My sincere apologies to anyone who has a birthday or anniversary in January, but after New Year's Day, I find the month of January to be the most boring month of the year. It’s cold, dark, snowy and makes one want to hibernate. So, when searching for a newsletter article topic that hadn’t already been discussed ad nauseam, I decided to clear my mind and watch my favorite cartoon - SpongeBob SquarePants. Twenty-five years ago in May, 1999 while home on maternity leave with my daughter, I stumbled across the debut of SpongeBob. I thought the first episode bizarre, but also held promise when it used a Tiny Tim song. The more I watched the show, and saw references to Monty Python skits, I was hooked.
We are here to help condominiums be ready for anything, and you don’t need to live in a pineapple under the sea.
Deciding to do a bit of “research” on SpongeBob, I naturally took to Google and was taken aback by the numerous internet postings heralding the various life lessons that SpongeBob has taught us over the years. Surprisingly, many of these “life lessons” can be used in our everyday lives, whether we are condominium trustees, unit owners, property managers or attorneys.
We all procrastinate, and we all know we do it out of fear of a situation or to avoid unpleasant conversations. Procrastination often causes a lot of unnecessary anxiety. SpongeBob is a known procrastinator. In one episode his boating school homework is to write an essay on what not to do at a stoplight. Instead of concentrating on the essay, he goofs off, takes breaks, plays with his pet snail and falls asleep and dreams he has burned down his house.
Condominium boards often procrastinate on repairs and/or maintenance to common areas and facilities. However, boards can no longer just kick the can down the road without consequences. After the Miami Surfside Condominium building collapse in 2021, new state and federal regulations are in place to prevent future building failures. Insurance companies are inspecting properties and can cancel the master insurance policy for failure to maintain the common areas and building infrastructure. In 2023 I saw insurance companies threaten cancellation if immediate repairs to roofs, sidewalks, balconies and stairways were not undertaken. Worse, a few insurance cancellations were due to boards not taking appropriate action against unit owner misbehavior that was causing property damage.
Don't be afraid to discuss difficult financial issues with owners. Failure to do so will only result in a larger or seemingly never-ending series of assessments later on when many things need to be repaired all at once. Establish a multi-year game plan to tackle maintenance issues on a timely basis. This will also lessen the financial obligation of the owners and show owners that the Board is on top of things and is working to keep the condominium in good condition, which will assist in resale value. Remember, as a trustee your fiduciary obligation is to the condominium trust and not to individual unit owners who prefer a more advantageous financial obligation in the form of lower monthly condominium fees for themselves.
Own Your Mistakes
How many times were we told while growing up that mistakes happen? We are all human, and errors will be made. Instead of sweeping them under the rug, denying the mistake or passing them off on someone else, it is far easier and faster to own the mistake, form a game plan and have everybody move on. Naturally, SpongeBob agonizes over his mistakes to the extreme, but he shows us that it is not how you start something, it’s how you finish.
As a lien enforcement attorney, I hear a wide variety of excuses/reasons why an owner has not paid and why they should also not be assessed late fees or legal fees. A common explanation I hear from owners is not that they intentionally failed to pay the common expenses, but it is somehow the fault of the Trustees and/or management company for failing to advise them of changes in the monthly condominium fees, of the change in management company, of the notice of a supplemental assessment or of the new payment procedures. Such owners never admit to failing to read and/or respond to the numerous emails or letters sent to them by management informing them of these changes – they simply complain that they didn’t have time to do so. They further deny receipt of any forms of communication advising of the changes. Go to an owners’ meeting? They don’t have time for that. If someone would only have called them before sending the account for legal action. Oh, you did call? – Then they never got your message. SpongeBob reminds us that you catch more jellyfish with kindness, patience and honesty than with anger and protest.
Ignore the Haters – And Find Positivity in Everything You Do
SpongeBob is constantly told “no” by many people; he constantly fails to pass his boating license test, and is taken advantage of by other characters, such as Plankton, the diminutive megalomaniac who wants to steal the Krabby Patty formula and take over the world, by using SpongeBob as his pawn. As a trustee or property manager - don't let the few negative people in a condominium community get you down. You will never get everyone to agree with you 100% of the time. There will always be a Squidward or a Plankton who meddles, complains and messes around with board plans. While we all want everyone to like us and appreciate our efforts, it will never happen. The sooner we realize this, we can move past the haters and capably provide services to the majority who do appreciate our efforts. Again, remember that as a trustee, your fiduciary obligation is to the condominium trust and not to any individual unit owner who is just seeking to have things done their way.
Be Willing to Try New Things
My favorite SpongeBob episode is “Band Geeks”. Squidward needs to form a band to perform at the Bubble Bowl in order to outdo his arch nemesis Squilliam Fancyson. He organizes the Bikini Bottom characters, none of whom know how to play any instruments (remember the line – “Is mayonnaise an instrument?”), but they continue to practice and persevere. The performance they give at the Bubble Bowl is one of the most memorable, comedic little-guy-making-good performances ever.
Unit owners should be willing to try new things by learning how the condominium functions, volunteering and running for the Board instead of complaining from the sidelines or assuming a position of indifference. Purchasing a condominium unit means you are joining a community, and a community can only continue to exist with active participation of its members.
“I’m Ready” – Be Prepared
SpongeBob faces each day with a declaration that “I’m Ready”, ready for whatever may come his way. SpongeBob always tries to have a game plan, mostly wacky and over the top, but a plan, nonetheless. Condominium management means always having a new and different issue on the table. It may be maintenance issues; it may be budget issues. It may be a few owners starting a rebellion over payment of an assessment. Or a crisis may arise with an owner’s rules violation which has the entire community in an uproar. Or an eruption over parking wars, snowplowing or smoking. Even worse, there may be a graver issue with a burst pipe, a fire or even an owner death in a unit. Both trustees and property managers need to have a game plan in place for when the ordinary turns extraordinary.
SpongeBob can be annoying, but overall, he is a kind and generous (to a fault) invertebrate. When SpongeBob doesn’t understand something, he turns to his friends or his boss, Mr. Krabs, for advice. Remember: when questions arise that you don't have the answers to, never hesitate to reach out to professionals for assistance and guidance. That's what MBM is here for, to answer your questions on updating condominium documents, insurance issues, lien enforcement issues, parking, storage, rules enforcement, hoarding, short-term rentals, assessments, the list goes on and on. We are here to help condominiums be ready for anything, and you don’t need to live in a pineapple under the sea.