Sharing Difficult Decisions with Residents Tough Talk

Like telling kids the awful truth about Santa Claus or deciding to spend the holiday bonus on treasury bonds instead of a trip to the Bahamas, sometimes we all have to say or do unpleasant or unpopular things. The same is true for co-op and condo board members, most of whom will one day face the dreary prospect of raising maintenance fees, instituting assessments or levying flip taxes. Those tasks may come with the territory but that doesn’t make it any easier for the men and women who have to step forth and break the news to friends and neighbors alike.

“It is never easy to tell shareholders that there are rough times ahead,” says Adelaide Polsinelli, a real estate broker and president of her Manhattan co-op. “The worst thing a board can do is sound an alarm before they have done their due diligence.”

What can be done to soothe the pain of an unpopular announcement or decision? What’s the best way to earn the buy-in and support of the very people on whom these issues will have the biggest impact? It boils down to preparation, honesty and lots and lots of conversation.

Don’t Rain on My Parade

While board members are faced constantly with large-scale decisions and tough calls, there are a few hot-button topics almost guaranteed to stir up trouble among residents. First among them are “money and decoration,” says attorney Dennis H. Greenstein of the Manhattan-based law firm of Seyfarth Shaw LLP. “I’ve always said, if you want a quorum at your next meeting, just tell the residents that the lobby’s being redecorated.”

And while carpeting decisions can consume hours of debate time, the real barn-burners involve that most delicate of American institutions: the wallet. “Monetary changes such as increased assessments are always a problem,” says Steve Greenbaum, director of property management for Mark Greenberg Real Estate Co. (MGRE) in Lake Success, New York.


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