Part II: Association Meetings During COVID-19
COVID-19 has affected community associations in various ways, and new obstacles during these times are presenting themselves daily. Community associations will have to deal with many of these developments in stride and are expected to pioneer their communities during the state-wide shutdown. Due to this pandemic and both local/state government stay at home orders and social distancing directives, residents are either (a) working from home; or (b) not working at all, leaving many with no other option than to stay within the community association. This leaves a heightened responsibility on community association boards to ensure the community is functioning to the best of its ability and making decisions with the health, safety, and welfare of its residents in mind. COVID-19 has left community association boards with a plethora of unanswered questions.
This four part blog series is designed to assist community association board members and managers with navigating through this COVID-19 emergency situation. Part I in this blog series addressed the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation’s (DBPR) Order that the community association statutory emergency powers are in effect during the COVID-19 Crisis. Part II in this blog series addresses a community association’s ability to conduct meetings during COVID-19.
The DBPR’s Emergency Management Order 2020-04 grants community associations the ability to use statutory emergency powers. The exercise of those powers includes conducting board meetings and membership meetings with notice given as is practicable, as well as cancelling and rescheduling any association meetings. Fla. Stat. §§ 718.1265(1)(a)-(b), 720.316(1)(a)-(b).
Technology in 2020 allows for community associations to conduct meetings in a variety of ways. There are several methods to conduct meetings while still sitting on the couch and complying with the Governor’s stay-at-home order. Community associations can use videoconference applications such as Zoom, Skype and Microsoft teams, telephone conference lines, and social media applications such as Facebook. The meetings must still be open to all members. If members wish to be a part of these meetings, they can simply attend through the medium used by the Board. Alternatively, community associations can simply cancel any planned meetings and reschedule at a later time after the COVID-19 emergency situation has passed.
The Association must not hold in-person meetings during this time. Such a meeting would violate Florida Governor DeSantis’ stay-at-home order because an in-person meeting is not an essential service or activity due to there being alternative methods for holding meetings. Moreover, the Center for Disease Control, leading health professionals, as well as state and local executive orders have implemented social distancing and require people to stand six (6) feet away from one another and has banned gatherings of ten (10) or more people.
If community associations wish to hold meetings during the COVID-19 emergency, please note that statutory notice requirements still apply. The emergency powers allow for board meetings “after notice of the meeting and board decisions is provided in as practicable a manner as possible.” Fla. Stat. §§ 718.1265(1)(a) 720.316(1)(a). The statute then provides methods for notice when emergency powers are available, “including publication, radio, United States Mail, the Internet, public service announcements, conspicuous posting on the association property, or any other means the board deems appropriate under the circumstances.” Id.
However, the COVID-19 situation should not prevent associations from providing notice of meetings to its members the same way it has always been done, which is through the mailing of notices and/or posting of notice in a conspicuous place on association property. The notice requirements within the Florida Statutes vary slightly depending upon whether it is a condominium or homeowners’ association.
- Condominium Associations:
- Board meetings: Notice must be posted conspicuously on the condominium property at least 48 continuous hours before the meeting. For meetings where a special assessment or amendment to rules regarding unit use will be considered, notice must be mailed, delivered, or electronically transmitted to the unit owners and posted conspicuously on the condominium property at least 14 days before the meeting.
- Member meetings: Notice must be mailed, hand delivered or emailed to each unit owner at least 14 days before the annual meeting and must be posted in a conspicuous place on the condominium property at least 14 continuous days before the annual meeting.
- Annual meetings: The first notice must be mailed, hand delivered or emailed at least 60 days before the scheduled election. The second notice, including the ballot, envelopes and candidate information sheets must be mailed, hand delivered or emailed at least 14 days before the scheduled election. However, if the annual meeting and election requires the gathering of people in-person then it is recommended that the annual meeting be cancelled and rescheduled after the COVID-19 emergency situation has passed.
- Homeowners’ Associations:
- Board meetings: Notice of all board meetings must be posted in a conspicuous place in the community at least 48 hours in advance of a meeting, or must be mailed, hand delivered or emailed to the members at least 7 days before the meeting. For meetings where a special assessment or amendment to rules regarding parcel use will be considered, notice must be mailed, delivered, or electronically transmitted to the members and posted conspicuously on the condominium property at least 14 days before the meeting.
- Member meetings: The bylaws should provide the procedure for giving notice to the members but if not, the association shall mail, hand deliver or email notice to the members not less than 14 days prior to the meeting.
Your association’s governing documents might provide additional requirements for noticing meetings. If so, those should be followed to the extent they do not conflict with the Florida Statutes.
The Florida Statutes also allow for alternative notice procedures that may be beneficial during this time. For example, if the community association has adopted such a rule, broadcasting notice of meetings can be accomplished by closed circuit cable television in lieu of or in addition to the physical posting of notice. Such broadcast notice must appear at least four (4) times every broadcast hour of each day that the notice is required. The notice and agenda must be broadcast in a manner and for a sufficient continuous length of time so as to allow an average reader to observe the notice and read and comprehend the entire content of the notice and agenda.
In addition, for condominium associations, a rule may be implemented for conspicuously posting notice on the association’s website for the applicable time requirement provided by the governing documents or statute. With this method, the association must send an email to all unit owners whose email addresses are included the association’s official records which contains a hyperlink to the notice on the website. Fla. Stat. § 718.112(2)(c)(1).
Regardless of the medium used to conduct meetings during the COVID-19 situation, associations must be sure to include instructions in the notices for the members to access and attend the meeting. If the meeting is being held via conference call, the notice must include the call-in information and access code. If the meeting is being held online, the notice must include the link and instructions for accessing. It is recommended that the board president or the community association manager be the host of the meeting to control and moderate the meeting to ensure that meeting business is conducted efficiently and effectively.