It is unlikely that the condo’s declaration, bylaws, rules, or policies include any reference to trust; yet good governance cannot be achieved without it. Directors might assume that meeting their fiduciary responsibilities is enough, but specific actions that provide the evidence on which trust is built are also required.
In communities where trust exists, the condo hums with vibrant energy. These condo boards are active, directors debate vigorously amongst themselves, owners question the board at every opportunity, and meetings are well-attended and lively. People are satisfied with their boards and know that they are well informed and the property is well managed.
The opposite is true of communities where a lack of trust exists. Directors must spend a lot of time defending their decisions, responding to owners who complain continually about everything, and coaxing owners to attend meetings. Directors in these communities become frustrated because they can never seem to get beyond defending themselves, and move from being reactive to proactive.
No one wants to live in the latter community. Read on to learn how to build trust in condo communities.
Speaking with one voice
Condo boards must speak with “one voice.” This means that directors may disagree and debate at board meetings, but once a decision is made, the directors end their disagreements and wholeheartedly support the decisions made. Most often, boards speak via “official channels.” It is the only practical way that a board, composed of individuals, can speak with “one voice.” This ensures that the voice of the board is accurately reflected in any communications with owners.
It also means that directors never discuss board business with anyone– not even a spouse. Directors, especially new directors, may need guidance in this area. It is easy to start chatting with neighbours and then veer into a discussion about board business.
In theory, following this principle is easy; in practice, it is much more challenging. It helps if the director already knows what to say when the situation arises. A potential answer is to politely explain that he or she can’t discuss board business outside of meetings because doing so would be a breach of the condo’s code of conduct.
Keeping owners up-to-date
Any time the board has news, it is essential for the board to update the owners and send it to everyone simultaneously (as much as this is possible). Owners must know that everyone has the same information, and no one is receiving preferential treatment in getting information that others do not get.
Making documents available
Owners are the stakeholders and shareholders in the condo corporation and pay the corporation’s operating costs. It follows that the corporate records be available to owners, minus any documents with personal information.
Digitizing the condo’s records makes it possible to provide documents easily, quickly, and at no charge. Better still is to utilize an online service that provides 24/7 access to documents.
Making owners wait for weeks after requesting documents via the process created by the Condominium Authority of Ontario (CAO) is unnecessary if all the documents are already available online. Even more annoying is making owners wait for documents to be mailed to them and charge a photocopying and postage fee.
Giving more notice than required
The Condominium Act provides precise guidelines for the number of days notice that must be given to owners for events such as meetings or special assessments. The standard specified in the Act should be interpreted as the minimum. The Act does not prohibit a board from providing more notice than the minimum, so it is a good practice to do so anytime it can be provided.
When a special assessment is required, the more notice that can be given the better. More notice gives the owners additional time to arrange for financing, if necessary, or to arrange for payment—something that also takes time for some owners.
Asking owners for input
Condo boards are not required to ask owners for their input or opinions. The exception is at annual general meetings or special meetings when owners have a responsibility to attend and vote. This does not mean that boards can’t ask for input from the owners, only that they are not required to do so. A better approach would be to ask for input on things that will affect them. With the many free online tools available, it is easy to create a survey and ask owners their opinions.
It is not helpful when owners, directors, or property managers fail to be civil. Nothing destroys trust faster than nastiness in emails, meetings, chats on the property, or at the property manager’s office. Good manners remain essential at all times.
Stopping negative talk
Gossip is a part of everyday life. Anyone who shares false information or maligns directors or owners needs to be stopped immediately. By providing regular updates of accurate information, negative gossip can be held in check. Informal townhall-style meetings are excellent venues to discuss updates and offer owners opportunities to ask questions on anything condo related. It also provides owners with lots to gossip about with positive and accurate talk.
Getting it done
Even after implementing all of the recommended tips, it may still take time to build trust in the community. This is especially true if it has been lacking for many years. Taking time is expected, and boards must persevere because the results will be worth the board’s efforts.
Pat Crosscombe is the founder and CEO of BoardSpace, a company that provides board management software for condo boards and property managers.