Term Limits for Board Members: A Breath of Fresh Air or a Lack of Oxygen?

Term Limits for Board Members:

Term limits are often a hot issue at all levels of government. Does capping the tenure of an elected official clear the way for new ideas and re-energize governance, or does it cut off expertise and knowledge that can really only be acquired over time? There are compelling cases to be made on both sides of the debate - and the issue faces condo and co-op communities too. Would term limits bring new ideas and ways of doing things to traditionally sluggish and stodgy boards, or would they usher experience right out the door?

Board Participation

Unlike elected positions at local, state, and federal levels, serving on the board of a condo, co-op or HOA is an unpaid, volunteer position. As such it is often difficult to get more than a handful of owners or shareholders to run for the board at any given time. Elections are often non-competitive and individual board members often serve for many years unchallenged. In this reporter’s own co-op, there have been two presidents in the past 20 years, each serving for a decade. Board members serve six to eight years on average, often retiring exhausted from the experience - and prospective new board members often have to be cajoled to run when a board seat becomes vacant.

Is it Legal?

“There isn’t any legal impediment to adopting term limits for directors or managers,” says Leni Morrison Cummins, an attorney with Cozen O’Connor in Manhattan.  “Such limits belong in the bylaws of the condominium or cooperative.  Therefore, in order to adopt term limits, it would require the building to follow the amendment requirements contained in the bylaws.” 

Cindy Petrenko, president of Complete Property Management in Vernon, New Jersey, says, “If a community wants to institute term limits, that provision will have to be added as an amendment to their governing documents. Their master deed would have to say so. Changes of this type must be made permanent.” 

Benefits vs. Drawbacks

“Yes, there are benefits” to implementing board term limits, says Morrison Cummins, “so long as the terms of managers or directors are staggered. Fresh blood is a good thing in any type of board – new ideas, perspectives, and trends can be introduced. However, this is only if the term limit provision doesn’t end up forcing an entirely new board, and if there is a good level of volunteerism in a building. Some consistency is important, especially for ongoing projects.” 

Morrison Cummins also observes that some co-op and condo communities simply don’t have enough residents with an interest in running for the board, so you might want to draft the term limit provision in such a way as to only apply if there is a contested election.

Petrenko adds that “New people bring out new ideas, and new blood diversifies the board and the communities. It’s hard to get people to run for the board, though; it’s a volunteer situation. You have to be available to the community if you make that commitment. Many residents are concerned about the repercussions of making decisions, and that holds them back. It might be hard to fill the board if there were term limits.”

In a more ‘macro’ view, Morrison Cummins says that “There is good and bad in not having term limits. The good is when there are full and fair elections, and the same individuals are voted in for decades because the shareholders and owners support them.  The bad is when the incumbent board uses its power to prevent other candidates from gaining office. An example of the latter is if a board only allows the board-recommended slate to be put on the ballot so that any other candidate must be nominated from the floor without a chance to speak or present his or her candidacy statement. On the other hand, there are directors and managers out there who have served their buildings well for decades, been a pillar of their communities and helped maintain property values. A term limit that would force someone like that out would not be a good thing.” 

All considered, term limits may be right for some communities and not for others. The major factor in adopting such is to determine whether it would work for your community, and implementing it in a thoughtful and legally supported way.

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  • Dr. Geraldine Towers on Sunday, May 30, 2021 8:30 AM
    I live in a co-op in Seaford, Long Island, N.Y. (Nassau County). I am NOT a shareholder. The complex was built in 1966. It took me 15 years to get smoke detectors installed in the common areas. There has never been an outside independent audit. The manager is a licenced C.P.A. and when questioned he responds "I audit myself". He charged a tax on garage fees for decades and when exposed refunded $40. to shareholders with the explanation that "my computer program was defective". His reaction to my repeated attempts to resolve building code violations (retroactive to 1985) is threatening and negative. He not only permits and admits paying past managers off the books but encourages the "Puppet Board" to ignore state laws. As a retired newspaper editor I approached the ongoing irregularities with " kid gloves". Since 1978 I have served as a Consumer Advocate and Liaison for many co-op in Queens, New York. My experience has helped diffuse potentially explosive situations. Over the years I have appeared before the board, sent letters and as a last resort reported issues to the Attorney General, the Nassau County D.A. and local authorities. The Complex Manager has refused to comply with New York State Laws. Should I just give up?
  • I disagreed with anyone saying that term limit is not necessary ,it is a must the longer member remain on the board the most damages they can cause ,changes are good ,new vision, new leaders. When I served on my coop board I did not expect to be there for a lifetime and I did pushed the folks to do more instead of coming in to seat down and asked how are you doing , this is a business if one is not fit they shouldn't be on any coop board, member need to educated themselves and stop relying on management for their poor decision, they need to read about coop, they need to participate in the seminar, in my days I had the late Charlie Rappaport to teach us what to look for and be concerned to and the most important issue is to keep our eyes on the management company as to where the money is being spent. I don't like to hear that people in this industry keep saying the expertise is important is this why they refused to teach other member what they should know as they remain a dinosaur on the board chair. After two terms member should have the decency to step aside ,they can come back at another time if they chose make space for new ideas and vision, in my coop I have a lady who is on our coop for the past 20 years she is still the worst member of the board she had zero management skills and no administrative skills and yet she was a principal in our school system in NYC. Board member should not play the gossips card as they do in my coop .Cooperative is a business those member are like any other member except they volunteer to represent out interest if so do the job well as volunteer stop the dictatorship, respect our democracy get the election process as was established by previous board for the past 60 years ,Every 4 years we have a presidential election Congress very two years and six years respectively people got elected not chosen as they have done in my coop for he past 5 years.Coop by law are to be respected not taken as a joke it is very insulting when a coop lawyer representing a corporation look for a pay check instead of the rule of law.