The Good, the Bad and the Ugly Being on the Board

Here’s the scenario: the sponsor of your co-op, who owns enough units to throw his weight around, hires a managing agent who plays fast and loose with the municipal tax codes. So much so in fact, that he winds up in jail—and your building winds up owing some significant back taxes. The sponsor then brings in a new, wet-behind-the-ears managing agent, who pays the tax bill with an unmarked—and untraceable—starter check, which the city cashes…without crediting the proper account. It’s like a parking meter ate your quarter, but instead of 25 cents, your building just lost $90 grand.

Eileen Hartmann, the board president of her Upper West Side co-op, found herself in exactly this position five years ago, taking scissors to all that municipal red tape. It was neither glamorous nor lucrative work—to the contrary, it was painstaking and beyond tedious—but it’s all part of the compensation-free job of a conscientious board member. After an uphill battle against the city’s manifold bureaucracies, after title search upon title search, after interminable time spent on hold to no avail—and after hiring a new firm to manage the property—Hartmann finally untangled her building’s snarled finances.

“It took five years to correct that,” she recalls. “The escrow was $83,000. I refused to let them take that much money.”

The Good

Most people view serving on their building’s board in one of two ways: either as a thankless chore with more headaches than rewards, or as an opportunity to influence—and hopefully improve—the quality of life in their co-op or condo community. The reality, underscored by Hartmann’s experience, lies somewhere in between the two poles. There are benefits and there are drawbacks: the good and the bad. There are also challenges—the ugly—which highlight the positive and negative aspects of the job.

Contrary to popular belief, there are plenty of benefits to serving on a board—after all, why else would sane individuals serve on boards for decades at a stretch? For one thing, board members are similar to officers within a corporation in that they are taking an active role in managing what represents, for most people, a substantial chunk of their finances.

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