FL: In master planned communities, HOA members rarely get a direct vote

By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities

For several years here at IAC, I’ve been posting articles about election and voting disputes in association-governed communities.

Homeowners contact me regularly, complaining that their homeowners,’ condominium, or cooperative association engages in manipulative tactics and dirty tricks to rig elections or referenda on important issues that require a vote of membership.

Proxies are collected and hoarded by board members. Ballot signatures are forged, resulting in dead people and absentee owners that “vote” in the election. The community manager or HOA attorney collects all of the ballots and proxies, even though they have a vested interest in maintaining current board members. Understandably, allegations of tampering with ballots and proxies are common.

Sometimes, and HOA nominating committee hand-picks board candidates and denies others the opportunity to run for election. Or the board simply cancels an upcoming election because, they say, candidates or incumbent board members are running unopposed.

Because of the corporate structure of most association-governed communities established since the 1970s, owners of multiple properties or larger condominium apartments get proportionately greater voting power in the association. Non-owners or non-shareholders don’t get to vote on association matters, nor do they get to elect the board, even if they reside in the community.

Ballot box

In general, there’s no such thing as One Person/Resident, One Vote in a mandatory membership HOA. That, of course, opens the door for hostile investor takeovers of the corporate association — and forced termination of condominium associations, in particular.

Florida’s large, master planned communities — often at least 1,000 homes, but potentially tens of thousands of homes subdivided into separate phases, villages, or neighborhoods — are also big offenders of the democratic electoral process.

At the master association level, individual members (property owners) don’t usually get a direct vote. The board President of each subassociation or village casts a vote on behalf of all members in seperate individual neighborhoods.

(One example cited on IAC is the Association of Poinciana Villages. See also Celebration, Florida.)

See the following explanation by Florida community association attorney.

Members often do not vote directly in master association matters

BUSINESS

Excerpt:

It is very common for a large community made up of individual condominium and homeowner associations to be further governed by a master association that is tasked with maintaining and operating property that is shared by every sub-community (for example, your clubhouse). When the broader community is made up of only condominium units and condominium unit owners, the master association is governed by the Condominium Act. But, where, as in your case, the community is mixed, the HOA Act controls (where the community also has commercial property, it may not be governed by either Act, but that’s a different discussion for a different article).

As you have realized, the HOA Act is fundamentally different than the Condominium Act, and board members are given broad latitude to make decisions for the good of the community. Further, even when the governing documents provide that board decisions must be approved by the membership, often the members only vote through voting members — sometimes elected separately from the sub-association boards, but often simply the president of each sub-association, or a board appointee.

Read more:

www.mypalmbeachpost.com/business/consumer-advice/members-often-not-vote-directly-master-association-matters/P6jDI5zmAuQnA3SF62i1RO/

What does this mean to homeowners?

Think about the power of the master HOA. Typically, it has the authority to create an annual budget and set assessments to meet its expenses. A master HOA may collect assessments to pay for private roads, community-wide storm water management, shared recreational amenities, and more. (Although sometimes a special district, such as community development district (CDD) exists as a separate public taxing authority with responsibility for maintenance.)

The master association often enacts rules and enforces CC&Rs and architectural standards. It obtains relevant insurance policies. Matters involving traffic control, parking, crime prevention, security, gated entries, and more, are often addressed at the master HOA level.

The master HOA can raise assessment levels, make major financial commitments on behalf of all members, or amend governing documents with a vote of its handful of board members!

For example, a community of 2,500 homes divided into 12 villages has a master HOA board of 12 Village HOA Presidents. Therefore, twelve individuals make decisions that affect owners and residents of all 2,500 homes.

Vote button green
(Morguefile.com free image)

Individual homeowners do not vote directly on master HOA matters. Likewise, homeowners do not vote for the village board member — usually the President — who will serve on the master HOA board.

To clarify, although members do elect their Village boards (after the developer relinquishes control), they do not elect officers of the board. A nonprofit board of directors typically elects its own President, Vice President, Secretary, and Treasurer.

The usual excuse for not giving owner-members a direct vote at the master association level: the sheer size of the community makes obtaining a quorum impossible. The quorum sets a minimum voter participation level for the association, often 20-30 percent of total membership.

By contrast, local municipalities of a similar size or much larger than a master planned community have been running elections on a one person, one resident, registered voter basis — without a quorum — for more than a century.

Clearly, it is possible to conduct a democratic election, even in a large scale, master planned community, if the HOA industry would allow for removing quorum requirements, among other voting reforms.

I am told that many master planned communities across the U.S. use a similar model of governance — this is not limited to Florida. If you live in large planned community in another state, let me hear from you in the comment sesion below: How does your HOA handle voting at the master association level? 

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