It’s forever and half since my last post and maybe that’s just as well. Because since I last posted, I’ve learned tons more about lotsa stuff. You guys: our pre-war, HDFC, Harlem co-op life Just Got Real.
For one, I joined two committees in our building: the beautification committee and the tenant selection committee. That was fun for a while. Now I’ve left the beautification committee because I’ve become a board member.
Guys: if you want to know what’s going on in your building: join a committee or the board. But just be aware that once you do join a committee, that’s it. The curtains are lifted for you, and you’ll start seeing all the little behind-the-scenes crap that nobody has time for. Like: board members who don’t get along with each other. Projects that have been on the books for ages and still haven’t been tackled. And also: in what ways your building is – if not entirely broken – bent, when it comes to its management.
So, of course, before buying any co-op, you must have your lawyer examine the minutes and the financials of the building. Make sure there aren’t any red flags. Your lawyer will check the financial reserves to make sure the building is financially sound. And they will scrutinize the minutes to see if there are any peculiarities. (For example: any lawsuits? Any incidences of tenants violating house rules and how the board dealt with them? What about unapproved renovations? Any weird new house rules?)
But there is another aspect of the building’s health that I think more people need to consider when buying. We certainly overlooked it. Didn’t even think to ask. I’m talking about how the Board of Directors of the co-op conduct business.
First: How long have the various board members been serving?
I didn’t know this, but ideally, board members should only serve in any position for a few years only. Two, maybe three. It’s generally not good for a building for only a handful of people to always be in power. You know what they say about the corrupting power of, well, power. I don’t like to think that our board makes corrupt dealings financially, but there needs to be a healthy turnover to get new ideas and energy. I’ve heard this sentiment uttered by several people in the building. Our president has been at it so long, she no longer feels the need to explain all of her actions. Bi-annual meetings are moved without consulting anybody for example. There’s always a good reason, I hear. But there’s never a discussion or push back.
More importantly, in the case of our building, low turnover also shows lack of interest from the other shareholders. That’s why the president has been in this position for so long in the first place : she keeps getting elected. Elections barely make quorum in this building, too. People. Aren’t. Engaged. Nobody cares to run and get stuck into the nitty gritty. They prefer to act like rental tenants instead of shareholder tenants, and just want to be lead by the hand. Let somebody else look into important manners, make decisions, and carry the responsibility. When I got elected I was thrilled and felt very accepted by the building (or at least by those who bothered to vote). But one guy who ran (the first “new guy” in AGES to run for the board) did not get elected. People don’t want new things. That may require them to think about the state of affairs in the building and consider if a change is in order. And too many are just not willing to do that. So, the board remains largely as it has for several years.
Except now I’m here too and I truly hope to make some kind of impact. While I’m really looking forward to doing some work in this capacity, however, I’m afraid I’m first going to have to work on bringing out my political animal side.