HOA and condominium board members have a lot of power. A number of court cases have upheld their authority over a wide range of communal issues within condo or development communities and even compared them to a "quasi-governmental organization." There's a lot of power that comes along with that. The board of directors can have a great deal of influence on unit owners and tenants' quality of life. In some circumstances, a homeowners association can even foreclose on a member's home.
But with that power comes tremendous responsibility to exercise it correctly. A big part of exercising power correctly is how you and your fellow board members conduct yourselves when it comes to planning and conducting association meetings. This is not always an easy thing to do in practice.
People get emotional when it comes to their homes. But they are a lot more reasonable if they perceive that you are conducting board business fairly and transparently. Here are our suggestions on how to run a condo and association meeting in such a professional manner.
Commit to Transparency
Being transparent isn't just limited to conducting an open meeting. A commitment to transparency also affects how you and your fellow board members conduct yourselves outside of meetings as well. You should not conduct HOA or condo association business outside of official board meetings, and you should announce and publicize every meeting in advance. Furthermore, the manner in which you advertise or announce meetings should be in accordance with procedures set forth in your community bylaws or another governing document accessible to all unit owners.
You must resist the urge to hold private meetings. If you see other members, don't discuss board business or make any decisions binding on the association or its members. If you do make such a decision without a quorum of members present, or if you do so at a non-emergency meeting that was not properly announced or advertised to your community, you run the risk of getting sued and having the decision rendered null and void.
Have an Agenda
When you start your meeting, have an agenda and stick to it. This is important because it allows other board members and participants to come prepared to discuss the planned topics and items. It also allows other interested parties to send proposals, statements and other materials for the board's consideration. If you try to run a meeting without an agenda, that means anything and everything could possibly come up.
A board member who has to prepare for everything will wind up being truly prepared for nothing.
Furthermore, take no action on any items not on the agenda for that meeting. If the subject comes up, and it's not an emergency, move to postpone action to a future meeting where the item is on the agenda - giving everyone a chance to prepare.
Having an agenda also allows you to budget time. Meetings of prepared individuals should move pretty fast. Two hours is about the maximum amount of time any official meeting should take. Schedule time for a quick break in the middle; when things get contentious, you'll want that break!
Use Parliamentary Procedure
Don't try to reinvent the wheel. Parliamentary procedure has been around for centuries because it works. You don't have to be stiff or overly formal, but you do need to respect and reinforce the rules. The gold standard for parliamentary procedure is Robert's Rules of Order. This should be your template for the conduct of any meeting.
We recommend adopting the parliamentary procedure rules in your first meeting and agreeing that any exceptions or alterations to the rules must be subject to a vote of board members. The rules should reset each year or term back to the most recent edition of the original Robert's Rules. Why the reset? Because if you stray from the classic, you'll eventually create a hybrid that new board members can't recognize.
Hopefully you won't need security (smaller organizations typically don't). But we all know tempers can flare at association meetings. If your association is very large, with a lot of people in attendance and/or you anticipate discussing a particularly contentious issue, it's better to have security and not need it than the opposite.
Documentation of attendance at board meetings and items discussed therein is vital. At a minimum, do the following:
Appoint a secretary who is specifically responsible for recording and documenting meetings, attendance and decisions.
Videotape them. With today's technology this should be easy.
Use your own audio recorder. Trust me - when push comes to shove in court, you'll want your own recording of the meeting that no one else can edit to sound more favorable to their side!
The secretary should maintain a sign-in sheet for all board members.
The board chairperson should ensure all members who are present sign in.
Appoint a timekeeper. Keep all topics within the time allotted unless the board chooses to grant additional time via rules of order or parliamentary procedure.
Give community members a reason to show up to association meetings. Offer free barbecue. Keep the kids occupied with some planned activities. Have a drawing. Bring in a guest speaker. Be creative and do whatever encourages maximum participation by the community members you are elected to serve.
The more community members you have showing up, the more they'll be vested in the success of your board and the more legitimacy you'll have when it's time to make a tough decision.
Work With Property Managers
Your property manager or company needs your board to make timely and sound decisions. No manager can be effective with a board that ducks the hard questions and doesn't authorize the things that the property management company needs to do in order to run the property effectively.
Often this is the result of a mismatch between the responsibility assigned to the management company and the authority that is actually delegated to them. The two need to be aligned. The board president should work closely with the property management company and ensure that the meeting packets that the manager prepares for the board are thorough, address all decisions the management company needs the board to address, and are distributed to board members well in advance of the meeting. The published agenda should align with the topics - and both should be published to the community.
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