained differences in how older and younger generations approach management can play a role in board inclusivity.
“Older, longer-term residents in a building probably paid a lot less for their units at the time of purchase than people in the last 10 or 15 years have paid,” suggests Zuckerman. “Many of these people who paid much less for their units are very conservative. They don't like to spend money. That's their background going back to the older school; they weren't Recession kids, but they still had that influence from their parents, if you will, that made them reluctant to spend. This stands in contrast to moneyed younger people who can afford apartments these days and would rather invest more in their home, community, building, etc.”
Of course, the diversity argument is moot when an association struggles even to fill the requisite number of board seats. But assuming that qualified candidates are clamoring for a spot, encouraging a mix of all ages, genders, and backgrounds can help strengthen a community and make it a more desirable organization for both residents and prospective buyers to take part in.
Mike Odenthal is a staff writer at The Cooperator