If you’ve had experience with homeowners associations, you’ve probably heard about the Open Meeting Act. As an HOA board member, it’s important for you to understand what this act entails, how it differs from an open forum meeting, and how it should inform your HOA board meetings.
In this article:
Open Forum Meaning and How It Differs from the Open Meeting Act
A lot of HOA boards use the terms “open meeting” and “open forum” interchangeably. However, these two are not the same.
An open meeting is a board meeting that homeowners can attend. During this meeting, homeowners can observe the board making discussions and voting on action items.
If that’s what an open meeting is, then what is an open forum meeting? An open forum is simply a portion of the meeting where homeowners are given the floor to express their opinions. In short, an open forum is a way for homeowners to voice their concerns. An open meeting typically includes an open forum.
Some use the term “open session” to designate the portion of the board meeting when homeowners are allowed to observe. Keep in mind that board members also discuss sensitive matters that not all homeowners should be privy to. This portion of the meeting is referred to as the executive session meeting. The open meeting or open session usually takes place either before or after the executive session.
If an item doesn’t constitute an executive session matter, the board must then discuss that item during the open session or open meeting. By law, the HOA board can’t take action on any matter outside of an open meeting.
In general, there are two ways to conduct open meetings: in person and via teleconferencing. An HOA board can’t conduct an open meeting through email, except if it’s an emergency meeting. In that case, the board must send written consent to that action, which should then appear in the board meeting’s minutes.
Understanding the Open Meeting Act
The Common Interest Development Open Meeting Act, also known simply as the Open Meeting Act, is a set of provisions HOA boards must follow for board meetings. If you’re a part of your HOA board, it’s imperative to familiarize yourself with this act. Otherwise, you risk the possibility of violating the act and getting your association and board in trouble with the law.
Open Board Meeting Requirements
There are a few HOA meeting requirements the board must comply with when it comes to open board meetings. Initially, the board must provide all homeowners with a notice of the open meeting. This notice should include the time and place of the meeting as well as the agenda of items that require discussion. The board must send out this notice at least four days in advance (sometimes more depending on state laws and governing documents). The only exception to this is when the board meeting is an emergency meeting.
As for how often the board should hold open meetings, it depends on what it says in your governing documents. Open meetings tend to take place regularly, though. More often than not, HOA boards conduct these meetings monthly (for large associations) or quarterly (for small associations). This way, the board can review the association’s finances as outlined in Civil Code Section 5500.
Additionally, in terms of who can call open board meetings, the ability lies with the board president or chair, the vice president, the secretary, or any two board directors. Finally, like any other type of meeting, the secretary must record meeting minutes of the open board meeting as well.
How to Hold an Open Forum Properly
The Open Meetings Act requires every board meeting, save for the executive session, to be open for homeowners to attend.
Beyond simply observing the board’s decision-making process and listening in on discussions, though, a portion of the meeting should be dedicated to an open forum. But, when held incorrectly, an open forum meeting can quickly descend into chaos and madness. Here are a few tips on how your board can hold effective open forums:
1. Decide When to Open the Floor
Before holding your open meeting, decide when to conduct the open HOA forum. Should you start with the open forum or end with it?
Starting with the open forum gives homeowners a chance to voice their opinions immediately. This works great for those who can’t stay for the entire meeting. On the other hand, ending with the open forum also poses some benefits. Closing with the forum has shown to reduce bad behavior from residents.
2. Set Time Limits
Homeowners have a tendency to ramble on and on when given a generous amount of time. If you want to hold efficient open forums, you have to set time limits for each person as part of your HOA meeting rules.
Allow the speaker to express their concerns for a standard amount of time. Five minutes is typically enough for them to say what they need to say. If you do set a time limit, make sure you enforce this rule consistently. Don’t cut off one person and then give the next more than 10 minutes to ramble.
3. Ask Homeowners to Be Respectful
The open homeowners association forum isn’t an excuse for members to rant and point fingers. It’s an opportunity to be heard. As such, it requires everyone to stay civil during the open forum meeting. That means using respectful language and avoiding personal attacks.
4. Stay on Topic
Remind residents to only express their opinions on the issues at hand. That means anything out of the agenda is off-limits. Doing this allows you to stay on track and prevent deviating from relevant topics. It’s also a good way to keep homeowners from rambling.
5. Limit Speakers
It’s not smart to give all homeowners a chance to speak for every issue. Residents tend to repeat the comments already made by the previous speaker, which makes the entire session longer and inefficient. To combat this, it’s a good idea to set a speaker limit per issue. Some associations only allow one homeowner to speak per issue. Decide what number is best for your HOA.
6. Don’t Make Promises
Although you can certainly answer the questions homeowners pose during the open forum meeting, you should never make any promises on the spot. It’s understandable to want to resolve homeowner issues immediately, but offering promises and guarantees can expose you and the association to potential liability.
The best thing you can do is listen to the concerns members have and jot them down for later discussion. You can offer remarks that acknowledge their complaints and thank them for their input but nothing beyond that.
Can HOA Board Members Meet in Private?
Board meetings are typically made up of two parts — the open session and the executive session. The open session is the open meeting portion that members of the association can attend. It’s also when the open forum takes place. During this session, the board discusses items on the agenda that homeowners have a right to know about.
The executive session, on the other hand, is the closed-doors portion of the board meeting. During this time, board members meet in private, sometimes with the inclusion of the HOA manager, to discuss more sensitive issues that homeowners need not know. These issues are usually confidential and can include a wide range of items such as:
- Legal issues
- Personnel issues
- Disciplinary hearings
- Delinquent accounts
Outside of executive sessions, though, board members generally cannot and should not meet in private to discuss or conduct HOA business. Some state laws even disallow these types of meetings, known by some HOAs as “working” meetings.
You might feel tempted to talk about an agenda item with your fellow board members before a meeting so that all there is left to do is to vote on the issue when the meeting comes around. But, as most state laws and governing documents mandate, board members must only discuss and conduct association business during official meetings.
Good for Both Parties
Open forum meetings exist to give homeowners a chance to see HOA board meetings in action and voice their opinions on various community issues. It offers them peace of mind knowing board members are doing their job in keeping the community’s interests in mind. It doesn’t only benefit homeowners, though. By letting residents in, board members can also foster a stronger sense of trust between them and the homeowners.
If you need help navigating the requirements and prohibitions of board meetings, perhaps it is time to hire an HOA management company. Looking for the right one that suits your needs and budget, though, can be difficult. Let our online directory be your starting point.
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