Help Me Help You Combatting Apathy in Your Building

The investment represented by your co-op or condo unit is likely your greatest asset—and protecting and cultivating that asset is important, especially in the current turbulent economic times. So why are so many shareholders and unit owners so apathetic when it comes to participating in the decisions that affect their building? And what can boards, managers, and individual residents do to fight apathy and encourage concern and involvement in how their building community is run?

All's Well?

Perhaps apathy is a sign that people feel everything is fine, says Rosemary Paparo of Buchbinder & Warren, a property management firm in Manhattan. Apathy can be interpreted as an endorsement of how the board and management are operating the building, says Michael Berenson, president of another Manhattan property manager, AKAM Associates.

Additionally, Paparo says that some people choose not to join the board because they simply don't think they will be listened to. Paparo, who has served on her own board for many years, believes that people feel if a board has been in place for a long time “it might be a hard circle to break into” and residents may question whether they have anything new to bring to the board.

Further, adds Steven Elbaz of Manhattan-based Esquire Management, some people are also reluctant to serve on boards because they are afraid of being sued. Elbaz points out however that most buildings purchase directors and officers insurance to protect board members from lawsuits resulting from decisions they make in good faith on behalf of the building.

In addition to these issues, serving on the board requires a tremendous amount of personal time, which is rarely appreciated by residents, Elbaz continues. “There are people who just have very busy lives, and one of the main advantages of living in a co-op or condo is that everyone does everything for you. You don’t have to rake the leaves, you don’t have to cut the grass, and many people find that appealing. They also assume some someone else will serve on the board.”

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