Did the Vote Pass? What Various Voting Requirements Mean

August 27, 2013

By Curtis G. Kimble.

You and the rest of the board have worked hard to communicate the importance of a renovation project to the members and a special assessment is desperately needed to fund the project.  But, the approval of the members is needed to pass the special assessment.  You know your CC&Rs require a majority of members to vote yes to approve a special assessment.  But, you’re not sure if it’s a majority of all of the members, or a majority of those that actually vote, or of those that show up at the meeting.

The language in CC&Rs and bylaws specifying how many votes are needed to pass a proposed action by the members, such as a special assessment or amendment to the CC&Rs, can be difficult for even experienced homeowner association professionals to understand.  CC&Rs usually require that at least one of the following three thresholds be met for a vote to pass: (1) a percentage of the total outstanding voting rights of the association, (2) a percentage of those votes that are actually cast at a meeting, or (3) a percentage of those members present at a meeting.  Here are examples of what those provisions may look like in CC&Rs.  See if you know what they mean.

1.  “This declaration may be amended if members holding at least two-thirds of the total votes of the Association approve the amendment.”

This one should be easy.  But, it can be easy to forget that this is requiring two-thirds of the total votes of the association, and not just two-thirds of the members that show up at a meeting.  So, if an HOA has 100 members with one vote each and a meeting is held to vote on a proposed amendment to the CC&Rs where 50 members attend, how many votes are needed for the amendment to pass?  If you said 67, you’re right (if you said “more than they’ll be able to get at that meeting, you’re also right).

How about the same example as above, except in a condominium association where half the members have a .75% undivided ownership interest in the common area, and the other half have 1.25%?  How many members need to vote yes for the amendment to pass?  If you said it doesn’t matter how many members vote yes, what matters is whether two-thirds of the total voting rights of the association vote yes, then you’re correct.

In a condominium, the law requires voting rights of a member to be directly tied to the undivided ownership interest of the member (Utah Code Section 57-8-24).  This means that if a member has a .75% undivided interest in the common area, that member has a .75% vote in any matter put before the association membership.  In this situation, the association needs the yes votes to add up to 66.66…% of the total voting power of the association for the vote to pass.

2.  “A special assessment shall require the approval of a majority of the members voting in person or by proxy.”

Taking the example above where the HOA has 100 members with one vote each and a meeting is held to vote on a proposed special assessment where 50 members are represented (39 in person and 11 by proxy), how many votes are needed for the special assessment to pass?  If you said “Well Curtis, we can’t tell until you tell us how many members actually voted,” then you’d be correct.  This provision requires approval from a majority of the members that actually cast a vote.  If 45 votes are actually cast, how many votes are needed to pass the assessment?  23 (more than half of the 45 votes cast).

What about this same situation but in the condominium association mentioned above where the members have percentage interests that aren’t equal?  Do you need a majority of the percentage-votes that are cast, or a majority of the actual members that cast a vote?  You need a majority of the percentage-votes that are cast, regardless of how many actual people (members) vote.  Remember, by law, membership voting rights shall be available to the unit owners according to their respective percentage interests (regardless of what the CC&Rs say).

3.  “A special assessment shall require the approval of a majority of the members represented in person or by proxy.”   

Did you spot the difference between this and number 2?  This one requires approval of a majority of the members represented at the meeting, rather than a majority of just those that actually cast a vote.  So, in the example above with 100 members where 50 members are represented at a meeting (39 in person and 11 by proxy) and 45 votes are actually cast, how many yes votes are needed?  If you said 26, you’re correct (a majority, or more than half, of 50).

If the voting language in your CC&Rs or bylaws isn’t clear, be sure the board contacts the association attorney for clarification before the association relies on a misunderstood requirement.

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8 Points of HOA Governance 101

April 24, 2013

By Curtis G. Kimble.

HOA governance isn’t simple or easy and, unfortunately, board members are just volunteers doing their best with too little time and too little money.  I think that’s why even basic principles of HOA governance are often misunderstood by board members (and managers too).  Here is some clarification of 8 frequently misunderstood issues:

1.  Officers and directors are not the same thing.  One of the most fundamental concepts of corporate governance is that directors and officers have entirely separate functions and positions.  Directors are the representatives of the members, elected by the members.  The primary, if not the sole, function of a director is to vote on the decisions before the board.  The directors make up the board, which has the authority to act for the association.

Officers are not (normally) elected by the members, they are elected or appointed by the board.  Usually, the officers are also directors, although there’s no law requiring that they be (but a lot of bylaws require it).  Officers only have the authority or power given to them specifically and expressly, by the bylaws or by the board.  Removing an officer is generally easy, the board is usually authorized to remove an officer, with or without cause.  But if a person is both an officer and a director, removing them as an officer doesn’t remove them as a director.  Removing a director may generally only be done with a vote of the members.

