Many HOA boards treat open forum as something to be endured, but if handled properly it can be a very positive feature of HOA meetings.
The law requires that all membership meetings (when members are voting, not the board) and open board meetings must have an open forum time, per Civil Code Section 4925(b). This is valuable element of HOA meetings is an opportunity for neighbors to convey information or concerns to board or management of which they might not be aware. This is the part of the meeting in which the board demonstrates its regard for neighborly concerns. Well-run HOA board meetings should include well-run open forum sessions, so here are some tips which may help.
Don’t Delay. Some boards prefer to schedule open forum at the end of the meeting, but it is better to have open forum early in the meeting. That shows respect to the homeowners, many of whom would like to address the board about agenda items before they are discussed. At the end of the meeting, after the agenda business is concluded, it is too late for their comments on those items.
Time Limits. Have reasonable time limits – the law specifically allows it. Three minutes is the most common standard but reduce the time limit to two minutes if at least ten people wish to speak so that everyone gets a chance without prolonging the meeting.
Speaker Limits. Per Civil Code 4925, members have the right to attend and speak at HOA meetings. Tenants, owner’s guests, or residents not on title are not members and so do not have the right to attend and speak to the board. Have a limit of one speaker per membership and do not allow each co-owner to speak.
Listen, Don’t Argue. Open forum is the one time in the meeting in which the neighbors speak and the board listens. Even if the homeowner appears to be incorrect or uninformed, do not steal their time by interrupting. Remember, the board is going to want the audience to listen and not interrupt its deliberations, so it is fair that the directors listen during open forum and show their attentiveness by taking notes. The time to respond or answer questions is after open forum is concluded. Civil Code Section 4930(b) allows a director to briefly respond to open forum statements, to answer questions, or to refer a subject to management, employee, or a committee for response.
Let The Forum Be Open. Boards and managers often are tempted to tell an open forum speaker they are off topic, or “out of order.” However, nothing in the law says that topics are limited, so even if the speaker wishes to talk about something outside the HOA, they can use their three minutes how they wish.
No Minutes. Open forum is a time for comment and the purpose of minutes is to record actions, not comments. Don’t recite or summarize in the minutes what was said in open forum.
Written Meeting Rules. Meeting rules are not required by law but are important to inform members (and directors) as to how meetings are run. Such rules should include open forum policies, so the attendees know how and when they will be able to speak.
Homeowners – Use Your Time Wisely!
Kelly G. Richardson Esq., CCAL, is a Fellow of the College of Community Association Lawyers and a Partner of Richardson | Ober | DeNichilo LLP, a California law firm known for community association advice. Submit questions to Kelly@rodllp.com. Past columns at www.HOAHomefront.com. All rights reserved®.