For many, Homeowners Association (HOA) meetings have long been a staple of community life. But the usual face-to-face gatherings took a back seat when the pandemic hit as virtual meetings stepped into the spotlight. As we move to a post-pandemic world, it's worth asking: Are virtual HOA meetings here to stay?
- The pandemic catalyzed the shift from in-person to virtual HOA meetings, providing benefits such as increased attendance and inclusivity, cost reductions, convenience, and safety. However, this transition also faced challenges, including technical difficulties, reduced personal engagement, security concerns, and legal restrictions.
- Many states have updated their legislation to allow virtual HOA meetings in response to the pandemic and changing homeowner preferences. However, the legal landscapes vary across different states, necessitating HOAs to review their bylaws and governing documents and to seek legal counsel as needed. The article summarizes the current HOA laws regarding remote meetings in California, Florida, and Texas.
- Virtual HOA meetings will continue to be a viable option post-pandemic due to their convenience and technological advancement. While balancing legislative nuances, a hybrid model accommodating in-person and virtual attendance could become the norm. For effective virtual meetings, the article recommends using secure, accessible platforms, encouraging participation, ensuring privacy, and staying compliant with the regulations.
What is an HOA?
Before diving into the crux of the matter, let's quickly define an HOA. HOAs are organizations in residential communities that make and enforce rules for properties within their jurisdiction. Regular meetings are essential to HOA management; they foster community engagement, address homeowner concerns, and ensure transparent communication and collective decision-making. For an in-depth understanding, check out our previous article: "What is a Homeowners Association (HOA) and How Does it Work? An Overview for Homeowners".
The Rise of Virtual HOA Meetings
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, HOAs conducted meetings exclusively in person. The health crisis necessitated a rapid shift in how we gather, forcing many HOAs to adapt by moving their meetings online. This shift brought with it several benefits:
- Increased attendance and inclusivity: The convenience of remote attendance can lead to higher participation rates, as those with schedule conflicts or mobility issues can still attend from the comfort of their homes.
- Reduced costs: Virtual meetings eliminated the need for physical spaces, refreshments, and other amenities.
- Convenience and accessibility: Residents could participate regardless of their location.
- Safety: At the height of the pandemic, virtual meetings provided a safe alternative to gathering in person.
Challenges of Virtual HOA Meetings
Though essential, this shift to virtual meetings was challenging. There were hurdles to overcome, such as:
- Technical difficulties and digital divide: Not everyone was tech-savvy or had access to reliable internet.
- Less personal engagement: Virtual meetings sometimes lack the personal touch that face-to-face interactions provide.
- Security and privacy concerns: There were concerns over the security of online platforms.
- Legal restrictions and requirements: Most HOA regulations were initially designed with in-person meetings in mind, and virtual meetings presented a new territory often at odds with existing laws.
The Current Landscape and Trends
Numerous states have updated their legislation to accommodate virtual HOA meetings, reacting to changes in circumstances and homeowner inclinations. These modifications vary from provisional permissions to more enduring changes that could redefine the functioning of HOAs.
Considering the diverse legal contexts across various states, HOAs should carefully review their bylaws and governing documents while keeping abreast of alterations in laws and regulations. Additionally, obtaining appropriate legal advice when needed is pivotal to ensuring adherence to rules and effective governance. Let's delve into some of the disparities in HOA laws regarding remote meetings in states such as California, Florida, and Texas.
The Davis-Stirling Common Interest Development Act is the primary body of California law governing condominiums, planned developments, and other common interest developments. The Open Meeting Act does not allow fully remote meetings; HOAs must also specify a physical location. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, temporary executive orders and emergency legislation modified some of the requirements for HOA meetings, including allowing for fully remote meetings without a physical location. The Act does allow for hybrid board meetings to be conducted via teleconference under certain conditions:
- Physical Location: Notices of board meetings conducted via teleconference must identify at least one physical location where members can attend and state that the meeting will be conducted via teleconference.
- Representative Present: At least one director or a person designated by the board must be present at the physical location.