2.  Quorum.  What is a quorum?  Is it important?  A quorum is the minimum number of members that have to be represented at a member meeting in order to have the meeting (or the minimum number of board members that have to be present at a board meeting to have a board meeting).  That magic number will be stated in your bylaws or CC&Rs.  It may be an unreasonably high number (like 50% to 75% of all owners) or it may be a realistic number, but either way it’s required.  If it’s unreasonably high, change it, amend the bylaws, but don’t ignore it.  One of the first things to occur at any meeting should be the determination of a quorum.

3.  The documents that apply.  If your association has CC&Rs (a declaration), bylaws and articles of incorporation, do those documents have to be followed?  If so, how closely do they need to be followed?  The answers are absolutely and to the word.  I’m sure it will come as a surprise to the conscientious readers of this blog, but some boards . . .  how shall I put this . . . don’t appreciate the weight that should be given to what the governing documents say.  They tend to think you are able to pick and choose what you adhere to, or that if they simply aren’t aware of what’s in the documents, then there’s no need to comply with them.  Virtually nothing that is contained in governing documents is optional.  They must be adhered to strictly and literally.

4.  The laws that apply.  There are basically two types of HOAs in Utah – condominium HOAs (or condominium associations) and non-condo HOAs (also called PUDs or community associations).  It’s very important that you know which one you are in (consult your attorney if you don’t).

Condominiums:  The Condominium Ownership Act applies to all condominiums in Utah.

Noncondo HOAs (PUDs or community associations):  The Community Association Act applies to residential non-condo HOAs in Utah (and to mixed-use commercial/residential non-condo projects as of May 14, 2013).

Both:  The Utah Revised Nonprofit Corporation Act also applies to all associations that are incorporated as nonprofit corporations, as most are.

5.  Hierarchy of laws and documents.  If your CC&Rs and bylaws contradict each other, they aren’t simply ignored or tossed out as invalid.  There is a specific heirarchy that generally applies when documents or the law contradict each other.  When a lower document contradicts a higher document, the provision in the higher document is the valid and effective provision and the one in the lower document is ignored (until the documents are amended, which is hopefully promptly after the contradiction is found), unless the higher document is a law that specifically defers to a lower document.

In a condominium, the law states that the following order prevails:

(a) the Condo Act,
(b) the Nonprofit Corporation Act,
(c) articles of incorporation,
(d) declaration (CC&Rs),
(e) bylaws,
(f) rules.

In a non-condo HOA, the order is not set by statute or case law, but the following order should prevail:

(a) the Community Association Act,
(b) the Nonprofit Corporation Act,
(c) declaration (CC&Rs),
(d) articles of incorporation,
(e) bylaws,
(f) rules

6.  Voting Thresholds.  Too often, the subtle distinction between different voting approval thresholds are ignored.  For instance, is there a difference between these two requirements:   “a special assessment shall require the approval of a majority of the members voting in person or by proxy”  and “a special assessment shall require the approval of a majority of the members represented at a meeting in person or by proxy”?

The difference is that the first one requires approval of a majority of those members that actually cast a vote.  The second requires the approval of a majority of the members that show up at the meeting or who are represented by proxy.  So, if 90 members show up to a meeting personally, 10 have given proxies, a vote for a special assessment is held and 94 votes are cast, the number of votes needed for approval under the first requirement above is 48 (a majority of 94).  The number of votes needed for approval under the second requirement is 51 (a majority of 100).

Also remember that, in a condominium, the law requires that voting rights of each owner be directly tied to each owner’s undivided interest in the common area .  This means that if a member has a .837 percent undivided interest in the common area, that member has a .837 vote in any matter put before the association membership (elections, etc.).

7.  A board meeting is not an association meeting or member meeting.  Board meetings (usually held monthly or quarterly) are just that, meetings of the board.  While it is recommended that board meetings be open to the members and the members be allowed to speak during a specified comment period, they are not meetings of the association or member meetings. Typically, the only association meeting or member meeting is the annual meeting held once a year.

8.  HOA Registry.  Finally, remember that the law requires each association to update their information with the Utah HOA Registry within 90 days of any change in that information (e.g., after a board election where a new board member was elected, or after changing managers).  It wasn’t just a one-time requirement and it’s  not an annual renewal.  It must be updated after any change and all information required by the law for condos and the law for non-condos must be included.

This may be new information for some, but hopefully, it just serves as a helpful refresher for others.  In many HOA issues, the devil is in the details and attention to those details will help ensure proper and lawful operation and governance of your association.


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