Question: Although our monthly board meetings are open to owners, we meet in the vice president’s condominium unit, which is not large enough to accommodate a large crowd, or even a relatively small one. This hasn’t been a problem, since owners never attend, but it does raise a question: Does the board have an obligation to hold its meetings in a venue large enough to accommodate them? Alternatively, can we offer a conference call option if space limitations preclude in-person attendance?
Answer: Open board meetings are a good idea and a best practice industry executives strongly recommend to boards as a means of keeping owners informed, making them feel included, and demonstrating transparency. Clearly, your board doesn’t want to turn people away from a meeting you’ve advertised as open, nor do you want to cram them uncomfortably into an inadequate space.
Even if a board member’s condominium unit is large enough to accommodate everyone who wants to attend, if you are dealing with a particularly contentious issue, you may want to think twice about holding it there, Richard Brooks, a partner in Marcus, Errico, Emmer & Brooks, suggests. If there is any possibility that a verbal fight might turn into a physical one, he says, “you don’t want that to happen in anyone’s living room.”
There is no legal barrier that would preclude boards from inviting owners to dial into a board meeting as an alternative to attending it, Brooks says. Although condominium governing documents typically require board members to meet in person, he notes, they don’t require owners to attend board meetings in person, or at all, (We’re talking here about regular board meetings, not the annual association meeting, at which owners must typically vote either in person or via proxy.) A conference call option for owners might be an acceptable alternative, Brooks says. But he doesn’t think it is the best practice for several reasons.
• Owners would hear what board members say, but they would miss the nuances of meaning that can be conveyed by facial expressions and body language.
• Many boards set aside a limited time at board meetings for owners to ask questions. Owners dialing in would be less inclined to do so, depriving board members of information and insights that can be useful to them.
• Perhaps most important, Brooks says, offering owners a conference call option won’t offset the contradictory message your under-sized meeting space conveys. Advertising an open meeting tells owners that you are inviting them to attend; the under-sized venue suggests that you really don’t want them to.
As a general rule, he thinks boards are much better advised to hold their meetings elsewhere on the property – in a common area rather than an owner’s unit. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a formal meeting room, Brooks says, noting, “I’ve seen boards set up chairs in lobbies, hallways, garages, parking lots and even boiler rooms.”
Annual Meeting Logistics
While a condominium unit may be acceptable, if not ideal, for regular board meetings, it is not an option for the association’s annual meeting, which, Brooks notes, is likely to be the only meeting most owners will attend. To encourage maximum attendance, he advises, you should hold the meeting on-site. If that’s not an option, he advises, you should pick a location as close to the community as possible. “You don’t have to rent a meeting room in a hotel,” he notes. “There are a lot of less expensive options.”
The local library is one; so is the local supermarket. Both have meeting rooms that they make available, often at no charge, to neighborhood residents. Brooks says one of his association clients holds its annual meeting in a private room in the food court at a shopping mall. The association pays a small fee to rent the room “and owners pick up coffee and pizza on their way in.”
Some attorneys will let association clients use their board rooms; some board members or owners may work for nearby businesses or volunteer with non-profits that will make their meeting rooms available, as well. “If you use your imagination, you can identify a lot of places close to the property,” Brooks says.
His favorite is the local library – because it closes at 9. “That forces everyone to stick to the agenda,” Brooks says “They know the meeting has to end when the library closes.”