Your community association functions as a democratic subsociety, which works most effectively with an active and informed membership. This requires a level of knowledge and understanding about the community’s operations from both the Board and the membership at large. We continue to hear that unprecedented changes are coming down the pipeline in the ways that community associations operate. Part of getting ahead of these coming changes is to ensure that the basics of a well-functioning community association are already in place. As this new year rolls on, make it a goal to assist where you can in making your community the best it can be.
Let’s start with the Governing Documents. The Governing Documents are legally binding on all members. In addition to legal liability for noncompliance, understanding and adhering to the Governing Documents and policies of your community constitutes being a good neighbor. For example, being familiar with architectural restrictions and maintenance standards allows the community to maintain a certain level of cohesion that helps maintain property values. Community willingness to actively comply goes a long way and saves the community money and time by avoiding enforcement actions. Board members should be particularly familiar with the Governing Documents as members of the body charged with upholding these documents to the best of their ability. Understanding and complying with the Governing Documents is much simpler when the Documents are clear and cohesive. Are there outdated provisions in the Governing Documents that no longer serve the needs of the community? Having legal counsel perform a thorough review of the Governing Documents is a first step. Outdated provisions can be removed, and legal counsel can advise whether provisions are also not in line with current law and recommended best practices. Clear and effective documents are an important line of defense in a well-functioning association.
Your community association operations also largely depend on dedicated volunteers and guidance from experts. Serving on the Board is one way to assist in the direction of your community. It is no small task. If you do not have the time to dedicate to effectively serving on the Board, the community may have committees that are also looking for volunteers. Serving on a committee is another way to effect positive change, whether that is a budget or finance committee, an enforcement committee, an architectural review committee, or social committee. In addition to dedicated volunteers, reliance on experts where needed can avoid the community serious (and potentially expensive) headaches down the line. Legal counsel experienced in community association law should guide the Board in navigating the numerous requirements stemming from Florida statute and the association’s Governing Documents. The association should also seek guidance from other experts, including but not limited to accountants, engineers, and architects, when the situation calls for such guidance.
Effective outreach and communication are also vital. A certain level of communication is required by law. Proper and timely notices of membership meetings and board meetings are required. All agenda items to be discussed at the meeting are to be set forth in the notices. If the Board is unsure about the required notice for special types of meetings, association counsel should be consulted. One way members can assist the Board with effective communication is to ensure that the Board has the correct designated mailing address, especially if the owner has a primary address outside of the community. If you have consented to receiving notices via e-mail, does the Board have your most recent email address? And are you checking this e-mail address consistently and have made sure that the e-mails from the Board or manager are not going to your spam folder?
Last but not least, showing up. Sending and receiving notices is all well and good, but is of little effect if members do not attend meetings. This can be done in person, or online if the option is available, or by submitting a proxy when permissible. Membership meetings cannot move forward without a quorum of the membership. As such, it is imperative that enough members attend, or submit a proxy, so that operations can move forward. Encourage your neighbors to attend and participate as well. At the meeting, the agenda needs to be adhered to. The agenda should not serve simply as guidance for discussion but rather should be used as the basis for an effective meeting that does not devolve into unproductive tangents. Discourse should be kept civil. Not every member will agree but talking over one another and not letting others talk is unproductive. The law allows the Board to adopt reasonable rules and regulations for participation at meetings. Useful minutes should be kept for each and every board and membership meeting. This is not a complete transcript of the meeting. However, enough detail needs to be included so that the minutes may serve as a useful reference point in the future.
Good governance starts with effective governing documents and volunteers. Participation and effort by the Board and membership go a long way in the smooth and efficient operation of the community. Effective communication helps maintain community morale. Association counsel can help in navigating the legal requirements for your community as 2024 moves forward.
Karyan San Martano
Attorney at Law, Becker
Ft. Lauderdale | bio