HOA Homefront: Why can’t members speak in meetings?

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By Yosi Yahoudai
Founder and Managing Partner

Q: We have a dispute with our HOA board and tried to inform those present during open meeting time and were not allowed to speak. We were told this was not on the agenda and this is private. Is it not our right to disclose what we do not want kept private? — C.W., Vista

Q: Last night I attended a board meeting and wanted to speak at open forum. I was denied as I was told I had not signed up in advance to speak. This was never the policy when I was on the board. If you showed up and wanted to speak, we listened. I was told I should have looked for a signup sheet and signed up if I wanted to address the board. I didn’t see the signup sheet. Did the board violate any regulations by not allowing me to speak due to their new, unpublished rules? — P.H., Torrance

A: The Open Meeting Act (Civil Code Sections 4900-4955) provides at Section 4925(b) that any member may speak at any membership meeting or open board meeting. The board must set a reasonable time limit for this part of the meeting, commonly called “member forum” or “open forum.”

A time limit per member should be established, as well as an overall time limit for the open forum portion of the meeting. As to topics not on the agenda, Civil Code 4930(b) expressly acknowledges that open forum remarks may be off-agenda topics since that statute allows the board to answer questions on such topics from open forum.

C.W., if you wanted to use your open forum time to discuss your dispute with the association you should be free to do so, within the time limit.

P.H., sign-in sheets help alert the board if many people wish to speak, but it should not be an absolute requirement because it is arguably an illegal impediment to open forum remarks. Only members have the right to speak in open forum, a valuable part of board meetings that healthy HOAs embrace.

Q: Our board was not elected by homeowners. There was no quorum for the vote.  However, the management company appointed who they wanted and kept some experienced board members.  This group then appointed an Architectural Committee, who revised the guidelines we have lived with for decades. They have really overstepped any authority they might have. Then to compound the problem, the management company called a meeting on a weekday morning when most owners are at work. Do we need to contact our attorneys to resolve this mess?  — L.M., Temecula

A: The manager cannot appoint directors and cannot advocate for or against any person regarding board seats.

The architectural guidelines should be adopted by the board, not a committee, and members are required to be notified at least 28 days before any such rule changes are adopted.

Except for retirement communities, my client HOAs mainly meet in the evenings. If your board is deaf to the desires of a majority of the community, don’t go to court – go to your neighbors and begin the groundwork for a new board that will listen to the majority.

Kelly G. Richardson CCAL is a Fellow of the College of Community Association Lawyers and Partner of Richardson Ober LLP, a California law firm known for community association advice. Send column questions to Kelly@roattorneys.com.

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About the Author
Yosi Yahoudai is a founder and the managing partner of J&Y. His practice is comprised primarily of cases involving automobile and motorcycle accidents, but he also represents people in premises liability lawsuits, including suits alleging dangerous conditions of public property, third-party criminal conduct, and intentional torts. He also has expertise in cases involving product defects, dog bites, elder abuse, and sexual assault. He earned his Bachelor of Arts from the University of California and is admitted to practice in all California State Courts, and the United States District Court for the Southern District of California. If you have any questions about this article, you can contact Yosi by clicking here.