HB99 would require homeowner associations to open meetings to owners
February 6, 2015
Homeowner association boards could potentially be required to open all meetings to owners in their associations and provide notification of the meetings to interested owners via email.
This week, HB99 cleared its first hurdle in the Utah House of Representatives. Thursday, the bill passed out of the Senate Business and Labor committee and will now make its way to the Senate floor.
The bill would require that board meetings be open to each unit or lot owner and upon request, email notification be provided to those owners who request it. However, the bill would still allow boards to close meetings for private, confidential matters.
Typically functioning as nonprofit corporations, homeowner associations (HOA) maintain common areas and establish specific neighborhood covenants and restrictions.
"The current law is that boards of HOA can close their meetings to owners," said John Morris, a HOA attorney with Utah law firm, Morris Sperry, who helped draft the bill. "There is no law requiring board members to allow homeowners to attend meetings. But the trend is clearly moving toward requiring board meetings to be open to owners and other states have passed similar laws. "
Sponsored by Rep. Mike Shultz, R-Davis and Weber, the bill would require the HOA meeting format to somewhat resemble council meetings, where an opportunity for public input would be provided.
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"Boards and board meetings are required because we need a structure for efficient decision making when you’re dealing with many owners in one HOA project," Morris said. "What they (board members) are sometimes afraid of is owners showing up and interrupting the meetings on every topic and actively trying to participate in decision making. But that is not at all what is required and the bill is very specific about that."
Owners have the right to be present and engaged with HOA boards when boards are discussing the businesses and finances of the HOA, Morris said.
"It’s important for owners to know they can attend the meetings, which most associations permitted anyways, but now they could have a legal right to attend meetings and a legal right to get notice," he said.
Bill Ryan, a long-time member of the Cedar Ridge HOA, said he supports the bill and its intentions. The Cedar Ridge HOA doesn’t notify members of regularly scheduled meetings, Ryan said, only the annual meeting.
"I think it is a wonderful bill," Ryan said. "One thing that I think would improve it would be to advise all homeowners of meetings, whether they had requested it or not, and to provide an agenda."
In his experience, Ryan said HOA boards tend to view themselves as "omnipotent" and rarely engage the community.
"I do feel that way," Ryan said. "And I would like to see it go a bit further, but I know how hard it is to move the bills. But this is a step, even though there is room for further improvement."
Laura Arnold, president of the Jeremy Ranch HOA, said Jeremy Ranch members are already notified of meetings and the passing of HB99 wouldn’t change practices that are currently in place.
"That’s been one of the big things everyone wanted from us, was to be more transparent and we’ve been working on that," Arnold said. "But I think it’s great to notify everybody."
Not everyone, though, supports HB99 and its intentions.
Joe Williams, president of the Moose Hollow HOA, said the law would be difficult to adhere to and could potentially affect the ability to make decisions.
"You have volunteers that are on this board of trustees that are all very busy people," Williams said. "If you had to plan way ahead and announce every meeting, you’d never get anything done. Something will come up that needs immediate attention and it will be impossible to publish a notice and get everybody on board."
It would be a problem and restrain quick action, Williams said, essentially "binding" board members’ hands if the bill passes.
"It’s frustrating," he said. "It’s very difficult to get anything done as it is and this would make it very difficult to act and react as needed."
On Monday, the House passed HB99, 66-6, with three members absent or not voting. The Senate Business and Labor committee forwarded the bill onto the Senate on Thursday.
This will also be the second time HB99 has been considered. It passed the House in 2014 toward the end of the legislative session, but never made it to the next step.
"It never had any problems as far as anyone opposing it, it just died at the end of session because we were a little slow getting that into committee last year," Morris said. "I believe there is about a 95 percent chance it will pass this year.
"It will, however, almost certainly be amended on the floor of the Senate to provide for some sort of penalty if associations do not comply with the open meeting and notice requirements" Morris said in an email to The Park Record lateThursday. "The senators in the Senate Business and Labor committee were unanimous in their desire to include some penalty in the bill."
If HB99 is approved by both the House and the Senate and signed by the governor, it would go into effect on July 1.