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For homeowners associations and condo boards, the show must go online

By Todd Sinkins​

The coronavirus pandemic has caused everyone to reexamine the way they live. We were forced to find new ways to work and socialize that we could not have imagined before 2020.

People working and serving as volunteers in community associations face these same challenges. In many instances, they have been forced to find ways to run their communities despite state statutes that may hinder continuing association operations remotely.

Depending on the jurisdiction, associations can hold their membership meetings virtually, and some states have permanent legislation allowing meetings to be conducted remotely. Many states, however, require community association boards of directors to meet in person, so residents can observe the decision-making process.

These statutory requirements prohibit boards from making decisions outside of a meeting to ensure transparency, but they did not contemplate the advent of a pandemic that would place lives at risk if people were to meet with others outside their immediate household. Association boards have had to explore alternatives to meet and conduct business while prioritizing the health and safety of board members and residents.

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In some states, resolutions and executive orders were adopted during the pandemic to allow boards and their committees to meet by way of remote participation or to adopt emergency procedures to continue their operating and governance functions. In these states, meetings can be conducted, provided they can be viewed by the association’s membership concurrently with the proceedings and members can participate fully.

The trend of holding virtual meetings will continue as people realize the unexpected benefits of conducting association business remotely, which include:

  • Increased member participation.

  • Eliminating the need to find a large, physical location to conduct a meeting.

  • Flexibility for owners to attend using their phones, tablets and computers from wherever they may be at the time the meeting is convened.

  • Ease of sharing information through screen-sharing.

  • The ability for the presiding officer to oversee a more orderly meeting through the use of chat conversations, electronic hand-raising functions and muting speakers until recognized.

Several state legislators recognize these benefits and will probably propose legislation to permanently allow virtual meetings to be held, regardless of whether the state has a declared public health emergency.

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Boards and committees can successfully conduct their meetings virtually by using the following approaches:

  • Provide proper notice of the meeting. Send an email with a link and access instructions. Ensure that it’s a private meeting, where the host(s) can verify the identities of participants before allowing them in.

  • Establish a way for association members to participate, either by dialing or logging in to the meeting platform. Residents should have the ability to listen to the meeting, follow the agenda and, when appropriate, provide comments. Encourage participants to turn on their cameras, because this tends to foster a greater sense of community among neighbors.

  • Govern by the same parliamentary procedure or rules that apply to in-person meetings when running these virtual meetings. Agendas need to be prepared, motions need to be made and seconded, and participants must speak only when recognized by the chair.

  • Allow members to speak for a designated time during an open forum. Require all non-board or committee members to mute themselves when it’s not their turn to speak.

  • Record minutes during the board or committee meeting. These minutes must be part of the association’s records, and in some states, distributed to the membership.

  • In states with executive session laws, meet in executive session as long as the residents are removed from the online meeting.

  • Consider using a video-meeting platform that allows for screen-sharing, such as Zoom, Webex or Microsoft Teams. This lets members see the materials being considered by the board or committee in real time and will defuse any concerns that the board or committee is not being transparent in its conducting of association business.

One issue is whether to record meetings and make them available to members; there are arguments in favor and against doing so. A positive aspect is that residents can review meetings on their own time, allowing a greater percentage of the membership to be informed on their community’s affairs.

But it becomes difficult for the association to control who may receive and view the recorded meeting if a board makes the recordings available. Recordings also may be copied and shared beyond the association membership and used by parties who wish to sue the association.

In addition to virtual meetings, association boards also had to adopt new ways for residents to participate in board member elections and vote on other community matters.

Many states have laws that permit online voting and the submission of electronic proxy forms. If permitted, association boards can use an online-voting platform to conduct an election or vote on other association initiatives or governing document amendments. The online-voting platform must be able to tabulate and verify that the vote or proxy is authorized by the owner or the owner’s proxy.

In states where electronic voting is not permitted, elections held during the pandemic have been more challenging. In those cases, boards should explore whether they are permitted to have members vote using mail-in ballots. If not, they may conduct the vote using proxies that specify how the member wishes to vote.

Before conducting a virtual meeting or voting electronically, boards should consult with the association’s attorney to confirm their options in conducting their annual meeting and election.

The pandemic has opened everyone’s eyes to how laws need to be more flexible for community associations to operate and govern efficiently. States are beginning to adapt and adopt laws that allow associations to operate remotely. Board members should monitor these developments as they plan for the future.

This article first appeared in the Washington Post on January 19, 2021. Access the article here.