The AGM is often the most important meeting of the year for a condominium. The AGM provides the owners with valuable information about the condominium’s affairs with presentations from the auditor, board, management, and other professionals. It also gives owners an opportunity to voice their concerns or ask general questions about issues that might be important to them, like upcoming repair projects, parking, or landscaping. Finally, the AGM allows owners to be involved in important decisions, such as electing directors or passing a new by-law.
Most AGMs go off without a hitch and everyone goes home happy and informed. Some, however, are long and arduous battles that leave people more confused than when they started. The battles are often caused by apathy, gossip or mutiny.
A growing concern for many condominiums is apathy among owners. Many of the owners just don’t seem to care about the condominium’s affairs. While apathy is often associated with younger owners, it seems to infect people of all ages. Symptoms include:
- low attendance at meetings even when serious issues are on the agenda;
- problems achieving quorum year after year;
- inability to pass by-laws or approve other important business; and
- elections by acclamation are the norm and/or arms are normally twisted to fill all of the vacant positions on the board.
Apathy is a difficult (if not impossible) problem to solve. Maybe apathy is not the problem, but poor planning and preparation are to blame. Ensure the owners receive several notices about the meeting. Use a variety of communication methods, like email, mail, and posting notices in the elevator. Don’t pick a date that coincides with major sporting events, awards shows, elections, or important local events.
Consider asking owners why they don’t attend the meetings. Maybe owners would prefer a different day or time for the meetings. Some condominiums hold their meetings on Saturday mornings. Others during the day on a Tuesday. Find what works for your owners. For those unable to attend in person, make it easy for them to participate by accepting questions in writing and using electronic voting or electronic proxies. Lastly, make sure you pick an appropriate venue. Some owners might not feel comfortable attending a church. Others may avoid places that serve alcohol. Again, you really need to do some research and find out what works for your condominium.
Once you have them at the meeting, find a way to dazzle them so they keep coming back for more (and hopefully bring a few neighbours). Some condominiums have wine and cheese (or a barbecue) after the meeting. Others give away gifts or gift cards. Don’t put too many items on the agenda. Keep the meeting short, but informative to avoid boring them after a long day at work.
Gossip is a part of life. You’ve heard it by the water cooler in the office or read it online or in the tabloids while waiting in line at the grocery store. No one is immune. In condominiums the symptoms include:
- Secret owners’ meetings or emails where board members, management, and board supporters are not invited to participate;
- Anonymous notices posted around the building with unproven allegations about the board and management; and
- Calls from owners reporting lies they head from other owners.
There are many causes of gossip in condominiums, like in other aspects of life, but it seems to be especially common in condominiums with financial difficulties, ones where the owners do not socialize, and where the board does not communicate regularly with the owners.
Preventing gossip is impossible, but there may be ways to minimize it. Send out additional documents with the preliminary notice and the notice of meeting. Encourage owners to submit questions in advance so you can be prepared to answer their questions at the meeting. Let the owners know if a professional will be in attendance to discuss a particular issue, such as a major repair project or an ongoing legal matter. Lastly, remind the owners to be respectful and honest when discussing the upcoming meeting with other owners. Candidates should be discussing their qualifications for the position and not insinuating that the board is receiving kickbacks or engaged in other inappropriate behaviour.
Opposition is a regular occurrence at condominium meetings. It may be a single owner who questions every comment from the board saying “point of order” when the meeting has barely begun. Other times it is a group of owners who want to overthrow the board and ensure their chosen candidates are elected. Symptoms include:
- Complaints of owners harassing or deceiving owners to obtain proxies;
- Allegations of fraudulent proxies or tampering;
- Owners engaging their owner lawyer to attend the meeting; and
- Frequent interruptions at the meeting.
Opposition is not always bad. Often times it can lead to better debate or decision-making by a group. Unfortunately, opposition can also be a huge distraction from the business of the meeting. The trick is to limit the harmful types of opposition while allowing for a healthy debate of the issues.
Communication is key. People make better decisions when they are well-informed. Provide documents in advance of the meeting. Have special guests, like the engineer or lawyer, attend to speak to controversial issues to give an outsider’s opinion. Remind the owners that the professionals act for the condominium and not the board.
Encourage owners to attend in person rather than provide proxies to hear for themselves. Some condominiums keep signature cards to compare signatures on proxies to the signature on file. Others require owners to show photo identification when registering for the meeting.
Select a chairperson who is neutral, familiar with rules of order, and experienced in handling condominium meetings. Often the manager is a good choice. Some directors feel comfortable chairing meetings; some directors do not. A lawyer may be wise if the owners have their own lawyer in attendance or if there are fireworks expected at the meeting. Sometimes a third party with no involvement in the condominium is hired to chair the meeting. Often it is a lawyer or manager, but a mediator might be a good choice for some meetings.
Finally, if the meeting is getting too heated take a short recess to let everyone calm down. When you resume the meeting remind them to be respectful or the meeting will be terminated. If you have a single owner (or two) disrupting the meeting ask the person to be respectful of the other owners and remind them that they may be asked to leave the meeting if they continue to misbehave. You can also advise the other owners that they can bring a motion to limit debate or call the motion for a vote.
Addressing apathy, gossip and mutiny in condominiums is no easy task. Some of the suggestions above should help improve attendance at your next AGM and make it a more enjoyable, less stressful experience.