Every HOA board must set procedural standards for conducting board meetings. But, what if an association does not have rules in place? This is where Robert’s Rules for HOA meetings come into play.
What Are Robert’s Rules for HOA Meetings?
Authored by U.S. Army officer Henry Martyn Robert, Robert’s Rules of Order are a set of guiding principles for conducting discussions and decision-making. It is typically used by governing bodies, such as homeowners associations, to keep meetings flowing smoothly and systematically. Robert’s Rules of Order have been around for over 100 years, dating back to 1876.
A homeowners association is normally run collectively by an HOA board. This board makes decisions on behalf of and within the best interest of the community. These decisions, though, must take place at board meetings. Without a set of parliamentary procedures, these board meetings can quickly fall into a mess of overlapping voices and directionless discussions.
Today, many homeowners associations use Robert’s Rules. Older associations tend to strictly follow these rules, with their governing documents specifically dictating that Robert’s Rules control all. Newer associations, though, are more inclined to make their own procedural rules for meetings, using Robert’s Rules as a mere guideline.
To know if a specific HOA has to use Robert’s Rules, it is necessary to look at its bylaws. The bylaws will normally detail the rules that boards must follow when conducting meetings. Location can also play a role. For instance, a majority of associations in Florida opt to abide by Robert’s Rules, whereas associations in Massachusetts tend to use their own ways.
Some associations choose to create their own procedural guidelines, only deferring to Robert’s Rules when faced with a problem. If neither Robert’s Rules nor the association’s bylaws can address the problem, boards should seek advice from an HOA attorney.
Robert’s Rule of Order: Fundamental Terms to Know
Before understanding the actual provisions of Robert’s Rules, board members should first familiarize themselves with some key terms.
The HOA president usually fills the role of the chair, the person responsible for presiding over meetings.
To “have the floor” means to have a turn to speak. The chair must recognize a member first before the member can voice their opinion on the matter. If someone has the floor, all others must respect their time and refrain from interrupting, though the chair can do so if he/she deems it necessary.
A discussion is “in order” if the comments made are relevant to the topic and if the chair has properly recognized the speaker. A failure to meet both of these conditions means the discussion or speaker is “out of order.”
A motion refers to the proposal of a decision, question, or issue in front of the association’s members. The proposal is made to discuss or vote on a particular item. If there is no motion, no discussion or voting may take place.
A second takes place after a motion, with another member (different from the one who made the motion) calling to second the motion. Motions usually need a second to continue.
A quorum is the required number of members present at the meeting for the board to conduct business. If the HOA fails to meet a quorum, the meeting must not go on and no business may be conducted. Members can find their quorum requirements in the bylaws of the association.
This refers to votes made in written form. Ballots typically require the identity of the voter to be revealed on paper, but there is always the option of using secret ballots, which conceal the voter’s identity.
This refers to a vote made in oral form. The chair will ask members for their preferences and members can respond with a “yes” or “no.” If need be, the chair may ask for a show of hands instead.
Adopting Robert’s Rules for HOA Meetings
There are many provisions contained in Robert’s Rules, and not all of them apply to homeowners associations. For HOAs, here is a cheat sheet for Robert’s Rules of Order.
1. Format of the Meeting
To allow for well-structured meetings, Robert’s Rules of Order offers a general format that boards can follow. According to these rules, meetings usually start with a call to order before moving to establish a quorum. If the association meets the quorum, the board can then proceed to review and approve the minutes of the previous meeting, then discuss new business and old business before adjourning.
Boards have a choice to hold a homeowner forum at the start or end of the meeting. Though, in some states (such as California), the law requires HOAs to have open forums.
Agendas keep board meetings right on track. A meeting agenda is an itemized list of topics that will be discussed (and perhaps voted on) during the meeting. Boards should only stick to the agenda and refrain from introducing topics outside of it. This way, the meeting can take place as scheduled. In addition to the list of topics, agendas should also identify a timeframe for each line item. Remember that the board must send the agenda to homeowners along with the notice of the meeting.
3. Recognition of Speakers
Before anyone else can speak, the chair must first recognize them. This applies to all homeowners as well as board members and officers. No one should be allowed to speak out of turn, and everyone must show the same level of respect to each speaker. This is a very effective way to maintain control of larger meetings with more attendees, as it’s easy to derail meetings when there are more participants involved.
4. Motions, Seconds, and Voting
As per Robert’s Rules, a second must follow a motion. If no one seconds a motion, the motion effectively dies. The chair should not permit any side discussions to take place to avoid straying from the topic at hand. Following the discussion, the chair can then call for a vote.
5. Homeowner Forum
Homeowners have a right to be heard at board meetings. To allow for owner input, boards would be wise to designate a time at the beginning or end of the meeting for the open forum. Board members should listen carefully and allow owners to speak without interruption.
However, the chair can close the discussion if they feel that the speaker is taking too long or is repeating the same point. Keep in mind that boards need not address concerns that don’t appear on the agenda during the open forum; instead, they can include them in the agenda of the next meeting.
The Advantages and Disadvantages of Robert’s Rules of Orders
As with many things, Robert’s Rules of Order for HOA meetings come with both advantages and disadvantages.
Here are the advantages of Robert’s Rules:
- Allows the board to keep meetings efficient and productive by strictly adhering to the agenda and forbidding participants to speak out of turn;
- Regulates the establishment of a quorum number and majority vote; and,
- Specifies when discussions and votes can happen.
Here are the disadvantages of Robert’s Rules:
- There is a lot of room for mistranslations of rules, which can complicate meetings;
- May conflict with state laws; and,
- May conflict with an association’s governing documents.
A Helpful Guide for HOA Boards
Robert’s Rules of Order clearly allows associations to conduct more organized meetings, allowing the board to discuss topics and make decisions in a methodical way. But, it is not for everyone. The bylaws may require some associations to adhere to Robert’s Rules for HOA meetings. Meanwhile, other associations may offer more flexibility in terms of creating their own rules. For the latter, it is still a good idea to refer to Robert’s Rules as a guide.
Interpreting your bylaws and conducting productive meetings can come as a challenge, especially for younger boards. This is where Clark Simson Miller can help. Call us today at 865.315.7505 or contact us online to learn more about our services.
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