It's almost a mantra: the more you know, the better off you are—certainly when it comes to doing the job of a condominium or HOA board member. No matter how enthused and engaged a new board appointee may be, they don't come to the job knowing everything; and no matter how seasoned a veteran board member may be, they can always hone their skills and add to their knowledge. To help all board members do their job better, there are an array of educational resources and opportunities throughout the region.
While many condo boards in the Chicagoland area make a point of orienting and offering guidance to newly elected board members, by law, there’s no certification necessary in Illinois when someone new is elected to a board. Unlike property managers, who are required by the state of Illinois to be licensed by October 1 of this year, condo and HOA board members are not required to attend training sessions upon taking their position.
“Some boards struggle to find people to fill the positions and are thrilled just to have someone volunteer,” says Cheryl Murphy, chapter executive director for CAI-IL. “There are several organizations in the area that offer education for board members.”
“Although legally and technically there is no law, some states like Florida are working toward requiring board members to get certified via some classes in order to serve on a board,” says Christine Evans of Vanguard Community Management in Schaumburg. “Many of the larger management companies offer board member training, and I fully support this.”
Of course, experienced boards understand the value of education, and will encourage new board members to educate themselves. Some boards even budget for this education by including a line item for membership in an association like CAI-IL. The Association of Condominium, Townhouse and Homeowners Associations (ACTHA) is another organization that offers resources for board members. ACTHA recently held its fall expo in Tinley Park on September 29 with seminars related to foreclosures, pets, board operations and insurance issues.
There is a lot a new board member needs to know if he or she wants to do the job right. Fortunately, there are a number of organizations with educational and professional programs designed for both veteran directors and newcomers to help guide someone through the process.
“There is not a standardized training program but there are several types of courses that various groups such as CAI and ACTHA offer,” says Keith J. Hales, president Hales Property Management, Inc. in Chicago. “Additionally, private companies such as Association Advocates and other schools offer some board member training especially for new board members.”
Associa companies offer a basic orientation online for its board members and often attorneys and CPA’s do training seminars.
“Being a board member is a serious task and I would encourage every board member and prospective board member attend as many classes and seminars as possible in order to understand their duties,” Evans says. “There is truly a limitless list of topics on which the established board members can be educated.”
Help is Out There
There are a wide variety of classes and educational events offered for board members who wish to learn more to better serve their communities—many of them free of charge. There are a wide variety of resources available to directors who wish to learn more to better serve their communities—many of them free of charge.
Of course, The Chicagoland Cooperator is an excellent—and free!—source of information on a wide variety of issues of concern to boards and residents, including law and legislation, energy conservation, insurance, and board operations, just to name a handful. There's also the upcoming Chicagoland Cooperator's annual Condo, HOA & Co-op Expo, being held this year at the Navy Pier Convention Center in Chicago on Wednesday, November 14th from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Like The Chicagoland Cooperator itself, admission to the Expo is free—but the information and educational opportunities offered within are invaluable. With nearly 200 exhibitor booths, a full day of educational seminars for board members and owners, and advice booths staffed by industry professionals—all for free—the Expo is a one-stop educational bonanza for the greater Chicago area's residential real estate community. For more information on who is exhibiting at the show, to sign up as an exhibitor, or to register for the event, go to www.chicagocondoexpo.com.
For her part, Murphy says that CAI chapters in other states have successfully implemented a board member distinction program, which encourages and recognizes board members for the education they attend and offers a suggested education track for them.
“The Illinois Chapter of CAI is looking into such a program,” she says. “Until then, new and veteran board members may attend a number of programs CAI offers specifically for board members. Some of these programs are held at our annual Conference & Exposition in February and others are held as presentations or Homeowner Forum ‘panel of experts’ question and answer sessions throughout the year. These programs all offer free or inexpensive access to valuable information.”
In an effort to educate boards, Hales Property Management will soon be teaming up with Jeremy Kreger from Stahl Cowen Crowley Addis, LLC as well as many alderman offices to provide training to various board members within respective City of Chicago wards to help educate boards.
“There is a direct link between the strength/education of board members and overall value of buildings,” Hales says. “The more education that board members spend to educate themselves will result in a higher values on the condominiums in their building.”
There are numerous seminars held periodically for the clients of particular management companies by those management companies and numerous educational opportunities at the trade shows and in between shows, sponsored by attorneys, CPA’s, contractors, and the trade associations.
Popular topics include Budgeting, Reserves, Association Administration (meeting minutes, meeting notices and annual meetings), Association Law, Accounting Principles, Dealing with Apathy, Dealing with Difficult People, Pets, Parking, Noise, Rentals, Foreclosures and Rules in General.
“Good managers are well versed in all these topics and coach their boards as the matters arise,” Evans says. “They advise and recommend and attempt to enlighten their board members. Unfortunately, too often board members decide not to heed the advice that a manager offers. Often they need to hear it from an attorney or other professional before they become believers.”
Tips for Newbies
For those taking a new seat on the board, it’s advisable to take things slow and not think you know everything right away.
“Board members need to keep in mind that they should be making decisions based on the best interest of the whole condo association and not have personal agendas,” Hales says. “All too often, we are brought into sticky situations when a board member appears to be making decisions based on their own personal interests.”
An example of this is when a board member amended a rule to forbid children to play in common areas—apparently in an effort to single out the one family in the small complex who had kids. The family subsequently filed a discrimination complaint with HUD resulting in thousands of dollars in legal bills for the association.
“This could have easily been resolved by first consulting with management or a legal resource,” Hales says. “We frequently send any updates associated with Illinois condo law, filings, requirements, etc. to boards to help board members stay on top of these changes.” Unfortunately, all too often board members decide not to heed the advice offered by their management. Often they need to hear it from an attorney or other professionals before they become believers.
Evans says the best advice she can give to new board members is to read all association documents.
“Read the appropriate state statutes for your association and mark up your copy with the items that routinely pop up for ease of referring back to them,” she says. “Make quick reference documents for your board’s use for subjects that pop up routinely, such as what is the quorum requirement for annual meetings? What is the late fee and late date for assessments? Who is responsible for which property components?”
The Role of a Manager
Many management companies offer educational courses for directors and they encourage their boards to attend them. In addition to new board members, property managers should also stay current with their education and professional development.
“Make sure your company promotes education of managers, has managers with designations, is an accredited management company, and is well-versed overall in the laws that govern associations,” Evans says. “While it is sometimes wise to shop at Walmart, it’s not always the best choice—don’t make your management decisions based solely on price.”
Property managers can also have a hand in helping board members by attending quality training programs themselves to make sure they are current on the latest industry topics.
“An educated property manager is better equipped to answer questions and solve problems on behalf of the board member,” Murphy says. “CAI-IL offers seminars, webinars, and legal forums to help property managers keep current and earn continuing education credits for their CAI designations.”
CAI National also offers extensive education for managers wishing to pursue an industry designation. In addition to classes and materials, more and more directors are using social media sites such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and Google+ to find answers to their association issues and/or to find like-minded individuals serving these functions throughout the country.
In addition to attending seminars and legal forums, new board members should try to network as much as possible and meet board members from other communities to learn what they are doing. Experts also say to cultivate your resources and establish relationships with service professionals from a number of different companies and different industries. The more people that a new board member can meet and learn from, the better off they will be.
Keith Loria is a freelance writer and a frequent contributor to The Chicagoland Cooperator.