Even as businesses, schools, and even entire economies shut down at the start of the coronavirus pandemic last year, the task of running residential buildings and communities never ceased. In fact, it could even be argued that as people were more or less confined to their homes for weeks and months, the decisions made by co-op, condo, and HOA boards and managers had even more impact on their communities than in the Before Times.
Now that widespread vaccine distribution and a federal administration that takes the matter seriously is beginning to flatten and even ebb transmission of the virus in many parts of the country, lawmakers (who themselves were sidelined for a time last spring) are starting to put legislation on the books relating to—or motivated by—COVID-19 and its effects on lives and livelihoods.
In New York, a change to the Business Corporation Law (BCL) went into effect just before coronavirus was declared a global pandemic. “This [change] amended section 602 of the BCL to allow for annual shareholder meetings in business corporations to be held virtually,” explains Margery Weinstein, an attorney at law firm Ganfer & Shore in Manhattan. Subsequently, in response to COVID, she continues, “executive orders further amended that you actually didn’t need to have a location specified for a meeting. So the question is: Is the legislature going to codify the executive orders going forward to dispense with the need to have an actual location [in the announcement of a meeting and] some form of in-person meeting?”
In Massachusetts, the state legislature is considering such a bill. House Bill 1416, “An act relative to electronic meetings and voting in condominiums,” addresses the need that boards and owners of condominium units have had over the past year-plus to conduct community business electronically and/or virtually. Matthew Gaines of Braintree, Massachusetts-based law firm Marcus, Errico, Emmer, and Brooks, P.C. indicates that most governing documents of housing associations were drafted decades ago and refer only to in-person meetings of boards and unit owners.
“There’s some question about all these Zoom meetings that boards and unit owners have been having for the last year,” says Gaines. “Are they really valid? So because of that, [the New England chapter of the Community Associations Institute (CAI)] proposed this legislation that basically says, notwithstanding any provisions in your documents that may require in-person meetings, the association is permitted to have Zoom or any type of remote electronic board meetings, electronic unit owner meetings, and electronic voting.” Partially in response to adaptations made during COVID, and partially to modernize governing documents to reflect current realities, this bill “is trying to bring the condominium world here in Massachusetts into the 21st century,” Gaines says.