Articles Posted in Elections

Prepared by the Community Association Attorneys at SwedelsonGottlieb

Senate Bill 323, proposed new law that would impact how California community association conduct elections, was approved by the Senate and Assembly was presented to Governor Newsom for his signature. This proposed legislation will impact and change the procedural requirements for most California community associations’ elections. Unfortunately, this proposed legislation goes too far and it is not the right solution to whatever it is that motivated Senator Wieckowski to author this new legislation.

For example, under current law, Civil Code Section 5200(a)(9), members of a community association can request their association’s list of members, including the members names and addresses. Currently Civil Code section 5220 allows members the ability to opt out and keep their contact information, which they deem private, off the list. SB 323 includes a loophole that effectively eliminates the ability for owners to opt out of having their name and personal contact information provided to another member. This proposed new law requires owners to provide their name and address on the envelope that includes the ballot, which SB 323 would make part of the list of records available for member inspection.

By: David Swedelson, Partner at SwedelsonGottlieb, Community Association Attorneys

voter_apathy_-_Google_Search.pngIt is an old problem. Many California community associations cannot motivate their owners to participate or even vote at association elections. We have had clients that have been unable to obtain a quorum for director elections for more than 20 years. Even my own association recently reported a failure to achieve a quorum and decided not even to bother holding a second meeting, knowing that the chances of obtaining a quorum was remote.

Some condominium and homeowner associations have the ability under their governing documents to reduce the required percentage for a quorum at adjourned meetings, often from 50% to 25%, but even then some of those associations cannot get 25% of the owners to vote.

Many board members and managers have told me that they believe this is a problem with community associations in general. The fact is that this is not just a problem for community associations; it is a problem for federal, state and local elections as well. A recent Los Angeles Times article stated that “alarmed that fewer than one fourth of voters are showing up for municipal elections, the Los Angeles Ethics Commission voted… to recommend that the City Council look at using cash prizes to lure more people to the polls.”
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By Cyrus Koochek, Esq., Associate Attorney, SwedelsonGottlieb, Community Association Attorneys

election_politics_and_advocacy_-_Google_Search.pngEvery board of directors for every condo or homeowners association has been there; the board wants to do something that it should be “obvious” that the association needs, such as a needed capital improvement to the common area, or an important amendment to the CC&Rs, but cannot muster up the required amount of homeowner votes to approve this “obvious” need. Whether this failure of approval results from the homeowners’ true opposition to the proposed change or whether it stems from owner apathy, a recent California court decision has made it clear that when the board advocates for votes for the approval of whatever is on the ballot, the board is a candidate, and as such, must provide equal access to media and the common area for others to advocate their positions on the ballot measure.

On June 26, 2013, the California Court of Appeal (4th Appellate District) filed its decision in Wittenberg v. Beachwalk Homeowners Association holding that the board of directors of the Beachwalk Homeowners Association violated California Civil Code Sections 1363.03(a)(1) and 1363.03(a)(2), which state that association media (website, newsletters, etc.) and common areas (areas where notices are posted, etc.), respectively, must be equally accessible to all members during a campaign as long as any one member advocating a point of view is provided access to such media or common areas. Based on the court’s interpretation of these Civil Code sections, all boards must be extremely mindful of their actions during an election or voting process.

Blog post by Sandra Gottlieb, community association attorney and Senior Partner at SwedelsonGottlieb

write-ins.jpgCalifornia community association attorneys, managers and others in the industry have differing opinions on how to properly and legally proceed with uncontested elections – elections in which the number of candidates is less than or equal to the number of board positions needed to be filled. Prior to 2006 when the election process and procedures were changed and secret elections were mandated, the answer was simple. No election was required, and candidates were deemed the elected board by way of acclamation. Since 2006, the law has changed, and elections must be held by way of a secret ballot process. Some attorneys know that the days of deeming the board elected by acclamation are over; others think the opposite.
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By David Swedelson, Condo Lawyer and HOA attorney; Senior Partner at Swedelson Gottlieb, Community Association Attorneys

Clinton.pngMany California community associations have a difficult time achieving a quorum to hold board elections or to vote on other important association matters. Some condo and planned development homeowner associations have not been able to hold a vote for a new Board of Directors for many years because they require a quorum of at least 50% of the owners. And unlike many other community associations, they do not have a reduced quorum provision in their bylaws that allows them to hold the meeting and take the vote of the owners with 25% of the owners constituting a quorum. Some associations cannot even achieve a quorum with just 25% of the owners.