- Accessibility: The teleconference meeting must be accessible to all members. Directors and members must be able to hear one another.
(b) A teleconference, where a sufficient number of directors to establish a quorum of the board, in different locations, are connected by electronic means, through audio or video, or both. A teleconference meeting shall be conducted in a manner that protects the rights of members of the association and otherwise complies with the requirements of this act. Except for a meeting that will be held solely in executive session or conducted under Section 5450, the notice of the teleconference meeting shall identify at least one physical location so that members of the association may attend, and at least one director or a person designated by the board shall be present at that location. Participation by directors in a teleconference meeting constitutes presence at that meeting as long as all directors participating are able to hear one another, as well as members of the association speaking on matters before the board.
(a) Any member may attend board meetings, except when the board adjourns to, or meets solely in, executive session. As specified in subdivision (b) of Section 4090, a member of the association shall be entitled to attend a teleconference meeting or the portion of a teleconference meeting that is open to members, and that meeting or portion of the meeting shall be audible to the members in a location specified in the notice of the meeting.
The state of emergency in Florida expired on June 26, 2021. As a result, the "emergency powers" given to condominiums, coops, and homeowners associations in the Florida Statutes Section 718.1265 (condos), 719.128 (coops), and 720.316 (HOAs) are no longer in effect. The emergency powers statutes, amended effective July 12, 2021, specifically provide that during a declared state of emergency, the association may conduct board meetings, committee meetings, elections, and membership meetings, in whole or in part, by telephone, real-time videoconferencing, or similar real-time electronic or video communications.
After the expiration of the state of emergency, the issue of remote meetings became more complex. The Florida Statutes provide that board meetings must be open to all owners and that owners can participate remotely in the same manner as board members. However, there is ambiguity regarding the validity of remote-only meetings. Additionally, regarding owner meetings and elections, the statutes require certain conditions to be met for remote voting. Because of these legal issues, a hybrid approach is recommended in Florida, allowing in-person and remote participation.
(a) Conduct board meetings, committee meetings, elections, and membership meetings, in whole or in part, by telephone, real-time videoconferencing, or similar real-time electronic or video communication with notice given as is practicable. Such notice may be given in any practicable manner, including publication, radio, United States mail, the Internet, electronic transmission, public service announcements, and conspicuous posting on the condominium property or association property or any other means the board deems reasonable under the circumstances. Notice of decisions also may be communicated as provided in this paragraph.
(2) Board Meetings.
(a) Members of the board of administration may use e-mail as a means of communication but may not cast a vote on an association matter via e-mail. A meeting of the board of directors of an association occurs whenever a quorum of the board gathers to conduct association business. Meetings of the board must be open to all members, except for meetings between the board and its attorney with respect to proposed or pending litigation where the contents of the discussion would otherwise be governed by the attorney-client privilege. A meeting of the board must be held at a location that is accessible to a physically handicapped person if requested by a physically handicapped person who has a right to attend the meeting. The provisions of this subsection shall also apply to the meetings of any committee or other similar body when a final decision will be made regarding the expenditure of association funds and to meetings of any body vested with the power to approve or disapprove architectural decisions with respect to a specific parcel of residential property owned by a member of the community.
(b) Members have the right to attend all meetings of the board. The right to attend such meetings includes the right to speak at such meetings with reference to all designated items. The association may adopt written reasonable rules expanding the right of members to speak and governing the frequency, duration, and other manner of member statements, which rules must be consistent with this paragraph and may include a sign-up sheet for members wishing to speak. Notwithstanding any other law, meetings between the board or a committee and the association’s attorney to discuss proposed or pending litigation or meetings of the board held for the purpose of discussing personnel matters are not required to be open to the members other than directors.
Texas' response to the pandemic saw a temporary relaxation of certain regulations to facilitate the continuity of HOA operations via virtual meetings. The state recognized the importance of enabling HOAs to continue functioning while prioritizing the safety and health of community members.
