In February, Montgomery County enacted legislation that mandates members of home and condo owners associations be required to attend training courses. The bill came about as a result of a legal battle between Germantown residents and their local HOA.
The legislation, which was signed into law by Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett on February 11, mandates the training of common ownership community board members in order to promote more knowledgeable and responsible management of homeowners’ associations, condominiums and cooperatives in the County. The law goes into effect on January 1, 2016.
Bill 45-14 requires the Commission on Common Ownership Communities to develop an educational curriculum to train a member of the governing body of a common ownership community on the responsibilities of directors. It would also require that a member of the governing body of a common ownership community complete this – or similar training approved by the CCOC – within 90 days of their election or appointment.
The legislation stems from a case brought before the CCOC in which two home owners, Vernard McBeth and Steven Muse, in the Fountain Hills community claimed that members of the Fountain Hills Home Owners Association Board of Directors improperly held closed meetings by email, improperly conducted an election by permitting the nomination of a candidate who was not present, and failed to maintain complete and accurate minutes.
As a result, last year the Montgomery County Commission on Common Ownership Communities, which oversees homeowner associations, rebuked the Fountain Hills Home Owners Association. Saying that the board had, “on a number of occasions and in a variety of ways failed to comply with the open meetings requirements of Maryland Homeowners Association Act.”
While the Fountain Hills Board was rebuked by CCOC. It also drew a clear line for other home owner association boards. As long as the board is not making a decision, then a meeting has not occurred, and the “open meeting” requirements are not triggered. This means that a board may discuss association business, whether in person or by some other means such as email, and it will not constitute a meeting unless an action is taken.
The County’s new legislation aims to help common ownership community board members avoid making such mistakes in the future. “The commission believes this new law has the potential to substantially reduce conflict between boards and residents living in common ownership communities,” said CCOC Chair Rand H. Fishbein. “Experience has shown that where there is leadership training in the exercise of fair, responsive and transparent government, controversies are more easily resolved.”
“The last thing we wish to do is discourage volunteerism by exercising the heavy hand of enforcement,” said Council President George Leventhal, original sponsor of the bill. “Rather, it is my hope that directors will appreciate how knowledge of the law and their own governing documents can reduce conflict, inform their decision-making and contribute to a more prosperous and well-run community.”
The mission of the 15-member CCOC includes advising on public policy issues that impact these communities; educating owners, residents and professionals associated with these communities on community management and governance; and resolving disputes between owners or residents and their governing bodies. Members are appointed by the County Executive and confirmed by the County Council and serve without pay.