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Homeowner board limits who can attend its meetings

 Homeowner board limits who can attend its meetings
A bill to permit any person to attend a homeowner association board meeting on behalf of the owner, whether or not the owner attends at the same time, is making its way through the California Legislature. (Jetta Productions / Getty Images)

Question: I've been attending my homeowner association's monthly board meetings for 30 years. Because the board doesn't report everything in the minutes, these meetings are important to me. There have been times I've been ill or away and asked the board if my sister could attend the meeting on my behalf. They said if I got a power of attorney she could attend. I hired a lawyer and paid for the power of attorney, but when my sister went to the meeting the board denied her entry and said they didn't care that she had the document.

I'm not the only one this has happened to. My neighbor's son has been staying with her for the past several weeks because she just had major surgery. She asked him to attend last night's board meeting but the board would not allow it because her son is also an attorney. The association's attorney who was present said, "No attorneys can attend," then told her son to leave or he would call the police and have him removed.

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Now there's a new rule: Owners have to give 72 hours notice if we're bringing someone to a meeting. I think this is outrageous. We should be able to have someone accompany us or attend on our behalf if we are unable to be present. What can we do to protect our interests and what can we do about this?

Answer: Access to board meetings has been a long-standing complaint by owners, who have tried to address this issue by closing loopholes in the common interest development act.

With or without a valid power of attorney, titleholders wanting to bring a caretaker, interpreter, family member, friend, support person or their attorney to board meetings have been summarily denied entry. The hoops and machinations employed by boards, management and association attorneys effectively slam the door shut on a titleholder's ability to protect his or her interests and assets.

As most board meetings occur every 30 days, owners complain they are waylaid and put off to each subsequent "next meeting." Boards devise these juggling acts for the purpose of frustrating owners so they give up trying or, in the case of the elderly, they perish trying. Even though it is not always possible to give prior notice, some associations still require 72 hours to 30 days written notice to request permission to bring a guest to a meeting. Neither may be practical. Just the logistics of delivering notice may defeat any semblance of so-called fairness in allowing an owner to bring a guest.

Owners need an additional layer of protection by having at least two addresses on file where the association sends notices, perhaps to another family member in case the owner is on vacation or incapacitated. By written request an owner can add a second address for delivery of individual notices and the association shall deliver an additional copy of those notices to that secondary address identified in the request, according to Civil Code section 4040(b).

Currently, the board may have an attorney present but it may prohibit a titleholder from being represented by an attorney at a board meeting. A bill that would rectify that situation is making its way through California's Legislature.

Assembly Bill 1720 by Assemblyman Donald P. Wagner (R-Irvine) would permit any person to attend a board meeting on behalf of the owner, whether or not the owner attends at the same time. In other words, it would allow the owner's attorney to stand in the shoes of that titleholder during that board meeting. At least 48 hours advance written notice would have to be given to the board that a person representing the owner will be attending the meeting.

The bill is supported by the Conference of California Bar Associations and opposed by the HOA management industry, which contends that it would promote costly, disruptive litigation from owners who already have adequate avenues to pursue disputes. Weigh in by contacting Wagner's office or check on the bill's status by visiting http://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/ and click on "Bill Information."

Zachary Levine, a partner at Wolk & Levine, a business and intellectual property law firm, co-wrote this column. Vanitzian is an arbitrator and mediator. Send questions to Donie Vanitzian, JD, P.O. Box 10490, Marina del Rey, CA 90295 or noexit@mindspring.com.

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