Besides the general condition of the property, another positive first impression on new members can be board meetings that are efficient, positive, and orderly. However, how does a new owner or director learn how board meetings should be conducted? Associations are not required by law to have meeting rules, but these rules can be extremely helpful in guiding attendees and directors. Much of the rules can be derived from statutes (Open Meeting Act, Civil Code 4900-4955), but good meeting rules can add other important guidance.
Meeting rules topics could include:
Who can attend board meetings? Under the Open Meetings Act, only members are entitled to attend open meetings, but what about tenants, non-landlord spouses, lawyers, children of landlords or service providers ? The rules might reaffirm that only members can attend, or might state whether someone else can attend.
What is the order of business that the HOA board usually follows? A template agenda can be included in the rules to inform HOA members of the order of things in board meetings.
How is the Open Forum managed? Is it at the beginning or at the end of meetings? Can the board vote to have a special open forum on a limited issue during the meeting? What is the deadline for owner feedback? Reasonable open forum guidelines will help.
What behavior is not allowed at board meetings? The rules should contain clear boundaries of behavior – boundaries that no reasonable person would dispute. Meeting rules should specify what is not permitted and thus promote reasonable behavior at board meetings.
If someone disrupts the meeting, what does the council do? There is nothing more unfair to the council and owners present than when one or more owners hijack a meeting with loud behavior. I have attended meetings where the purpose of the disrupters was clearly to try to force the board to adjourn and to prevent the board from deciding certain items on the agenda. This is reprehensible behavior that should not be tolerated. Rules should include escalation of response to disruptions. The escalation should begin with a warning from the president, followed by a motion from the board of censure (asking the owner to be quiet), followed by a motion to expel the offending owner from the meeting. It is not fair for anyone to allow bullies to prevent the board from managing the affairs of the association.
If the owner is summoned to a hearing, what will happen? Quite often I attend disciplinary hearings or refund hearings where the HOA member called into the hearing is simply lost, not knowing what is expected of them or how to proceed. Meeting rules can explain how disciplinary and damage reimbursement hearings are conducted in common areas. This would help educate members on how to prepare, resulting in better and fairer hearings.
What happens in closed sessions, which owners often consider mysterious? Why not include in the rules an explanation of what the law allows councils to discuss behind closed doors – and those rules can also remind council.
Following rules of conduct can be a very positive statement about a community’s values. Take the time to consult with the association’s legal counsel and create and adopt clear and reasonable rules for association meetings.
Kelly G. Richardson, Esq. is a member of the College of Community Association Lawyers and a partner at Richardson Ober DeNichilo LLP, a California law firm known for its advice to community associations. Submit your questions to [email protected] Past columns on www.HOAHomefront.com.