Who Can Attend Your HOA Meetings?
Does your state or homeowners association have rules covering who can attend owners' and board meetings? Here we explain potential restrictions and whether your board can and should allow exceptions.
State Rules Vary
How you treat "outsiders" depends on your state's laws and your governing documents.
In North Carolina, anyone can attend association meetings, says Michael S. Hunter, an attorney and partner at Horack Talley in Charlotte, N.C., who represents more than 500 community associations. "There are no state statutes that govern who can attend association meetings. But most homeowners associations limit meetings to members through their rules or regulations. Some invite tenants because they want them to feel a part of the community, but tenants don't have any legal right to attend."
California homeowners associations have to look to their governing documents. "Board meetings are subject to the open meeting act," says Robert M. DeNichilo, an attorney at DeNichilo & Lindsley LLP in Irvine, Calif., who specializes in representing community associations. "California statute says members are entitled to attend, so members have to be allowed unless it's an executive session. California law doesn't define members, but they're typically defined in governing documents as owners of a property. So look at your governing documents to see if they define who's a member.
"For example, if tenants want to attend, I'd say no because they're not members," adds DeNichilo. "We've had situations where renters want to show up or even attorneys for a member. We typically will say, 'No, the meeting is open only to members,' and we've asked them to leave."
Should You Restrict Attendance?
If you restrict attendance at your meetings, be clear on your restrictions.
"I advise our clients that the most important rule is to have a rational policy that's consistently applied," says Marc Andrew Landis, a partner at Phillips Nizer LLP in New York City who advises associations and co-ops and is a member of the executive board of the Council of New York Cooperatives and Condominiums. "Most boards have closed meetings, although some--especially in larger buildings--will allow co-op shareholders or condo unit owners to meet with the board to raise individual questions or concerns about building issues before the board goes into its 'closed' business session.
"The annual and special owners' meetings are often attended by shareholders and owners, as well as spouses or other family members who reside at the property," Landis adds. "However, the due process rights of shareholders and owners must be observed. For example, the decision of a board or owners to terminate a shareholder's cooperative lease will be subject to challenge if the shareholder isn't given a hearing and requisite advance notice."
Be careful not to impose rules just because you're having problems with attendees. "I tell my boards that they better have the restrictions in a rule or some kind of a tradition they've always followed," says Sharon Glenn Pratt, a principal at Pratt & Associates in Campbell, Calif., who advises many homeowners associations. "They can't all of a sudden because they're running into a problem say someone's excluded from the meeting, even though they have the power to do that. You may also run into issues if you're having a hearing and the owners want their attorney to attend if what you're doing is possibly fining them."
What about vendors? "That should be within the board's discretion," says Pratt. "Sometimes they can be helpful to come to a meeting and give a little presentation about what they offer; if you're planning to paint or reroof, it's nice to hear from a number of them. But I wouldn't advise having them there on a regular basis."
In the end, nonmembers' presence at your meetings may not be your biggest problem. "I've never had associations have problems with outsiders at meetings," says Hunter. "The problem is usually with members."