By Sherri Hall
Property managers are used to walking around their communities and having residents come up to them with questions, complaints, suggestions and more on a regular basis. However, managers get to go home at the end of the day. For board members, though, home is the community. Oftentimes, board members are faced with these interactions with residents during their “off” time.
So, how do board members cope with basically never getting a break? And, aside from hiding inside their homes, is it possible for board members to control the amount of questions, comments and complaints they receive when enjoying the common areas of their communities, such as when they’re at the gym, pool or card room? How can board members keep from getting stressed every time they leave their homes, afraid they’ll be approached about an issue? We reached out to Community Manager Ray Barnes, CMCA, AMS, PCAM, of Associa Mid-Atlantic in Mount Laurel, New Jersey, to answer these questions and shed some light on the subject.
Barnes, who previously served on two homeowner boards prior to being recruited into the property management field, is very familiar with this situation.
“Board members commit their personal time to ensure a better way of life for themselves and their neighbors. They come in very enthusiastic, and some will invest their time into education and training,” explained Barnes.
Because of their enthusiasm, they may feel the need to constantly help or solve problems. However, this can lead to unwanted stress, especially when they are trying to enjoy themselves within the community. Some board members work full-time jobs which adds to the stress and pressure they feel when they just want to come home and relax after a long day of work and are inundated with community-related concerns from residents.
Board members should not feel as if they need to address every question and issue that homeowners hit them with when walking around the community. The best response is for the board member to remain calm and politely tell the resident that he or she will research it and get back to that person. “You don’t have to solve it right away,” Barnes said.
However, it takes time for them to realize this, noted Barnes. “They come in very committed to do a good job and they are concerned with the residents’ concerns,” he said.
Some of the board members may even have experience and education that can be helpful with specific issues. “However, they need to know their limitations, know the process by which the board acts and not overextend themselves,” said Barnes.
Therefore, Barnes suggested that board members make their limitations known right from the start. This will help keep them from repeatedly being taken advantage of by the residents.
He explained that it’s typically harder for newer board members to set limitations because they are afraid to say “no.” However, noting the limitations and the process by which concerns should be handled can be done by the board as a whole, for example at a board meeting rather than in a one-on-one setting.
Board members should communicate to the residents that they should put their concerns in writing and submit them to management. “That’s what the management company is contracted for, to shoulder the load for the board,” Barnes noted.
The manager will disseminate the information accordingly so that it can be presented to the board for review and possible action, he added.
Barnes said that oftentimes, residents whose issues have been turned down by management based on community rules, regulations or processes are typically those who go to the board members directly looking to overrule the manager’s decision.
Therefore, he said it’s important for management to tell the board members to step back, take a deep breath, review their limitations and refer the concern to management. “Let people know there is a channel they can present their concerns through and that the board will ultimately make an informed decision,” said Barnes.
Referring resident concerns to management is helpful to both the board members and the residents. “Managers are trained and educated to oversee and implement,” said Barnes. “We’re very familiar with the community rules and processes. We’re advisors to the board, and we’re here to help them.”
It’s also important that the homeowners follow the proper procedures so that there is an accurate account of the matter and what steps need to be taken to resolve it, Barnes explained.
To manage the stress of being a “public person” in the community, Barnes suggested balancing time between participating in community functions with personal time and time off-site. “Set your terms and availability to the homeowners,” said Barnes.
Sometimes, residents will call the management office and ask to speak with a board member. In the event this occurs, he suggested that the manager or staff member taking the call should ask for the concern in writing and let the person know either management or a board member will be in contact. “This gives the board member the chance to opt out and let management handle it,” said Barnes.
The board member can choose whether to contact the homeowner at that point, rather than being forced to do so on personal time. “As management, we screen the calls for them,” said Barnes. “They have to get some personal time of their own.”
However, sometimes there are certain residents who just don’t get it and just won’t leave the board members alone outside of meetings. If this is the case, Barnes suggested that the board member needs to say, “I’m on personal time. I’m a volunteer. My concerns are your concerns, but let’s do this at the proper time.”
Board members should stand up for themselves with respect. “They are individuals who have personal time needs,” said Barnes.
If a board member does this and is still getting called or badgered, then the manager should intervene and reach out to the homeowner or try to come up with an answer for the board member, Barnes noted.
If the homeowner becomes aggressive in their dealings with a board member, Barnes explained that the management staff should step in and tell that person there is a concern with the way the situation is being handled and invite the person to come and speak with them and the entire board of directors.
If the problem gets completely out of hand, the association’s attorney can be invited to sit in at the meetings and help advise or send a cease and desist letter if necessary, said Barnes.
In conclusion, Barnes advises board members to make sure they allot enough time for their personal lives versus their board of director lives. “Don’t schedule weekend workshops. Put time limits on evening meetings. Don’t be afraid to tell a resident ‘contact me at the proper time and through the proper channels.’ We admire the commitment and the service these volunteers take on, but they need to relax a little bit, take time to breathe and remember to rely on the management staff to shoulder the load for them,” Barnes said.