It’s Annual Meeting Season

November 10, 2011

By Curtis G. Kimble

It’s that time of the year for many associations – annual meeting season – which means every board will need to remember the new Utah laws and how to comply with them as they prepare for their association’s annual meeting.

Here are some of the key points to remember:

1.  The association’s reserve analysis or reserve study has to be presented to the members at the annual meeting each year.  The members at the meeting vote on whether to fund a reserve account and, if so, how to fund it and in what amount.  The results of that vote have to be reflected in the minutes of the meeting.

Utah law requires that every five years, a homeowner-elected board must perform, or hire someone to perform, a reserve analysis by (1) determining which improvements have a useful life of 3 years or more, then (2) determining what the cost is for maintaining those improvements over the next several years, and (3) then determining what they think the appropriate amount of the reserve fund should be.

The reserve analysis has to be reviewed and, if needed, updated every two years.  The money in the reserve fund has to be kept separate from other funds and may not be used for daily maintenance expenses, unless approved by the owners, or for any other purpose other than the purpose for which the reserve fund was established.  For associations who haven’t conducted a reserve analysis since March 1, 2008 (or ever),  the law requires them to do one by July 1, 2012.

2.  Update your association’s registration info with Utah’s Homeowners Association Registry within 90 days of any change.  Be sure to update the information with the Registry if new directors or officers are elected, as appropriate.

The consequence for not registering an HOA and keeping the registration information current is that the HOA will not be able to enforce its liens against delinquent homeowners.  It’s imperative that every HOA register and keep their info current with the state or they will lose their lien rights when collecting past-due assessments, which could have drastic effects on the HOA’s operations and finances.

3.  For non-condominium homeowners associations (single family homes, PUDs, townhomes, etc.), every homeowner-elected board is required to adopt a budget annually and to then present that budget to the homeowners at a meeting.  Since the budget will have already been adopted by the board, there is no requirement that the homeowners vote to approve the budget at the meeting.   The homeowners can, however, call a special meeting within 45 days of the first meeting and vote to disapprove the budget.  The budget will be disapproved if 51% of the total votes in the association vote to disapprove it “at a special meeting specifically called for that purpose by the lot owners.”

While that budget law doesn’t apply to condominium associations, the bylaws may contain certain requirements regarding adopting a budget.  Do you know what your bylaws say regarding budgets?

4.  Don’t forget requirements in the bylaws or other governing documents.  For instance, do you know if your bylaws require the annual meeting to be on a certain date and at a certain time?  Or if a certain notice timeframe is required?  The overarching requirement applicable to all associations is that notice of the meeting must be given and the notice must be given in a fair and reasonable manner (mailing out notices the night before the meeting won’t cut it).

5.  Don’t forget the requirements of the Utah Nonprofit Corporation Act.  For incorporated associations, the notice of an annual meeting must include a description of any matter that must be approved by the members.  Also, unless otherwise provided by the bylaws, if a meeting of members is adjourned to a different date, notice does not have to be given of the new date, if the new date is announced at the meeting before adjournment.

What about when a home is in the middle of being sold, do you know who is entitled to notice and who is entitled to vote (the buyer or seller)?  The bylaws may fix a date as the record date for determining the members entitled to vote at, and to notice of, a members’ meeting.  If the bylaws do not provide for fixing a record date, the board of directors may fix a future date as the record date.  If a record date is not fixed by either of those methods, members entitled to notice of the meeting are the members at the close of business on the business day preceding the day on which notice is given and members entitled to vote at the meeting are the members on the date of the meeting and who are otherwise eligible to vote.

Contact us if you have questions about interpreting or complying with your governing documents or the law this annual meeting season.

Minutes Can Make The Difference – Taking Proper HOA Meeting Minutes

October 22, 2011

To know where you’re going, you have to know where you’ve been.  This famous saying is all too applicable to HOAs where institutional memory can be as short as the terms of board members and boards can unwittingly address the same issues over and over again.  This is one reason why minutes are so valuable.  Unfortunately, a common problem we lawyers see is improperly prepared minutes, or worse, no minutes at all.

Perhaps the most important thing to understand about keeping proper minutes is that minutes are the record of the official actions taken by the board or the members and that an official action requires a vote.

