This past fall, the Pennsylvania state government passed an extensive overhaul of homeowners association election procedures that will begin to take effect in May.
Known as House Bill 1795 or Act 115, the new piece of legislation will impact residents, board members, and property managers that are part of condo and homeowners associations in Pennsylvania. It will also affect developers of these types of communities, who may need to tailor their governing document forms, including bylaws, to address these changes.
Here are a few of the most important new rules regarding board elections for homeowner associations:
Changes to the Election Process
During the pandemic, many communities struggled with standard procedures such as holding meetings or conducting votes. Some communities struggled, as their bylaws had not yet adopted electronic voting, leaving HOA boards scrambling with how to conduct valid meetings in the face of COVID-19 lockdown restrictions.
Act 115 now clearly authorizes all communities to host virtual meetings and take electronic votes without changes to the bylaws - that is, as long as the bylaws themselves don't explicitly prohibit it. This change helps communities with outdated bylaws quickly adapt to the new standard and offers more flexibility when a suitable meeting location is unavailable.
Take note that these changes also require associations who choose to accept virtual votes to confirm the identity of the unit owner and ensure that votes are being transmitted accurately, potentially adding a new layer of administrative burden.
With regards to amending bylaws, Act 115 now requires 14 days prior notice to be provided of a meeting to amend bylaws and a majority of at least 51 percent of votes to pass an amendment. Communities are not permitted to provide for a lower threshold of votes to amend bylaws going forward.
HOAs should be aware of this change and ensure that bylaws taking effect after May 2023 provide for at least a 51 percent majority to amend bylaws. Interestingly, Act 115 also allows for electronic notices of meetings if it is expressly provided for in the bylaws.
Electronic meeting notices will likely allow HOAs to save on some costs like paper ballots, as well as property management fees. HOAs should therefore consider making their form bylaws allow electronic notices.
The new legislation also reframed the election process for board members. Act 115 now requires that bylaws contain a provision that allows for “pre-election sessions” for elections where there are more candidates than open positions. At these sessions, candidates can meet with unit owners prior to the meeting to share their election platform.
The law also requires communities with 500 or more units to use an independent election reviewer to monitor and tally votes. However, communities with a lower number of units may implement the requirement with a 51 percent majority vote from unit owners.
There are also requirements for what constitutes an independent reviewer, and if the independent reviewer is being compensated by the property manager or declarant, that must be explicitly disclosed at the meeting.
HOAs Must Stay on Top of the New Changes
These restrictions may drastically change how homeowner associations in Pennslyvania elect their leadership. It’s worth it to consult an attorney about how this affects your association and partner with a trusted voting platform and services provider to help you plan your next election to fit the new standards.
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