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Secret meetings, closed books and inaccessible records are not allowed

Except at emergency meetings, your homeowners board can take no actions of any type without a "noticed" meeting, and those meetings are required to be open to the owners.

October 11, 2009|By Stephen Glassman and Donie Vanitzian

Question: I recently sent a letter to my board of directors, the management company and the association attorney with a complaint that there are never any open meetings, only a homeowners forum, and no agendas. I also requested to inspect the association's books and records.

The board president said there was a charge to access the books and then said the association attorney would be in touch. The management company representative said I had no right to access records and books. The attorney finally sent me the type of information that we usually receive at the end of the year, for the current year, but no actual access to any books and records.

I have recently discovered that two of our board members are delinquent in paying their association assessments, and this causes me to be more suspicious of their actions. Since I have been denied, what recourse do I have that will not take much time or money?

Answer: A homeowners forum is not a meeting. Not only is this attorney wrong in his advice, he is also counseling a violation of law by the association, which could be grounds for the attorney to be disciplined.

Civil Code section 1363.05(f) says that unless "the time and place of meeting is fixed by the bylaws, or unless the bylaws provide for a longer period of notice, members shall be given notice of the time and place of a meeting . . . except for an emergency meeting, at least four days prior to the meeting. . . . The notice shall contain the agenda." That section also says no action shall be taken on any item not on the agenda, except for emergency items and under a few other circumstances.

Except at emergency meetings, your board can take no actions of any type without a "noticed" meeting, and those meetings are required to be open to the owners.

Under Civil Code section 1363.05(h), the association's board of directors shall permit any member of the association to speak at any board meeting except for those held in executive session. Because your board has not held meetings in the open, as required by the law, it is conceivable that all of the board's actions could be declared invalid. It is also possible that the board members could be removed from office for failing to hold meetings.

In saying you have no right to access association books and records, your management company is just as mistaken as the attorney, and because its advice consists of interpreting the law, management employees may be practicing law without a license.

The board president is wrong in stating there is a charge to access the books. Civil Code section 1365.2 provides that a member may inspect the association's books and records on request and that the association must make them available. There may be a nominal charge for photocopies, but not for viewing. Unless the information sent to you by the association's attorney was the information you requested from the association, the attorney's response was insufficient.

In California the law states: "There are actions that can be taken by the governing body without a vote of the members of the association which can have a significant impact upon the quality of life for association members." The only avenue available to titleholders of residential deed-restricted property to protect their assets is to consistently view the association's books and records.

Many boards erroneously feel it is in their own best interests to deny homeowners access to association books and records. For titleholders, if the board refuses to provide association records on demand, the quickest and least expensive method is to sue in Small Claims Court. Any refusal by the board to provide records that by law it must provide could be deemed unreasonable. Under Civil Code section 1365.2(f), if the board's refusal was unreasonable, the court has the authority to award $500 for each denied request.

Send questions to P.O. Box 11843, Marina del Rey, CA 90295 or e-mail noexit@mindspring.com.

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