What should minutes look like?

Anyone reading the minutes should be able to easily understand, at a minimum, what actions were taken and how they were approved. There is no hard and fast rule regarding the level of detail to be included in minutes, but minutes should reflect what was done, not what was said.  Minutes should not record every detail or statement said at the meeting and they should not reflect conversations. However, there should be enough information to make the minutes useful when they are used for reference or offered as evidence that an action was properly taken or that directors fulfilled their fiduciary duties.  Boards and secretaries tasked with recording or approving the minutes must understand the purpose and eventual use of minutes, and then use their best judgment about the degree of specificity provided in the minutes.

Boards should also be mindful of how they handle confidential or sensitive information. For example, if the board holds an executive session to discuss confidential or sensitive matters, the minutes of the meeting should indicate that the board met in executive session and the topic of the discussion, but the specifics would likely be confidential and appear only in a set of confidential-to-the-board minutes or other notes.  A separate recordkeeping system should be established for such confidential information to easily distinguish it from records that a member would otherwise be entitled to view.

What should minutes not look like?

Minutes should not record discussions or contain owner comments and should never be a transcript of every statement made by directors and others. Doing so creates potential defamation claims, becomes evidence for other claims against the board and the association, and can dissuade potential purchasers and lenders who may believe that a negative issue is much more serious than it really is.  Minutes should reflect decisions and reasons for those decisions, not discussions or specific conversations.

 At a minimum, board meeting minutes should include:

  1. Name of the association (always use the exact legal name).
  2. Date, time, location and type of meeting (regular, special, emergency, executive session).
  3. Names of directors in attendance and directors not in attendance, including the office they hold, if any (president, secretary, etc.), and names of guests in attendance who were invited to speak to the Board (contractors, attorney, accountant, etc.).  Members in attendance should not be listed.
  4. Whether a quorum was established.
  5. Any board actions (e.g., approvals, delegations of authority, directives).  It’s not necessary to show the names of those voting in favor, abstaining and in opposition to a motion, but it’s sometimes not a bad idea, especially to show those dissenting, in order to limit personal liability for the consequences of an action they disagree with.  Also include any actions (decisions, votes) taken between meetings and include details documenting that proper procedure was followed.
  6. General description of matters discussed in executive session.
  7. Once the minutes are approved by the board, they should include the signature of the secretary signifying that the minutes constitute the official record and minutes of the meeting

Once approved by the board, the minutes should be signed by the secretary or other person responsible for authenticating records of the association (See Utah Code 16-6a-818(3)). By signing the minutes, the secretary is signifying that the minutes constitute the official record and minutes of the meeting and the votes by the board occurred as recorded in the minutes.  Minutes then become proof that a vote occurred as recorded.

The official minutes should be included in the minutes book and should also be scanned and kept as electronic files, as a form of backup, among other reasons.

Additional Suggestions:

  • Include alternatives considered for important decisions to show diligence and reasonable care.
  • Consider attaching reports given to the board (so long as they may not be misconstrued to be prejudicial to the organization or to the board).
  • Record recusals from discussions and abstentions from voting;
  • Prepare a list of action items separate from the minutes, what people commit to do.
  • Include whether notice was given and/or attach the notice of the meeting or waivers of notice to the minutes.  That way all the documents relevant to noticing the meeting are also in the minute book.
  • Use a format that clearly indicates when a board action has been taken (e.g., “Resolved,” “Action”).

It’s crucial that minutes are prepared so as to document actions of the board now but without creating problems in the future.  Additionally, with the turnover experienced in association boards, it is critical to have good, complete but concise minutes so that future boards do not find themselves “reinventing the wheel” on issues that have already been addressed.

You can find sample minutes here and a sample list of action items here.

Curtis G. Kimble

Never Happen in Your HOA? Think Again. Risk Management Is More Important Than Ever.

September 30, 2011

Ignorance is not bliss.  A recent Indiana case highlights the need for homeowners associations to diligently seek out and limit their liabilities.  In March 2011, a jury found an Indiana homeowners association 100% at fault for the drowning death of one child and the personal injury of two other children, resulting in a $30.7 million judgment against the Association.

