One year after being thrust into a crash course on electronic meeting platforms due to the COVID-19 pandemic, virtual meetings and electronic voting options are here to stay for associations in Virginia.
In April 2020, the Virginia General Assembly adopted temporary amendments to the Virginia Property Owners’ Association Act and the Virginia Condominium Act to permit Board meetings to be conducted virtually. However, the amendments did not address meetings of the members and were only applicable while the state of emergency was in effect.
Associations now have a permanent solution to holding convenient meetings and boosting participation among members. The Virginia Assembly passed House Bill 1816 and it was signed into law by Governor Northam on February 24, 2021. The law will be effective on July 1, 2021.
House Bill 1816 amends both the Virginia Property Owners’ Association Act and Virginia Condominium Act to permit virtual meetings, electronic voting and electronic communication unless expressly prohibited by the governing documents. The good news is that most governing documents do not address, let alone expressly prohibit, virtual meetings, electronic communication, or electronic voting.
With respect to virtual meetings, the Bill permits meetings of associations, executive boards and committees to be held entirely or partially by electronic means. Electronic means is defined to include “teleconference, video conference, internet conference or other electronic methods.” In order to hold virtual meetings, the board must adopt guidelines for the use of electronic means for such meetings. The guidelines adopted by the board must ensure that persons accessing the virtual meetings are authorized to do so and that persons entitled to participate in such meetings have an opportunity to do so. The Bill grants the board with the authority to determine whether a meeting shall be held entirely or partially by electronic means.
With respect to electronic voting, the Bill allows members of associations to vote at meetings by absentee ballot and allows such members to vote in person, by proxy, or by absentee ballot by electronic means. In order to vote by absentee ballot by electronic means, the board must adopt guidelines for such voting. The board must also ensure that the electronic means protects the identity of the voter if the governing documents require a vote, consent, or approval to be obtained by secret ballot. If the electronic means cannot protect the identity of the voter, the board must use another means of voting.
By Kelly C. Zook
House Bill 1816 also permits electronic communication to the members. In lieu of delivering notice by United States mail or hand delivery, associations may send notice by electronic means if consented to by the owner to whom the notice is given. The Bill removes the prior requirement that the governing documents or rules and regulations of the association must expressly provide for electronic communication.
While the law does not go into effect until July 1, 2021, we recommend that associations adopt guidelines for virtual meetings and electronic voting in the meantime. If you would like our assistance in discussing these issues or drafting the guidelines, please do not hesitate to contact your attorney at Rees Broome for assistance.