When you become a member of a homeowners association, you receive a copy of the governing documents. By living in the HOA, you also agree to abide by them, so it's important to read them and understand what they say. However, these documents often use a lot of jargon and can be difficult to understand. Here's a snapshot of the purpose of the Bylaws in an association.
Unlike the Articles of Incorporation and CC&Rs, the Bylaws are not recorded at either the county or state level, yet they are still an integral part of a homeowners association. They're a legal document of the association, which cannot be changed or amended without a vote of the membership as outlined within the document.
In general, the Bylaws lay out policies and procedures for how a homeowners association is governed. Within the Bylaws you learn about membership within the association. This includes voting rights and other rights and terms of membership. The Bylaws also give direction as to the place, frequency and time of different association meetings.
Bylaws State the General Duties of the Board
It's in the Bylaws that you find information about who qualifies to be an HOA board member, how many directors are called for, and the length of each directors' term of office. You also find information about the duties and powers of directors and officers.
Although all Board members are directors, not all Board members are officers. The Bylaws explain the different offices that directors may hold. Typically, these offices include the following: President, Vice-President, Secretary, and Chief Financial Officer/Treasurer. The details regarding the duties and powers of each of these officers are contained in the Bylaws.
Bylaws Expect Board Members to Be Fiduciaries
Much of what the Bylaws address is the governance of the association by the directors and officers who become leaders within their community. When we consider the challenges that HOA boards are often faced with when leading a homeowners association, we would hope that those who take that step would also take seriously the duty of being a fiduciary.
When someone becomes a director, they take on a fiduciary duty in which they are to act on behalf of another (in this case the association and its members) regarding what has been entrusted to them. It's to be a relationship of trust and confidence where the fiduciary is expected to act with loyalty and care in the carrying out of their duties, not putting personal interests before their duty.
How Can I Get a Copy of My HOA Bylaws?
If you can't find your copy of the association Bylaws, make sure you request a new copy and review them so you're clear on how your HOA is governed. Association documents are available for all members to review. The governing documents are most likely available on the HOA website to review, but if not most associations have a procedure for requesting the documents.
It's the responsibility of the Association to make the governing documents—the Bylaws and the Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions (or CC&R's)—as understandable as possible. If there's anything an owner does not understand, they should be encouraged to contact the HOA board or manager for clarification. They should be able to clarify any confusing language or give the owner other materials that can answer their questions. Ignorance is not an excuse!