Q: Can the board of a homeowners’ association hold “Zoom only” meetings and not permit Owners to attend? (M.M., via e-mail)
A: Subject to certain exceptions, I do not believe a board can circumvent the “sunshine laws” by using “remote only” meetings.
There are exceptions in the law which permit board meetings to be closed. These situations are limited to meetings with legal counsel regarding pending or proposed litigation and meetings regarding “personnel matters.” If these issues are addressed in a properly closed meeting, I see no issues with the meeting being completely remote as long as all directors are agreeable.
Beyond that, there is a serious question about whether “remote-only” board meetings are even legally permissible in the absence of emergency conditions.
It is not unusual for all of the board members to be away from the community when a meeting is held, especially during certain months of the year. The proper practice in those cases is for the meeting to still have a “location,” such as the community social room or the office of a management company. In the absence of either of those being an option, your attorneys should allow the use of their facilities at no charge if there is no need for legal participation.
At the “location” of the meeting, there would need to be a device in the same media the absentee directors are using. A speaker phone is sufficient for the meeting location if it is an audio conference call. If it is an audio and video conference, a device would need to be available to allow those in the room to see and hear who is speaking, be seen, and heard if they wish to speak to designated agenda items.
In those cases, there is no legal requirement to allow absentee Owners who are not physically present at the meeting to “log in” remotely. However, many associations permit that practice in light of current technology and behavioral trends since the pandemic. If a board is going to have a “remote only” meeting with no physical location, and again, that is legally dubious, then every Owner should be given the opportunity to log in using the same platform the directors are using for the meeting.
Q: Recently, the board of our homeowners’ association advertised a meeting to approve the yearly budget. They only posted the notice as they do for regular board meetings. No information was sent out before the meeting. I thought that the board had to mail out a copy of the budget so many days before the meeting. Is this correct? (M.K., via e-mail)
A: No. This is one area where there is a significant difference between the law for condominiums and homeowners’ associations.
The Florida Homeowners’ Association Act, Chapter 720, Florida Statutes, does not require the association to mail or otherwise personally deliver any information regarding or notice of the board meeting where the budget is to be adopted. However, that board meeting must still be noticed properly as a board meeting, which requires that notice be conspicuously posted in the community at least 48 hours in advance.
The board is required to provide each Owner with a copy of the adopted budget or notice that a copy of the adopted budget is available free of charge.
By contrast, the law does require that notice of a homeowners’ association board meeting where a special assessment is to be considered must be mailed, delivered, or electronically transmitted (where written permission to do so has been given) to the Owners at least 14 days in advance. The notice must also be posted in the community 14 days in advance of the meeting.
While special assessment procedures are generally the same, the law of condominium associations on budget adoption is the opposite of the HOA procedure. Notice of the board meeting where the budget is to be considered must be mailed, hand-delivered, or electronically transmitted to the Unit Owner at least 14 days in advance of such board meeting. The notice must include a copy of the proposed budget.
However, no specific post-budget meeting procedure is set forth in the statute.
As always, the governing documents for the individual community may come into play. They may impose stricter procedural rules or require an Owner vote for items typically entrusted to the board in most communities, including adopting budgets and special assessments.