Yet another issue that is coming up frequently in the face of COVID-19: what should an association do about violation hearings that need to proceed, and are already scheduled or need to be scheduled?
Obviously, we are recommending against any face-to-face meetings for the foreseeable future. Mecklenburg County’s stay at home order requires residents today to stay home and avoid all unnecessary trips may soon spread to the rest of North Carolina. This means we have to get creative about how to hold hearings. The goal, as always, will be to allow owners to clearly understand the alleged violation and the restrictions in the governing documents, and the opportunity to present any evidence or argument that they have against the alleged violation. Factors to consider when determining what platform to use:
- Can all parties clearly hear (and see, if video used)?
- Does the platform allow for the free flow of information back and forth?
- Is the platform accessible to all parties involved? Does it require anyone to download an app or pay any fee?
- If a free platform is to be used (and Boards should not be charging owners any fees related to this), are there time or participant limitations that would cause a problem?
Whatever platform is chosen, the Board should do a test run to make sure it actually works. No one wants to get 10 minutes into a phone conference or video meeting and suddenly find out that the system is not workable.
For hearings already scheduled, the involved parties need to be notified that the hearing will not (or cannot, depending on the County) take place in person. It is best to send a written notice of this to owners by US Mail, but in these circumstances an email or phone call may also be in order. To avoid possible improper communication of an enforcement action to a third party (which could give rise to an unfair debt collection claim), email communications should be scripted in a way to avoid direct reference to any fines or enforcement action. For example:
This is an important communication regarding your hearing scheduled for March 30, 2020. This hearing will need to be moved to a conference call or video platform. Please call in to the following number at the same time and on the same date the hearing was scheduled to be held. If you need to share information with the Board in advance of the hearing, this may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. If you feel that a video platform is needed, please advise immediately.
If you do not have a good email address for an owner, a phone call may be necessary as well. The phone call should be limited to communication of the information above.
In some circumstances, hearings simply need to be postponed. This would be the case for a hearing that might require a witness, extensive document sharing, or a party who– due to lack of access to a phone or other technology, communication difficulties, etc.– simply needs the ability to communicate in person.
If you determine that a video platform hearing is needed, proceed carefully. The manager or Board should host the meeting and control the process. You need to clearly set out how the meeting will be run, who will control the presentation of information, and how long the hearing will last. If owners wish to share photos or other documentation, ask them to do so in advance if possible; if not, make sure there is a way for them to share this information with the Board during the meeting.
The attorneys at Black Slaughter & Black are available to assist, by phone and video, with any issues that come up related to your community association hearing. Please contact any one of our attorneys in our Charlotte, Greensboro, Triangle or Coastal offices.