While it’s easy to say that this is a problem that impacts community associations, the fact is that many people just don’t care enough to vote even when it comes to the elected officials that run their city, state or their country. Voter apathy is not just a community association problem. And that is too bad, as the right to vote is a privilege; it is how each citizen has a say in how our government is run.
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Blog post by David Swedelson, Condo Lawyer and HOA Attorney, Senior Partner at SwedelsonGottlieb

electronic_vote.pngCAI’s California Legislative Action Committee announced this week that it is sponsoring a bill that was introduced into the California Assembly, authored by assembly member Norma Torres, that would make electronic balloting or voting an option for California’s common interest developments. It is about time.

As most of you know (and I say “most” because I’m still seeing associations that are not aware of the 2006 change in the law that requires secret balloting and other changes to how HOA elections are handled — follow this link for our prior post that addresses these changes), the law requires that California community associations follow a secret balloting process with double envelopes, etc. for specific kinds of elections.
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By David Swedelson, Condo Lawyer and HOA Attorney

For many associations who are preparing to hold their annual elections, boards and managers are trying to determine who is actually eligible to be a candidate for the board and who can vote. This is a big issue these days as there are so many delinquent owners. Boards and managers are questioning why an owner who is not paying their assessments or is in violation of the CC&Rs or rules should be able to serve on the board. The fact is that for many California community associations, the bylaws and other governing documents may not set out any qualifications for serving on the board. This means that even a tenant or other non-owner can serve on the board.

Follow this link for a PDF of David’s full article on this subject.

No joke; this was the headline in a recent edition of the Ventura County Star newspaper. The article describes a bitter neighborhood dispute at the Bridle Path Community Association. There are accusations of ballots not being counted and other election issues. It appears that there is a fight by some to get on the board, all apparently the result of a dispute involving owners who fought to keep eight cows on their ranch style property. The article describes the acrimony at this community and states: “The topper was a FedEx delivery – cow patties (not the kind you eat) nestled in happy face boxes with a knife and fork – sent last spring to four of the five Bridle Path HOA board members. Since then, four board members have resigned for various reasons and replacements had to be appointed to the volunteer positions.” Although these types of disputes are not that uncommon, they are usually not so public. Interesting reading.

The 2009 Condominium Bluebook by Branden Bickel and D. Andrew Sirkin has been published and will soon be available to the general public. The Bluebook is a useful tool for California homeowner associations, providing quick reference to state statutes and court cases, as well as useful forms for required notices and other documents.

This year’s Bluebook contains a form (at Chapter 17) entitled “Model Election Rules” which we do not believe is suitable for most associations to simply reproduce and adopt as their election rules as required by Civil Code Section 1363.03. In fact, we doubt that any form election rules could possibly be created to suit all California homeowner associations because election rules are subject to an association’s CC&Rs and Bylaws. The provisions in CC&Rs and Bylaws applicable to the election rules vary widely from one association to the next. Following are just a few examples of why we believe the Bluebook’s form election rules are erroneous:
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I, along with over 70% of other California citizens, have or will vote today (11/4/08). And then, not wanting to pass up a good deal, I went to my local Starbucks for my free cup of joe. That’s right, Starbucks offered a free cup of coffee to anyone that came in with proof that they voted. Then I saw an article on the Internet indicating that the prize offer was a violation of federal election laws and I had a brainstorm. While it may be a violation of federal law to give someone a gift or prize for voting, it is not a violation of law for a community association to offer free food or some other incentive to get owners to vote. However, unless written into your governing documents (and even then I question whether it’s enforceable), community associations cannot fine or penalize a homeowner for not turning in their ballot or voting. Why? Because most CC&Rs provide associations with the power to make rules regarding use of a common area and there is nothing in California law or in any governing documents I’ve seen which would give a Board of Directors the power or authority to penalize a homeowner for not voting. If you are having difficulty getting owners to vote and cannot make a quorum, offer free food or maybe even a certificate for a free cup of copy at a local coffee house (and make sure it is in the budget).

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