Homeowners associations vote on important matters that will impact the entire community. That includes electing members to the board, and passing certain rules. Votes may also be collected if a board member needs to be removed, if there are changes in fee structure, or to approve special assessments.
Whatever the case, it’s imperative for association members to understand what their HOA policy says about voting procedures and rights. That’s because decisions made at official HOA meetings affect the members’ quality of life and owner experience.
In this article, we’ll share some of the common procedures involved in the HOA voting process. Note that there may be a few discrepancies based on individual state law. The information featured here is general in nature and offers guidance that’s relevant to HOA elections, but if you have specific questions about processes or rights, we encourage you to speak with an HOA attorney.
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There are certain rules of order that must be followed by an HOA during the voting process. These rules depend on state laws and what’s written in the governing documents.
Robert’s Rules of Order is one such example of a common system that most associations use to establish basic election procedures, among other things. It provides governing bodies procedural rules to keep their deliberations orderly. This set of rules covers things like meeting formats, agendas and motions. However, Robert’s Rules don’t always coincide with state laws, and some associations only turn to these rules as a last resort when other systems won’t work.
Locating HOA voting rules
HOA voting rules are typically contained within the community’s CC&Rs, rules, and bylaws. These documents have all the information that members need to understand the association’s voting procedures. Governing documents should be treated as the HOA’s north star, and should be consulted to ensure issues, operations and processes are being resolved or carried out correctly.
It used to be that members would have to visit the HOA secretary’s desk to acquire their copy of the rules. Nowadays, HOAs have made it easier for members to access this information by publishing them on the association’s website.
It’s possible to create a bespoke community website that serves as the online “face” of the community, while providing access to HOA documents and community activities through a private side of the website.
When owners know the rules and how to cast their ballot, it makes it easier for them to participate and make smart, informed decisions when voting on important association matters.
Notice requirements for annual and special meetings
The notice period and method of notification required are usually contained within the association’s governing documents. Time requirements may be set based on state regulations.
In the past, associations were could only send formal notice via traditional mail. Most states do currently allow online communication methods like email because they have become ubiquitous. At the end of the day, every association has its own way of doing things.
The notice period for special meetings is usually 7 to 10 days, while the notice period for annual general meetings can be anywhere from 14 to 30 days depending on the association. Generally, HOAs require substantial notice for weighty issues related to bylaw and CC&R changes.
Notices must contain all the important information about the meeting, especially if elections are involved. The date, time, location and purpose for the notice must all be clearly stated. This way, members have enough time to do their research and find out as much as they can about the issues being tabled.
Prior to an election, some HOAs may even distribute flyers or an email newsletter informing members about the upcoming election and the voting procedures. This is a good way to keep the event top of mind, but distributing flyers alone would not be considered proper notice.
There are different voting methods available to associations that cater to all types of different scenarios. These include a ballot, secret ballot, proxy, etc. Different scenarios require different voting methods.
HOA bylaws should offer guidance on the following voting methods as they’re widely recognized by most states:
- Secret ballot: As the word implies, this method offers anonymity to the voter. Secret ballots are generally used when positions on the board are challenged (more people running than seats available). The board may also deem it necessary to hold a secret vote if they are worried owners will feel pressure to vote based on what others want them to do. Secret ballots can be implemented on any issue when a certain percentage of owners who are present in person, or by proxy, at an HOA meeting, request one.
- Ballot: A written voting ballotis when a voter writes their name and other identifying credentials on the ballot when submitting their vote.
- Proxy voting: This is when a voter gives their voting rights to another person who will cast the vote on their behalf. Members can assign proxy rights to other voters when they know that they won’t be present at the meeting. There are directed and non-directed proxies. Owners who are running for a position on the board can ask for proxies from other owners in order to increase their chances of being elected or re-elected. However, they shouldn’t be harassing people for votes. Any infraction of governing rules could result in disqualification. Some HOAs may even place a limit on the number of proxies a member can gather to prevent politicking.
- Voting electronically: Some, but not all HOAs will allow electronic voting. This can only be done with the help of a program of platform. When owners are permitted to cast e-ballots, they can vote before or during the meeting. The e-voting process is the same as the regular voting process, but owners tend to prefer the added convenience.
Most association bylaws advise unit owners to appoint other owners as proxy representatives. Other associations might allow renters to vote on behalf of the unit owner if another owner is not available. As you can probably guess, all will depend on a combination of unique association rules and state regulations.
Owners should be very careful and thoughtful when appointing as a proxy because it’s a huge responsibility. A proxy should be someone who shares the owner’s point of view on the issues being discussed. Keep in mind that the proxy document provides its holder with the authority to sign legal documents on behalf of the owner. It would be terrible if you later found out that someone signed something that you are completely against – on your behalf.
The bylaw section concerning proxies should offer clear and detailed guidance on the time limit for the submission of proxy documents, and the level of responsibility that can be assigned to a proxy.
Quorum and majority vote requirements
The term “majority vote” refers to a scenario where a majority of the members who are eligible to vote are present at the meeting. The majority vote requires the presence of at least 50% of qualifying members.
Another common issue related to majority votes in HOA meetings is that of a quorum. A quorum is when a majority of qualifying voters are present at the meeting. For instance, if the HOA bylaws stipulate that 50% of the board is required to vote on a certain issue, that is the quorum.
If an association is unable to meet quorum requirements, then the meeting cannot proceed because any decisions taken from that point will be null and void and illegal.
To pass a vote on certain issues, the association might require more than a quorum. For instance, HOA bylaws may require a 2/3 majority to remove a board member.
What about renters?
Should renters have voting rights since they live within the association community? Not necessarily. Most HOAs don’t offer voting rights to renters; the legal right to vote is reserved only for unit owners, especially when it comes to HOA board elections and other significant issues.
Challenging an election
HOA election results can be challenged due to a number of factors. For instance, elections can be challenged if the HOA doesn’t provide proper notice prior to the meeting, or if there aren’t enough members to reach a quorum.
To contest an election result, on owner would have to file a petition with the court and follow the process provided by state legislation. Of course, the HOA might have its own recourse for such matters, but each party will have a fair opportunity to present their case.
Changing voting rules
Should a community member wish to change an aspect of the association’s voting rules, they’d have to follow the requisite process. Usually, it starts with a special meeting, but it depends on individual association rules.
In most cases, the dissatisfied member must first make a suggestion to the board. From there, board members will add the amendment to a special meeting notice. An amendment of this magnitude requires majority approval, and members must be given enough time to process the information and ask questions if they want to.
An HOA will hold regular elections or votes. These events matter because they can shape the current and future reality of the association. To ensure a fair voting process, members are encouraged to read up on their rights and obligations.
Usually, all of the relevant information regarding HOA voting is contained within the community’s governing documents. But, it always helps to provide members with a refresher in the form of educational e-flyers, email newsletters and public notices on voting procedures prior to an election or an important meeting.
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