Texas laws generally require HOAs to hold open meetings, but during the pandemic, there was a temporary shift to allow for virtual meetings as specified in Texas Government Code Section 551.127. On September 1, 2021, all open meeting requirements resumed for HOAs. Following the pandemic, Texas HOAs have considered the advantages of maintaining virtual meetings or adopting a hybrid model.
The Texas Property Code was updated to address the use of virtual meetings by HOAs specifically. It provides that unless the association's governing documents specifically require meetings to be held in person, an HOA board meeting can be held by teleconference or videoconference. For a meeting to be considered a teleconference or videoconference meeting under the Property Code, the meeting must be accessible to the association members in a way that they can participate and vote on matters before the board. Members must be able to hear and be heard by all other participants.
Subject to the provisions of this code and the certificate of formation and bylaws of a corporation, a meeting of the members of a corporation, the board of directors of a corporation, or any committee designated by the board of directors of a corporation may be held by means of a remote electronic communications system, including videoconferencing technology or the Internet, only if:
(1) each person entitled to participate in the meeting consents to the meeting being held by means of that system; and
(2) the system provides access to the meeting in a manner or using a method by which each person participating in the meeting can communicate concurrently with each other participant.
Section 551.002. Open Meetings Requirement
Every regular, special, or called meeting of a governmental body shall be open to the public, except as provided by this chapter.
Section 551.0015 Certain Property Owners' Associations Subject to Law
(a) A property owners' association is subject to this chapter in the same manner as a governmental body:
(A) membership in the property owners' association is mandatory for owners or for a defined class of owners of private real property in a defined geographic area in a county with a population of 2.8 million or more or in a county adjacent to a county with a population of 2.8 million or more;
(B) the property owners' association has the power to make mandatory special assessments for capital improvements or mandatory regular assessments; and
(C) the amount of the mandatory special or regular assessments is or has ever been based in whole or in part on the value at which the state or a local governmental body assesses the property for purposes of ad valorem taxation under Section 20, Article VIII, Texas Constitution; or
(2) if the property owners' association:
(A) provides maintenance, preservation, and architectural control of residential and commercial property within a defined geographic area in a county with a population of 2.8 million or more or in a county adjacent to a county with a population of 2.8 million or more; and
(B) is a corporation that:
(i) is governed by a board of trustees who may employ a general manager to execute the association's bylaws and administer the business of the corporation;
(ii) does not require membership in the corporation by the owners of the property within the defined area; and
(iii) was incorporated before January 1, 2006.
(b) The governing body of the association, a committee of the association, and members of the governing body or of a committee of the association are subject to this chapter in the same manner as the governing body of a governmental body, a committee of a governmental body, and members of the governing body or of a committee of the governmental body.
Section. 551.127. Videoconference Call
(a) Except as otherwise provided by this section, this chapter does not prohibit a governmental body from holding an open or closed meeting by videoconference call.
(a-1) A member or employee of a governmental body may participate remotely in a meeting of the governmental body by means of a videoconference call if the video and audio feed of the member's or employee's participation, as applicable, is broadcast live at the meeting and complies with the provisions of this section.
(a-2) A member of a governmental body who participates in a meeting as provided by Subsection (a-1) shall be counted as present at the meeting for all purposes.
(a-3) A member of a governmental body who participates in a meeting by videoconference call shall be considered absent from any portion of the meeting during which audio or video communication with the member is lost or disconnected. The governmental body may continue the meeting only if a quorum of the body remains present at the meeting location or, if applicable, continues to participate in a meeting conducted under Subsection (c).
(b) A meeting may be held by videoconference call only if a quorum of the governmental body is physically present at one location of the meeting, except as provided by Subsection (c).
(c) A meeting of a state governmental body or a governmental body that extends into three or more counties may be held by videoconference call only if the member of the governmental body presiding over the meeting is physically present at one location of the meeting that is open to the public during the open portions of the meeting.
(d) A meeting held by videoconference call is subject to the notice requirements applicable to other meetings in addition to the notice requirements prescribed by this section.
