While the board is the one who makes important financial decisions for their communities, it’s the property manager who handles day-to-day administrative tasks and keeps the association’s buildings running smoothly. If there’s an issue in a condo building or homeowners association, the property manager is usually the first person to hear about it—but the job of community management is about much more than just acting as a sounding board for complaints.
“A property manager needs to be the jack-of-all-trades in the building,” says Keith J. Hales, president of Hales Property Management, Inc., which manages 37 small to mid-size properties in the Chicagoland area. “He or she is the one that has to handle everyday building issues—talking to contractors, making the building more efficient, dealing with the different personalities—it’s a pretty big shoe to fill in that there are so many different things that you have to know.”
Problems can run the gamut from a resident not being able to get their mail because their key broke off in the lock to assisting an attorney in assembling documents to sue a negligent contractor. The role of and expectations placed on a typical property manager are varied and sometimes complex, and having clear definitions of both can make things easier for manager and board alike.
Board training is very important to ensure that association boards understand their role in contrast to that of the property manager and efficient protocols are implemented and understood by all parties.
“Our recommendation and training includes total communication at all levels,” says Angela Falzone, property consultant of Chicago-based Association Advocates, Inc., which offers residential property consulting and project management services. “The management contract generally states there will be one liaison with the board/manager, however, a good manager will present all facts on all aspects of the business of the association to every board member.”
According to Andrea M. Sorgani, president of the CAI-Illinois Chapter and owner and president of ALMA Property Management Services, Inc., based in Schaumburg, one of the manager’s primary functions is to provide the board all the tools needed for the directors to make a decision—and then to implement that decision.
“The manager and the board are a team. The manager needs to build a relationship with the board that fosters trust,” she says. “The manager should have all of the information needed to assist the board to make decisions that are sound, timely and fiscally prudent.”
A board that has been together for many years may not want to hear that they’re doing something wrong, so deep reserves of diplomacy and tact can serve a manager well in the course of carrying out their duties.
Hales says that boards for smaller properties often don’t understand much about their role and that it’s the manager’s job to guide them.
“People don’t go into this knowing how to manage a building or how to run meetings,” says Hales, “so it’s the job of a property manager to give them some proper guidelines,” and help them understand the rules of the game. “A good manager will be proactive—a fast responder who checks in frequently and works together with the board.”
Some managers don’t want to question or correct the board—a shortsighted solution for keeping the peace that often makes for dysfunction later when bad habits are put in place and never corrected.
Checks and Balances
There are many approaches to fostering more cooperation between boards and property managers, but reasonable expectations and a clear understanding of each party's role will prevent frustrations on both sides. Many boards that have professional management have the incorrect assumption that they do not have to pay attention if they have a management company in place.
“This could not be farther from the truth,” says Shirley Feldmann, founder and project manager of Association Advocates. “All board members, regardless of their position on the board, should be reviewing the monthly financial statements, reviewing proposals, and participating in the decisions of the property. The manager should research and present recommendations to the board; the board makes the decision, and then the manager implements that decision.”
Sorgani stresses the importance of separating association funds and counter signing checks along with reliable, timely and correct financial statements and receivables reports.
“Timely reports to the board in advance of their meetings so that there is time for the board member to contact the manager with any questions before the meeting is important,” she says. “This also allows the board to be prepared for the meeting by having the information well in advance.”
“Nothing happens by accident,” agrees Falzone. “All aspects of ‘adequate administrative transparency and good ethics’ must be strategically planned out and followed. Failure to do so is an accident waiting to happen.”
She advises using a simple spreadsheet or chart, showing clearly the responsibility/role of the manager, board and owners as an excellent tool to eliminate confusion, establish proper protocols, and set the tone for future professional relationships.
The manager should be involved in all areas of discussions regarding implementation or enforcement of association policies with the board, as the manager is usually the liaison between the board and owners.
“The manager should know when their knowledge/experience is exceeded and then know to which professional an issue should be given,” Sorgani says. “Many times the manager is the only one that knows that a policy will fail and their opinion was never sought before the policy was implemented and then the manager is blamed for its failure. The manager does not need to be involved in all aspects of formulating a policy but their input is invaluable in focusing the board toward a successful outcome.”
