Condo Board Lessons from Michael Scott and The Office

Published on: February 26, 2020

You’ve learned condo board lessons from The Godfather, now it’s time to learn lessons from The Office.  The source of most of the wisdom comes directly from Michael Scott’s complete lack thereof.

 “Wikipedia is the best thing ever. Anyone in the world can write anything they want about any subject. So you know you are getting the best possible information.”  – Michael Scott 

  • Of course this is patently false! But the takeaway that is an expert is a board member’s best friend.  Paying an engineer to do a reserve study is more expensive than a walk around the property with a contractor but the benefit of a properly done study is worth far more than the cost.  Likewise, an insurance agent with a depth of knowledge in the area of condo insurance is a must for any association.  Hiring vendors who are true experts puts your association on the path to success and well-being.

“No, I’m not going to tell them about the downsizing. If a patient has cancer, you don’t tell them.” – Michael Scott 

  • More completely awful advice from Michael Scott! But from that advice comes another important lesson:   Divulging bad news to owners is never fun, but it must be done as soon as is practicable.  If a supplemental assessment is going to be necessary, letting owners know now allows them to prepare financially.  The worst thing a board can do is delay the pain of bad news and force owners to scramble to come up with money in a short timeframe.

“Do I need to be liked? Absolutely not. I like to be liked. I enjoy being liked. I have to be liked. But it’s not like a compulsive need to be liked. Like my need to be praised.” – Michael Scott 

While Michael did purchase a condo unit, he would not have made a good trustee. If you’re looking for praise, being a condo trustee or manager is not the way to get it unfortunately.  But, please know your work is critically important and all owners benefit from their devoted board members.  Whether the owners realize it or not, what a board does is incredibly meaningful to each and every resident.  Condo unit owners, please thank your trustees and manager the next time you see them.

“Would I rather be feared or loved? Easy. Both. I want people to be afraid of how much they love me.” – Michael Scott 

Michael Scott surely had a way with words. Choosing between the two, Board members should seek to be loved not feared.  A common refrain from unit owners is that they feel the board is out to get them or that the board treats individuals differently.  99% of the time, that sentiment is wholly off base, but board members should always consider the decisions they make from the perspective of the ownership.  How will non-board member owners perceive a decision of the Board?  What questions will come up after this decision is made?  If enforcement of rules is a big concern, letting owners understand why a set of new rules was created is better than suddenly imposing severe punishments to induce compliance.  Love vs. fear.

“This is a dream that I’ve had…since lunch…and I’m not giving it up now.” – Michael Scott

  • If your board is considering a large project or any kind of important decision, take the time to consider it and explore all pros and cons. Rushing into a decision is always a bad move.  Board members are running a business and should approach decision-making from that perspective.

“Ultimatums are key. Basically nobody does anything for me unless I threaten to kill myself.” – Kelly Kapoor 

This is an extreme view (obviously), but I think what Kelly was trying to say is that when it comes to rule enforcement, providing clear instructions and deadlines to owners is critical. “You must stop playing the drums after midnight effective immediately.  Further violations will result in fines of $200 and referral to our counsel.”  This way, the unit owner knows exactly what consequences will follow the failure to adhere to the rules.  The owner is also given the opportunity to correct the offending behavior before penalties arise.  Clearly communicating what needs to be done, and what happens if it fails to occur, is an effective way to enforce the rules.

“Sometimes I’ll start a sentence and I don’t even know where it’s going. I just hope I find it along the way.” – Michael Scott 

  • Again, this is why Michael Scott should absolutely never be a condo trustee. Boards should have a plan for the short term, medium term and long term.  What are our goals for this year, for five years from now and for 20 years from now?  The last thing boards should do is make ad hoc decisions without any real consideration towards the future.

“And I knew exactly what to do. But in a much more real sense, I had no idea what to do.” – Michael Scott 

  • Often Boards know where they want to go, but they don’t necessarily know how to get there given the many laws governing what condo boards can and cannot do. That’s why it’s critical to have experienced lawyers by your side who understand the ins and outs of condo law.  A Board may have the most benevolent of intentions in creating an “adults only” swim time not realizing they are setting themselves up for a discrimination lawsuit.

 

Written by Dean Lennon

dlennon@meeb.com