The “state of emergency” that had been imposed by Governor DeSantis in light of the COVID-19 pandemic expired on June 26, 2021. As a result, the “emergency powers” given to condominium, cooperatives, and homeowners’ associations in Sections 718.1265, 719.128, and 720.316, Florida Statutes, respectively, are no longer in effect. The emergency powers that were in effect during the COVID-19 state of emergency included conducting board meetings and membership meetings with notice given as is practicable, but did not specifically give associations the authority to conduct meetings remotely. Nevertheless, many associations did hold meetings remotely in an effort to slow the spread of the virus and to protect its residents and employees. (NOTE: The emergency powers statutes were amended effective July 1, 2021, and now specifically provide that during a declared state of emergency, the association may conduct board meetings, committee meetings, elections, and membership meetings, in whole or in part, by telephone, real-time videoconferencing, or similar real-time electronic or video communication.)
Now that the state of emergency has expired, what meetings can associations hold remotely, either in whole or in part?
With regard to board meetings, the statutes specifically address the board members’ participation by telephone or videoconferencing, but do not address whether owners may participate remotely or whether the owners can be required to participate remotely. The statutes do provide that meetings of the board must be “open” to all owners. If your board wishes to hold remote board meetings, the board can allow owners to also participate remotely in the same manner as the board members by giving the owners the call-in number or videoconference link. The law is unsettled as to whether a remote only meeting is valid, as some owners may not have the capability or desire to participate remotely.
With regard to owner meetings, the statute governing corporations not-for-profit, Section 617.0721(3), Florida Statutes, provides that owners and proxyholders may participate remotely and can also vote remotely if authorized by the board of directors, and subject to such guidelines and procedures as the board may adopt. But as with Board meetings, none of the statutes indicate whether “remote only” meetings, which require the owners to participate remotely, are valid. (Note that this type of “remote voting” contemplated by Section 617.0721(3) is different than the electronic/online voting that is permitted by Sections 718.128, 719.129, and 720.317, Florida Statutes).
For owner meetings at which an election will be held, the issue is more difficult. The Condominium and Cooperative Acts require owners to vote by “secret ballot” and many homeowners’ associations governing documents also have a secret ballot requirement. In that case, an owner participating remotely would be unable to vote on the election of directors unless the owner voted in advance of the meeting or unless the association had authorized electronic/online voting pursuant to Sections 718.128, 719.129, and 720.317, Florida Statutes). Further, in condominium and cooperative associations, the “election committee” that opens and counts the election ballots must be physically together, and owners are entitled to observe the ballot counting process in the owners’ “presence”.
Because of these legal issues, a “hybrid” approach where owners are given the option to participate remotely, but are not required to participate remotely, is the best approach. Some meetings lend themselves to remote participate more than others. For instance, board meetings and non-election owners’ meetings are the types of meetings that can be managed remotely. However, if there is an election, there will need to be additional considerations.
Boards should discuss these issues with the association’s attorney so that all of the necessary board authorizations can be prepared and approved by the board.