Written by Kelly G. Richardson

Q: No one on our HOA board has been elected and they all remain on by default year after year. We never meet quorum. I suspect foul play and would like to have the property manager as well as the board members investigated. I was wondering if you had any ideas on how we can investigate them all. — C.M., Pomona

A: Low voter turnout in HOA elections could be caused by member discouragement, but it also could be caused by contentment and a lack of desire to have different people staff the board of directors. Either way, directors can sit on a board for years without ever being re-elected. There may be some hope on the horizon from Assembly Bill 1458, recently introduced in the California Legislature.

Assembly Bill 1458, by Member Ta of Westminster, would add a new subpart 2 to Civil Code Section 5115(d), allowing a member election that fails for lack of quorum to proceed within 5 to 30 days later, changing the quorum to be those members participating. It’s very early in the legislative session, so it is very difficult to predict if the bill has a chance.

Generally, I find that boards are staffed by well-intentioned people, and outright foul play is rare. However, boards can easily create the impression that they are hiding something when they become defensive in response to criticism and behave in a less transparent manner.

HOAs are little democracies – if you talk to enough neighbors who want a new board, you can elect a new board.

Q: An HOA that I am involved with is holding upcoming elections and is looking for a truly independent inspector of elections. I am wondering whether you know of any paralegals or junior associates who might be willing to perform that function for a modest fee or as pro bono work to enhance their resume. —C.S., Los Angeles

A: The HOA election reforms from 2005 and Senate Bill 61 dramatically changed the way HOA elections are conducted. One new requirement was that an “inspector of elections” be appointed to run the election and count and announce the vote. This created a small cottage industry of election inspector businesses. However, not all HOAs need professional inspectors.

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The law allows the board to appoint a volunteer inspector, so long as they are not a director or candidate and are not related to a director or candidate (Civil Code Section 5110(b)). Management and legal counsel can assist the Inspector but cannot act as Inspector.

Q: Can a member waive their “secret ballot” vote and sign, date and return a ballot via e-mail? — D.K., Novato

A: No. California law, unfortunately, does not permit voting for directors, governing document amendments, or major assessments, by any other method than secret written ballots contained in sealed envelopes. The procedure, described in Civil Code Section 5115(c), does not allow for emailing or faxing of a ballot. Interestingly, California HOAs are still the only nonprofit corporations in California that are not allowed to use electronic voting.

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

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