Experienced directors learn that delegation is essential to effective community management. No board, or individual director, can or should be juggling all of the tasks it takes to make a community function. Duties can be assigned to individual directors with relevant background. Boards may also want to create committees with groups of experienced owners and directors to tackle a problem. In most cases, boards should rely on their managers to tell them when delegation makes sense. Managers are there to use their experience to see a common problem and quickly propose a reasonable solution that might take a volunteer more time to analyze.

By collaborating with association management, boards can not only improve results within the community, but also improve relationships with the owners. Spending less time on day to day management gives boards more time to focus on ways to serve their fellow owners.

Once boards decide which tasks to assign to managers and which tasks to keep, they should prepare a summary or resolution of that authority for their records. However, keeping track of individual projects requires more than organization. It requires constant communication between everyone involved. Boards need to establish clear guidelines for action items so that everyone knows where to go for information on any specific issue.

Authority to Act

Legally all community decisions must be made by an association’s board of directors. Boards cannot step back and ask their managers to handle everything without any guidance. Boards can anticipate some of the more time intensive tasks, and work on finding a solution that lets them maintain control over the community without micro-managing routine decisions.

With the exception of duties centered on association finances and exercising legal rights, boards are generally free to ask managers for assistance on operating the community. Whether asking managers to act as primary contact for vendors, send out warning letters for violations, or send out notice and communication to owners, boards can determine when managers are the most effective as representatives of the community.

Remember that managers only have as much authority to act as boards decide to extend to them. Boards should be comfortable with how much authority they grant to their managers, and when to expect the manager to report back to the board with updates. So when boards authorize their manager to issue a violation notice to an owner, it is reasonable for the manager to notify the board if the owner responds to the violation, requests a waiver or hearing with the board, or proposes other resolution. The updates allow the board to remain in control of the decision-making authority, without needing to be involved on every discussion on that approved topic.

Establish Communication Between the Board and the Manager

Once the Board decides what authority to give to the manager, those guidelines should be communicated in writing both to the directors and the management company. Written instructions eliminate any confusion about when the board expects the manager to act, and when the board expects to be consulted before proceeding.

For instance, management contracts establish expectations about what duties managers will fulfill. Frequently, management companies will include language in their contracts which allow them the authority to approve small projects or emergency repairs without prior board approval. This type of delegation anticipates association needs, relieves some of the urgency of finding directors and holding a board meeting, and encourages cooperation between management and the community.

On smaller projects (those between $500 or $1,000), managers will be able to minimize board time spent reviewing bids or vendors. On emergency projects (like water leaks), boards may set a higher approval to avoid any increase in damage, and reduce the overall expense of delaying a costly repair. In both situations, boards can sit down in advance and determine appropriate dollar amounts to set, and expect that managers will work within those guidelines. Managers are still required to support those approvals when it comes time to balance the accounts, so boards are still involved in the oversight of the community.

Provide Notice when Managers are Responsible

Even when boards provide clear instructions to their managers, others may not be aware how much authority managers have. Boards need to make sure that both owners and business partners know when managers are the primary point of contact. Keeping those contact points clear reduces confusion and eliminates frustration.

When boards delegate authority to managers to oversee projects within the community, that information should be shared with the owners. Associations should send notice to owners alerting them to new projects, and let the owners know that if there are any questions or problems to bring those to the attention of management. That notice keeps owners informed, and lets managers know to expect feedback during the course of any project. Owners will not be frantically calling directors at home, or chasing after contractors because they know that managers can help them solve their problems. It also gives managers an opportunity to monitor the progress with vendors, and be able to send back a detailed report for their next board meeting. Managers who can update their boards with feedback save the board from being ambushed by unhappy business partners and owners.

Boards and managers should also inform business partners of the primary point of contact. Vendors and contractors need to know which questions to take directly to managers, and which items require board input or approval. Often, the original contract or agreement will tell business partners who to contact on certain issues. When that person is the manager, boards should give the manager and the business partner the same instructions and limitations. Communication prevents business partners from trying to pressure managers to make quick decisions without board approval.

The Effect of Clear Communication

Communities cannot function without proper communication between directors, between managers and their boards, and between owners. It is important to detail as much as possible and create a plan for handling the direct communication between all three. Many owners will turn to a manager at the first sign of any problem. Managers need to know that boards trust them, and have given them the proper tools to resolve those issues. Boards need to give enough guidance so that managers know how to respond to those challenges, and not be concerned about managers exceeding their authority. When boards and managers are communicating regularly and clearly, the owners know that their community is in good hands.

Written by Robert M. DeNichilo

Robert M. DeNichilo Esq., CCAL, is a Fellow of the College of Community Association Lawyers and a Principal of Richardson|Ober|DeNichilo.