Stephen A. Martin, Attorney at Law
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Openness may help prevent HOA legal fights

Like individuals, the boards of Home Owner Associations can have distinct personalities, interests, strengths and weaknesses. Some play well with others and stay out of trouble, while others might always be entangled in conflicts.

Knowing how to run a board and its meetings tends to be a rare skill that takes practice, humility and patience. You have to know how to be discrete and do things quietly, but for many boards, a generally positive attitude about openness serves the board and the community of members well.

Downsides of secrecy

Board members are entrusted with the legal duty of oversight over HOA affairs and finances in keeping with the law and HOA bylaws. When too much of what they do and why they do it is behind a cloak of secrecy, trouble can arise.

Lack of transparency can cause unjustified and unfair suspicion in community members, or it can even breed in board members a corrupt atmosphere of being above oversight. In a way, it doesn’t much matter which is the case. The wrong level of transparency can be corrosive, one way or another.

Knowing when it may be time for greater openness

Signs of excessive secrecy can include the following.

  • Important decisions being made via email or text.
  • Major events going unmentioned in public meetings.
  • Demands for special meetings.
  • Letters from attorneys on behalf of owners demanding information.
  • Refusals to pay assessments.
  • Recall petitions.
  • Resigning board members.
  • Hostile meetings disrupted by protests or other confrontation.

If you see any of these signs, consider inviting more people in instead of locking more people out.

Strategies for openness

Despite the need for openness, unexpected legal hazards can come from disclosing the wrong kinds of information, such as the details of mediation or the reasons for employment actions. Individual board members and the board as a body often work with attorneys who have experience with homeowner associations.

For greater transparency, consider implementing reforms like these.

  • Create and manage greater openness with sound meeting policies.
  • Allow meetings to be conducted by someone with knowledge of and appreciation for Robert’s Rules of Order instead of the person in the “highest” position.
  • Record all meetings, except in extraordinary and clearly defined circumstances, perhaps even as publicly available video.
  • Bar, if absolutely necessary, particular individuals from meetings by court injunction, especially if doing so will lead to more, not less open discussion.

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