(e) The notice of a meeting to be held by videoconference call must specify as a location of the meeting the location where a quorum of the governmental body will be physically present and specify the intent to have a quorum present at that location, except that the notice of a meeting to be held by videoconference call under Subsection (c) must specify as a location of the meeting the location where the member of the governmental body presiding over the meeting will be physically present and specify the intent to have the member of the governmental body presiding over the meeting present at that location. The location where the member of the governmental body presiding over the meeting is physically present shall be open to the public during the open portions of the meeting.
(f) Each portion of a meeting held by videoconference call that is required to be open to the public shall be visible and audible to the public at the location specified under Subsection (e). If a problem occurs that causes a meeting to no longer be visible and audible to the public at that location, the meeting must be recessed until the problem is resolved. If the problem is not resolved in six hours or less, the meeting must be adjourned.
(g) The governmental body shall make at least an audio recording of the meeting. The recording shall be made available to the public.
Predictions for the Future
Many experts believe virtual meetings will likely remain a viable option for many HOAs. The convenience factor and continued improvement in technology make them an attractive choice. Additionally, as legal frameworks adapt, virtual and hybrid models are expected to gain even more traction.
Tips for Successful Virtual HOA Meetings
If your HOA is considering continuing with virtual meetings, here are a few tips:
- Choose one of the readily available, home-accessible virtual meeting platforms: Make sure it's secure and accommodates the size of your community. Look for features such as sharing slideshows, muting, and polling. Popular options include Zoom, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams.
- Request members who need assistance with virtual attendance to provide advance notice.
- For those members who are physically present, set up a dedicated computer and speakerphone to allow everyone to hear and interact with each other. Some speakerphone options include: eMeet Luna or Anker PowerConf.
- Encourage participation and engagement: Use interactive features like polls and Q&A sessions. For a comprehensive guide on conducting effective meetings, refer to "How to Run an Effective HOA Board Meeting: A Step-by-Step Guide with a Free Agenda Template & Reference Sheet" and learn "How to Take HOA Meeting Minutes: A Step-by-Step Guide with a Free Template."
- Ensure security and privacy: Be aware of privacy policies and handle data properly.
- Stay compliant with legal requirements: Keep abreast of laws and regulations regarding virtual meetings.
As we navigate the post-pandemic landscape, the prospect of virtual HOA meetings continuing to play a significant role in community management is increasingly likely. The benefits they provide, such as increased accessibility, reduced costs, and ongoing technological advancements, make a compelling case for their permanence.
However, HOAs must balance the convenience and efficiency of virtual meetings with the legislative nuances of different states and their governing documents. A mixed or hybrid model, where in-person and virtual attendance are accommodated, could emerge as the ideal solution, harmonizing the need for safety, inclusivity, cost-effectiveness, and legal compliance.
As we venture into this new era, HOAs must stay updated with the latest laws and technologies to ensure effective and compliant operations. Your experiences and thoughts on this matter are valuable. We invite you to share your experiences and insights about virtual HOA meetings.
Footnotes & References
- California Legislative Information. Article 2. Board Meeting [4900-4955] aka "Common Interest Development Open Meeting Act".
- California Legislative Information. Article 11. Emergency Powers and Procedures .
- California Legislative Information. Article 2. Board Meeting .
- The Florida Statutes (including 2022 Special Session A and 2023 Special Session B). Chapter 718.1265 Condominiums. Association emergency powers.
- The Florida Statutes (including 2022 Special Session A and 2023 Special Session B). Chapter 719.128 Cooperatives. Association emergency powers.
- The Florida Statutes (including 2022 Special Session A and 2023 Special Session B). Chapter 720.316 Homeowners' Association. Association emergency powers.
- The Attorney General of Texas. Conducting Virtual Meetings During the COVID-19 Emergency.
- Texas Government Code. Title 5. Open Government; Ethics. Subtitle A. Open Government. Chapter 551. Open Meetings. Subchapter A. General Provisions.