Lessons from The Godfather for Condo Board Members

Published on: March 5, 2018

Can we learn anything about serving on a condo board from the movie The Godfather? You wouldn’t think so, but as it turns out, there is some sage advice to be found in Mario Puzo’s classic story. Let’s take a look at some memorable quotes and what they say about serving on a condo board.

Never tell anybody outside the family what you’re thinking again. – Don Corleone


Board decisions should stay between board members and the property manager. If a board votes 4 to 1 on a particular issue, the dissenting trustee should not disclose board deliberations to unit owners because he thinks the board made a mistake or that he is the only sane one of the bunch. Likewise, issues such as collections and requests for reasonable accommodations must be kept solely within the board due to the privacy rights of the affected residents.

Fredo, you’re my older brother, and I love you. But don’t ever take sides with anyone against the family again. Ever. – Michael Corleone


Similar to the above, if a board votes in favor of taking a particular action, those board members who voted against it should not try to rally the community against the majority. The “losing” faction for that particular vote shouldn’t defame the “winning” faction just because the two-sides disagree. Ultimately the majority rules and all sides must go back to working together again.

You talk about vengeance. Is vengeance going to bring your son back to you? Or my boy to me? – Don Corleone

The message here is that Boards should never retaliate against the Thorn-in-the-Side Owner who is constantly questioning board decisions or chronically filing baseless small claims cases against the Board. As much as this owner may cause your association grief, and take up way too much of your time and energy, there is nothing to be gained by seeking vengeance through spurious rules violations notices or a denial of a reasonable request made by that owner. Rules must always be enforced uniformly as to all owners.

Forgive. Forget. Life is full of misfortunes. – Don Corleone

In a similar vein to the above, no matter what uncomfortable situation comes up with a particular owner, once it’s resolved it’s time to forgive, forget and move-on. The owner who hasn’t paid fees in 8 months due to losing her job is not purposefully trying to harm the association. It’s not personal and it’s not intentional. The owner has fallen on bad times and as your attorney, I’ll get that debt paid and then life will go on as normal.

Time erodes gratitude more quickly than it does beauty – Don Corleone

Being a board member is often a thankless job. No matter how much good a board member does, all is forgotten the moment the monthly fee goes up $2.00 a month. Keep in mind, though, that even if you are not getting thanked by your fellow owners, the association could not function without each member’s hard work and dedication. At MEEB, we know how much time and effort board members put into their associations and how important that contribution is to the entire community.

What happened to your father was business. I have much respect for your father. But your father, his thinking is old-fashioned. . . Now let’s work through where we go from here. – Sollozzo

Much like mob-bosses, boards need to be forward-looking and keep up with the times. Boards should consider energy saving equipment and fixtures to lower utility bills and lessen harm to the environment. Money saved on utilities can be used for maintenance projects or for the unexpected. Likewise, Boards should plan for the future by obtaining a reserve study to determine the useful life of common elements such as roofs, siding, HVAC equipment and such. A reserve study allows the Board to strategically plan projects to avoid special assessments.

I’ll make him an offer he can’t refuse. – Don Corleone

Negotiation and settlements often make good sense. Litigation can be necessary, but it can also be avoided. Does it make sense to spend $20,000 in legal fees to get a contractor to do $10,000 in work? Surely it does not. If an issue can be negotiated and settled without resorting to litigation, everyone can benefit.

Mr. Corleone is a man who insists on hearing bad news immediately. – Tom Hagen

An engineer has told you that the building’s roof is deficient and must be repaired and re-shingled but there is no money in reserves. A large special assessment is going to be necessary to perform the necessary work and the owners are going to be extremely angry.  Do not wait until the last minute to notify the owners of the forthcoming assessment.  To the extent possible, give owners a head’s up about budget shortfalls and upcoming assessments so that they can plan accordingly knowing a large expense is coming.

The lawyer with his briefcase can steal more than a hundred men with guns. – Don Corleone

Well, let’s just say that Don Corleone wasn’t right about everything…

Written by Dean Lennon (dlennon@meeb.com)