It's a truism that's been phrased many ways by many wise people: “A lack of transparency results in distrust and a deep sense of insecurity.” That's the case in any number of situations, but it's especially applicable to the administration of a condo, HOA, or co-op community.
Lack of clear, forthright communication between boards, managers and unit owners is one of the top perennial complaints association members have about living in their communities, whether they're small, self-managed buildings or sprawling suburban developments. As far as residents are concerned. being transparent means having a board that’s open and honest, not secretive.
While some states (like Florida, for example) require residential associations to be transparent with their owners regarding the community's operations, New York has no such laws. “If you read the bylaws and the business corporation law, there is surprisingly little legal obligation to disclose to shareholders,” says attorney Geoffrey Mazel, a partner at the law firm of Hankin & Mazel, PLLC, with offices in Manhattan and Long Island. “There is a requirement of the board to submit financial statements and minutes of annual meetings, but there isn’t an obligation in terms of transparency.”
That being said, Mazel adds that in his 30 years of experience, it helps when boards are transparent. “It eliminates suspicion and questions and talking behind people’s backs,” he says. “But certain things don’t get disclosed until it’s the appropriate time. For example, if the board is thinking of redoing the lobby in a 250-unit building, it’s up to the board to make the decision first and then invite some shareholder participation.”
When it comes to management companies, Michael Jay Wolfe, president of Midboro Management in Manhattan says that a management company is legally obligated to be transparent “to the maximum extent reasonably possible.”