Rob Samouce: Members allowed to speak at community association meetings

— A question often arises when condominium and homeowners’ associations (collectively: community associations) are having their annual meetings during season. When and how are the members allowed to speak at the association meetings?

The answer is a bit different for condominium associations than for homeowners’ associations and the answer is also different if the meeting is a members meeting rather than a board meeting.

Condominium association owner meetings: For these meetings, whether annual or special, Section 718.112(2)(d)6, Florida Statutes, provides that “Unit owners shall have the right to participate in meetings of unit owners with reference to all designated agenda items. However, the association may adopt reasonable rules governing the frequency, duration and manner of unit owner participation.”

Condominium association board meetings: For condo board meetings, Section 718.112(2)(c), Florida Statutes provides that “The right (of owners) to attend such meetings includes the right to speak at such meetings with reference to all designated agenda items ... The association may adopt written reasonable rules governing the frequency, duration and manner of unit owner statements.”

Homeowners’ association members meetings: For these member meetings, Section 720.306(6), Florida Statutes provides that “Members and parcel owners have the right to attend all membership meetings and to speak at any meeting with reference to all items opened for discussion or included on the agenda ... a member and a parcel owner have the right to speak for at least three minutes on any item, provided that the member or parcel owner submit written request to speak prior to the meeting. The association may adopt written reasonable rules governing the frequency, duration and other manner of member and parcel owner statements which rules must be consistent with this subsection.”

Homeowners’ association board meetings: Section 720.303(2)(b), Florida Statutes, provides that “Members have the right to attend all meetings of the board and to speak on any matter placed on the agenda by petition of the voting interests for at least three minutes. The association may adopt written reasonable ruse expanding the right of members to speak and governing the frequency, duration and other manner of member statements, which rules must be consistent with this paragraph and may include a sign-up sheet for members wishing to speak.”

As homeowner’s associations are many times much larger than individual condominium associations, it makes sense that the statutes can require that members who want to speak at these large meetings may have to jump through some hoops in order to speak; such as making written request ahead of time or submitting a petition.

However, unless the length of time members are speaking at meetings is becoming a problem by dragging out the meeting too long, it is usually good to allow members the ability to speak three minutes on any agenda item.

You can adopt written rules that members can speak for three minutes either at the beginning of the meeting, when the agenda topic is brought up, or at the end of the meeting. People usually, however, like to speak before the body votes on the issue so that they feel they have some input. Allowing someone to go beyond three minutes should be at the sole discretion of the chair to make sure the meeting runs smoothly and on time.

Also, it usually works really well if the rules require those wanting to speak have to sign up to speak at the time they sign the attendance roster when they arrive so that the chair has a good idea of how much time will be needed for “member speak” and so that the members wanting to speak have prepared themselves in an orderly fashion to do so.

Sometimes owners or members think they have three minutes to have a “conversation” with the board by asking a slew of questions and wanting immediate responses. This is neither the intent nor the requirement in the statutes that give the right to owners or members to speak at the meetings. Speaking means the owner or member can just say what they think about the agenda item for three minutes. Therefore, neither the directors nor the chair should feel any obligation to answer a question raised by an owner or member at a meeting unless they really want to.

A board adopting reasonable written rules concerning the frequency, duration and manner of member statements greatly enhance the orderly and timely conduct of business at the community association meetings. There is nothing worse than a planned one-hour meeting dragging on to two or three hours or more just because people want to hear themselves talk.

Rob Samouce, a principal attorney in the Naples law firm of Samouce, Murrell, & Gal, P.A., concentrates his practice in the areas of community associations including condominium, cooperative and homeowners’ associations, real estate transactions, closings and related mortgage law, general business law, estate planning, construction defect litigation and general civil litigation. This column is not based on specific legal advice to anyone and is based on principles subject to change from time to time. Those persons interested in specific legal advice on topics discussed in this column should consult competent legal counsel.

© 2008 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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