“Gaining the manager’s input on policies and guidance on selection of vendors is an excellent tool in making the right decisions, provided the manager is experienced and knowledgeable,” Falzone adds. “Good managers and management companies have quality vendors and generally good working relationships and can probably make better deals than if the board were to solicit bids or services on their own.”
Comings and Goings
When it comes to filling the positions on an HOA building’s staff, the manager’s role regarding employees of the association would normally include determining the job description, obtaining applicants, conducting interviews and checking the applicant’s references.
“However, the ultimate decision of hiring any employee is the role of the board,” says Falzone. “The alternative to this process is if the employee will be working directly for the management company as in the case of on-site office staffing. But even in this scenario, the board should be allowed a say-so in the final decision.”
Background checks, licensing verification, and criminal records checks would usually be handled by the manager, or possibly a subcommittee of the board for purpose of the hire.
“Terminating a staff member is also up to the board, although managers may be the person who actually handles the termination of the employee,” Sorgani says. “Although the manager has supervisory responsibilities and will have influence over the termination of an employee; the board typically makes the decision.”
Check the Contract
Managers, specifically on-site managers, very often get caught up in multiple requests and perform more work for their boards than is required.
“So often members contact the manager for answers to questions or with issues that are not ‘technically’ within the contract or responsibility of the manager. However, we are a service business and assisting the owners as best we can when asked to help is part of our role,” Sorgani says. “This can be time consuming in addition to all of the phone calls, response to correspondence, writing and follow up of rule violations, follow up with delinquent payments (foreclosures, possessions, evictions), emergency fire/flood situations, financial reports to produce, checks to process, payments to receive and process, etc.”
The written contract is a general guide along with educating the board members as to their individual responsibilities as a part of the board.
“When in doubt, the contract should be reviewed by both parties. If the board is requesting services that are not included, renegotiations can be considered, and/or outsourcing the added requirements is not necessarily the job of the manager,” Falzone says. “The contract should stipulate very carefully what is expected of the manager and management company, what is extra and what is not included.”
Sorgani believes that a manager should be familiar with outside resources that can assist the board with solving problems or handle situations that may arise. The manager can then identify the resource to the board as the next step, which is beyond the responsibilities/limitations of the manager.
“If a structural engineer is needed during a building rehab or project, the manager should recommend this person since the scope of the work is beyond the manager’s expertise,” Sorgani says. “Knowledge is power, along with the ability to tap resources in the form of trusted and reliable contacts in all areas of building, maintenance and municipal code enforcement.”
A good manager will have a thorough understanding and knowledge of the management contract, the association’s CCRs, the Illinois Condominium Property Act (ICPA) and the Illinois Not for Profit Act.
The number of board and owners meetings to be attended by the manager is dictated in the contract. The ICPA and the Illinois Common Interest Community Association Act (CICAA), requires a minimum of four meetings per year, and at the very least, the manager should be obligated to attend at least these four.
“Many boards have an unrealistic expectation that managers should attend all working sessions and committee meetings,” Feldmann says. “Unless dictated in the contract, the boards should expect to pay extra for those additional services.”
Of course, it is helpful for the manager to attend all open board meetings to ensure that all questions can be answered and the manager can take action on items the board makes decisions on.
“We try to get to as many meetings as possible,” Hales says. “A lot of times, when boards have meetings on their own, a lot of questions go unanswered and it’s tough to convey what’s happening.”
Newsletters, association websites and other forms of processed information should be distributed regularly to keep all owners of an association community informed and reminded of the process in place.
“We have run some workshops and set some guidelines to let everyone know their responsibilities and understand that we are working to protect their investment,” Hales says.
Remember, the role of the manager is to ensure that the declaration, bylaws and rules and regulations of the property are adhered to and the decisions of the board are implemented.
“Managers are human and have a life, too. They cannot prevent every problem from entering the building and/or an owner’s life and when it does, it’s often not the manager’s fault,” Falzone says. “They are doing their job and are not someone’s personal caretaker. A thank you once in a while for a job well done will go a long way in building a good relationship.”
Keith Loria is a freelance writer and a frequent contributor to The Chicagoland Cooperator.