If you’re the proud owner of a co-op apartment, you’ll undoubtedly recall your co-op board application and interview. There you met with the board, an elected group of managers who also call the building home. Being a member of the board comes with some responsibility but also influence in the running of the building. If you feel that some things could be done better you might consider running for a seat at the next election. Read on to see how to approach an election and give yourself the best chance of winning.
1. Go out and meet the people
Just like any election, if you’re going to succeed, you’ll need the support of the people. A board election calls for grassroots politics, meeting people face to face, listening to their concerns and giving your message. If it’s a small building, you can easily go door-to-door and have a friendly conversation about why you feel changes are needed. This is also a good way to find out if your neighbors share the same concerns as you do.
If it’s a large building, it’s more ideal to enlist other residents who can speak with their neighbors on their specific floors. People warm more easily to those who share the same floor as them and are more likely to listen. Meeting the neighbors isn’t just about laying out your message, it’s also about collecting proxies. A proxy is a document which will allow you to act in their stead if they are unable to attend the upcoming meeting.
2. Have the right message
Regardless of how much legwork you do, if you don’t have the right message and deliver it efficiently, you’ll be out of the race. Make it clear to people why it is your running. Maybe the board is enacting new policies or repairs are coming up, and the board mishandled them the last time.
Rather than going on a smear campaign make your case by being transparent, positive and straightforward. Your message should be capable of being distilled on a single sheet of paper with the use of bullet points for easier reading. You’ll have only one shot at getting this right so make sure your flyers are the best they can be.
3. Find out who can vote
By law, the co-op must provide you with a list of shareholder’s names, addresses, and the number of shares if you request it. But to do so, you’ll need to turn in an affidavit that you’ll only be using the information for business relating to the co-op and not for commercial purposes. With this information, you’ll have a good idea of the number of votes at stake and also who’s not worth approaching. For example, if a shareholder is subletting or has a family member staying in the apartment, that person can’t vote. Only the shareholder themselves can.
Now for the big day. At the meeting you’ll need to show up with the shareholders’ proxies, sign them in, get a ballot and cast that ballot. Depending on the building, there will be different methods on how they distribute ballots. An inspector also will be present to ensure that everything goes fairly.
Before ballots are cast, each candidate is allowed to say a few final words. Use this time to state your qualification and repeat your message of what you will do if elected. If you’re not confident with public speaking that’s fine. Write out the speech and practice it a few times in front of a mirror or friend. You’ll be largely judged on how you present your message rather than the actual details of it. Remember, you don’t have to win a majority but can also win by plurality. Meaning you need more votes than other members. Also, don’t forget to smile, make eye contact and thank everyone who gave you proxies for their confidence in you.
Life in a co-op building might be a tad easier if you or your significant other has a chance to sit on the board of directors. My husband has been the secretary of our board since 2010. He initially expressed an interest in joining so he could convince the other members to add more basement storage units in hopes that we would be able to lease one for our overflow of personal belongings. (Downsizing from 2800 square feet to 825 is never easy, but that’s another blog post.)
After he had added the subject of “storage” to monthly meeting agendas for four years, finally, the board agreed to construct more units, and we were granted a locker in our basement a few months ago. Board members decide on issues like this as well as critical matters such as building the structure, general rules, and finances. Whether you’re a natural decision maker and think that becoming a board member is for you, or you have an ulterior motive like my husband, know that the title isn’t as glamorous as it sounds. Although there’s a host of advantages, being a co-op board member is probably more involved than you think.
Things to Consider Before Joining Your Co-op Board
Here are a few things to consider before you add the title of “board member” to your resume. If only co-op board meetings in New York City were this easy. Sitting on your apartment building’s co-op board is tougher than you think.
You’ll have to devote personal time
Regular meetings could interfere with your daily work and life schedule. You might have to leave your job early, eat dinner later, skip a workout session, and even lose an hour or so of sleep, depending on the day and time of the meeting. Meetings usually take place monthly and during the week, but now and then, an emergency could warrant a last-minute conference, and you are expected to drop everything and attend. Beyond meetings, emails run rampant, and paperwork requires time to review. The time you’ll spend as a board member is almost equivalent to a part-time job.
You’ll be the man (or woman) who knows too much
Strangers’ and neighbors’ finances will be laid out in front of you. Not only will you get a glimpse of salary information, but also stocks, bonds, savings, and 401K will be within eyesight. You might be uncomfortable knowing such personal stats about your new neighbor before he moves in. Of course, you’ll be expected to keep this info to yourself, so no blabbing to family or friends.
You’ll also know anything and everything that goes on in your building. A scuffle between Mrs. Jones in 3C and Mrs. Reilly in 3A; Mr. Sands in 12D who hasn’t paid his maintenance bill in six months; and that problem dog on the sixth floor who won’t stop barking. You’ll know about all of it and be involved in a resolution.
You may be forced to make decisions you don’t want to make
Major issues like installing a new elevator, renovating a lobby, hiring or firing doorman and building staff, are some of the decisions you’ll make as a board member. Capital improvement projects may result in maintenance increases or assessments (extra charges until the project is paid for.) Other shareholders might give you the evil eye in the elevator, knowing you’re partially responsible for tightening their purse strings. As a result, you might become unpopular or even disliked.
You’ll have to handle conflict
Being a board member can be stressful. With a group of passionate New Yorkers striving for the same cause (to create the best living environment while protecting their investment) disagreements between board members is the norm. Be prepared for yelling and screaming and temper tantrums; you’ll need thick skin, and be able to take all of the board meeting drama with a grain of salt.