In March, 2001, three boys were playing on property owned by a homeowners association in Indiana. The property, which contains a lake created by an earthen dam, is open for use by the homeowners.  While there, the boys walked onto the ice near the dam’s overflow crib when one fell through the ice. The other two attempted to aid their brother, but they both fell through the ice as well. One boy drowned.

The Association was sued for negligence.  The plaintiffs claimed the overflow crib created currents that dangerously weakened the ice near the crib from below. They claimed this created a dangerous condition the plaintiffs could not reasonably have had knowledge of, as the ice was visibly safe for walking on at all other areas of the lake.

The plaintiffs claimed that the Association was aware of this condition, but that it failed to place warning signs or restrict access to the area in violation of standard dam safety practices. They also argued that the Association should have anticipated an accident like this would occur, but that it failed to provide safety life preservers, rope or any other safety equipment near the crib.

As Joel Meskin Esq., CIRMS and Amanda L. Krenson, Esq., point out, this case is a wakeup call for all homeowners associations.  Their article reminds us of the many benefits of comprehensive reserve study: “A reserve study is a method of understanding  the HOA’s exposures to risk and liability, whether it be a lake with latent dangers, an unfenced pool, sick trees [that could fall over or with brittle branches ready to break] or the like.  Very often, counsel or management companies, without having a baseline to work from, may not be able to help the association comply with safety issues.  Many dangers and exposures may arise from elements of the association that need repair.  Again, these are items that are monitored in a reserve study.”

Once identified, any dangerous conditions on a property should have warning signs or fences.  The CC&Rs should also contain notice and warning of any such conditions.

We can mutter and disagree with this jury all we want or try to rationalize the distinction between that case and our association, but nothing will change the fact that liability faces HOAs from all directions and a concerted and focused effort is needed to limit those liabilities or risk facing the consequences.

Curtis G. Kimble

Making Effective HOA Board Decisions

September 19, 2011

Is your board being pulled in many different directions by competing needs and demands?  They key is determining where the board’s focus is most needed and deserved.  A nine-step process was developed by two community managers to help condo and HOA boards make effective decisions.  It can be found in this article (link) and it is a great process from a practical point of view, but since this is a legal blog, I’ll go ahead and give a legal take on the first step of the process.

The first step is to determine whether the immediate issue is really a problem that the association needs to be involved with in the first place.  The board will need to examine the issue and the facts, make inquiries if necessary, review their authority (remember, a homeowners association only has the authority to act given by law or its governing documents) and review their obligations (remember your fiduciary duties and the obligations imposed by the law and the governing documents).

There are many instances where deciding to do nothing at all is a valid, and sometimes the best, decision because of any of a variety of reasons.  While a board has a duty to use ordinary care to manage the property and financial affairs of the community, if a board conducts a reasonable inquiry, considers the relevant factors, and makes an informed decision in what they believe to be the best interests of the association, then even deciding to take no action at all can be a proper decision.

Let’s look at two hypothetical instances where a board failed to act:

1.     The governing documents of the Oceanview Condominium Association provide that the association and any unit owner may enforce the covenants.  Owner A complains to the board that Owner B constantly plays his music too loud, yet other adjacent unit owners are questioned and none of them have noticed such a problem, and when talking with Owner A and Owner B, it is clear there is a long history between the two.  The board decides to take no further action.

Alleged violations are often brought to a board’s attention through a complaining resident effectively seeking to have the board intercede in what is, in realty, a personal dispute between the complainer and another resident.  In such cases, a board, rather than becoming a tool of the disgruntled resident, should refrain from involving the HOA in the issue.

2.  Five members of the Oceanview Condominium Association fail to pay assessments for common expenses.  The board does not take action to enforce their obligation to pay assessments.

In the absence of other facts or circumstances, the conclusion would be justified that the board has breached its duty to use ordinary care and prudence in managing the financial affairs of the association.

The decision not to take any action is still a decision nonetheless and as such it should be noted in the minutes of a board meeting.  I recommend also including a brief statement of the inquiry, factors and/or analysis undertaken by the board in reaching its decision.  Such a step can help the board in the future in ways too numerous to explain here.

The range of power a board holds over its community’s well being and the range of decisions a board is called on to make can be significant.  Every board should have a process for making effective, well-considered and well-documented decisions.

Curtis G. Kimble

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