Conducting HOA Board Meetings via the Web
Some associations have begun to broadcast their meetings through webcasts, thus allowing members to participate even if they're not able to personally be present. Here we discuss the trend and offer tips for making sure meetings still follow requirements.
HOA Webcasts: Rare, but Happening
In Virginia, the use of webcasts for HOA meetings is rare and informal. "We've got some associations doing them, but it's not official," says Elizabeth White, a shareholder and head of the community associations practice at the law firm of LeClairRyan in Williamsburg, Va.
They're also rare in Arizona. "I've seen it—very rarely—but I have seen it," says Kristen L. Rosenbeck, a partner at the Mulcahy Law Firm PC in Phoenix, which represents associations. "In Arizona, we just had an amendment go into effect that specifically allows telephone participation in HOA meetings as long as you can hear everybody and everybody can hear you. I'd say that reasoning can go along with an Internet feed. As long as the meeting is in a place where everyone can attend, I'd say video attendance would be OK."
A still unresolved point in Arizona is who foots the bill for the technology to make webcasts an option. "The statute doesn't address costs," says Rosenbeck. "The statute says owners 'may attend' telephonically, so I interpret that to say the HOA doesn't have to pay for the equipment necessary. If board members want to buy a computer or cell phone that has a speaker or webcam they can use, I think that's appropriate."
What to Consider Before Webcasting HOA Meetings
White sees a growing need for webcasts, but she has concerns. "HOAs have to weigh the need," she explains. "With aging populations, it's going to be interesting because you're going to have more shut–ins who can't make meetings. You'll have more need for people to view the meeting live."
White recommends restrictions on webcasts. "Streaming is going to be somewhat controversial," she says. "I see the beauty—you can't get to the meeting but can still see everything. If you don't allow live streaming, people might say you're engaging in censorship. But people do often say inappropriate things at meetings. Do you want those comments out there? Even if you edit the stream and make note of what you deleted or bleeped, that could create charges that you're hiding things."
You also have to address owners' privacy. "When you put things out there on the Internet, you also have to be careful about the unauthorized use of people's images," White explains. "Do you have the permission of everybody who's on that video to make use of their image? There are also issues of privacy. You might think: How can there be issues of privacy with people showing up to a public meeting? But who controls who sees the meeting? Is there a likelihood that people who aren't permitted to view are viewing it? You also have to worry about bootleg copies and how they can be manipulated."
White suggests a compromise. "What we've suggested to HOAs if they do a [video recording] is to put it on their website and make it password protected," she says. "Webcasts bring up a lot of issues—including the whole idea of transparency and open government—which has really saturated our association world. But there are consequences, and they can create risk–management headaches."