Robert’s Rules Of Order: Everything You Need To Know

Robert's Rules of Order can be a helpful guide for homeowners associations that are having trouble following a standard for meetings. But, what are these rules anyway?

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Robert’s Rules of Order can be a helpful guide for homeowners associations that are having trouble following a standard for meetings. But, what are these rules anyway?


What Is Robert’s Rules of Order?

Robert’s Rules of Order is a parliamentary procedure authored by U.S. Army officer Henry Martyn Robert. Often referred to as simply Robert’s Rules, this guide consists of procedural rules that governing bodies or agencies can follow to keep meetings systematic. The first manual was published way back in 1876, which makes the guide more than a century old.

Today, homeowners associations are just one of the many governing bodies that use Robert’s Rules of Order for meetings, both annual and board. But, there are still a lot of HOAs that don’t know about these rules or are simply too intimidated to follow them.


The Pros and Cons of Adopting Robert’s Rule of Order

There are several advantages to following Robert’s Rules of Order. For one thing, these rules help keep meetings on course by sticking to the agenda and prohibiting people from speaking out of turn. They also determine the quorum number and the majority vote requirement. Apart from that, these rules help identify when discussions can take place and when votes should occur.

On the other hand, there are some who dislike Robert’s Rules of Order. It does provide a procedural outline for orderly meetings from a general perspective. However, it can invite disorder as well, with people digging too much into the rules and things getting lost in translation.

Additionally, some of the provisions in Robert’s Rules can also conflict with state laws and an association’s governing documents. For instance, Virginia’s open meeting requirement designates a specific time for homeowners to speak at a meeting. Robert’s Rules, on the other hand, dictate that homeowners should have the ability to participate as if they were on the board as well.


Who Should Use Robert’s Rules of Orders?

robert's rules of order for meetingsMany of the older homeowners associations use Robert’s Rules as the standard. However, newer associations tend to only incorporate some of the provisions in Robert’s Rules or defer to it if an issue comes up that the bylaws can’t resolve.

It can also depend on the state where the HOA resides. For example, most associations in Florida have adopted Robert’s Rules as their governing documents dictate. But, there are also others that only refer to Robert’s Rules when all else fails. Meanwhile, in Massachusetts, most associations don’t use Robert’s Rules, only using it as a guide for creating their own procedural rules for meetings.

Whether or not an HOA should follow Robert’s Rules depends on their governing documents. If the bylaws specifically state that Robert’s Rules must be followed, then the board should do so. For certain issues that neither the governing documents nor Robert’s Rules can resolve, it is worth consulting a lawyer for help.


Important Terms to Know

Here are the most important terms every board member should know:

  • Chair – This is the presiding officer of the meeting, typically the president of the HOA.
  • Floor – A member can “have the floor” when the chair calls them to speak. It is generally inappropriate to interrupt someone who has the floor.
  • Order – Discussions are considered “in order” if the chair has properly called on the member to speak and the comments are relevant to the issue currently being tackled.
  • Motion – A motion is made to propose an issue, decision, or question in front of members for discussion or voting. Motions are required for discussions to be in order.
  • Second – A second is when another member seconds the motion of a different member. Most motions require a second to proceed.
  • Quorum – A quorum is the number of members required to be present for the association to conduct business. If there is no quorum, the meeting can’t proceed as planned. Members can find their quorum requirements in the bylaws of the association.
  • Ballot – A form of voting made in writing. Voting can also take place in the form of secret ballots, where the voter’s identity remains unknown.
  • Voice Vote – A form of voting made orally. The chair will usually ask the members to respond with either a “yes” or “no” on a particular discussion or issue. Sometimes, the chair will ask members to raise their hands instead.


Cheat Sheet for Robert’s Rules of Order

Here are the key provisions of Robert’s Rules for homeowners associations.


1. Meeting Format

Robert’s Rules of Order stipulates a general format that meetings must follow. This includes a call to order, the establishment of a quorum, a review and approval of the previous meeting’s minutes, new business, old business, and adjournment. If the governing documents permit, boards have the option of adding to this format, such as designating an open forum for homeowners either at the start or the end of the meeting.


2. Meeting Agenda

Every meeting, whether annual or board, should have a set agenda. This agenda lays out the topics for discussion and follows the format above. It should also include the general timeframe allocated for each line item. This timeframe, while helpful for keeping meetings short, should be somewhat flexible to allow for a thorough discussion.


3. Recognizing Speakers

No one should speak out of order during meetings, board members included. The chair should keep the meeting in order by disallowing members to talk out of turn. Only those members recognized by the chair can speak. This is particularly helpful for meetings with a large number of attendees. Things can quickly fall into chaos when the chair loses control of the floor.


4. Motions, Seconds, and Voting

According to Robert’s Rules, the chair should make the motions, with another board member seconding the motion made. After the motion and second, the discussion can take place. Do not allow side discussions. If no one seconds the motion, the motion effectively dies. After the discussion, the chair can then call the question, which is the time for board members to take a vote.


5. Open Forum

what is robert's rules of orderBoards should designate a time to hear discussions from the floor, which are those that come from homeowners. This can take place either at the beginning or the end of the meeting. During this time, owners can voice their opinions and provide feedback. Board members should listen attentively to the concerns of owners and allow them to finish without interruption (unless they are taking too much time or keep repeating the same sentiments over and over again).


Keep Meetings in Order

Most homeowners associations have to hold board meetings every so often. These meetings, though, can quickly become uncontrollable without proper procedural rules. With Robert’s Rules of Order, an HOA board can keep meetings on track and conduct business in a systematic manner.

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