The General Meeting of our Owners Management Company (OMC) normally takes place in June each year. During the Covid-19 pandemic, the meeting moved from a local hotel to an online meeting, via Zoom. Now that the pandemic restrictions are relaxed, we are wondering if we are required to return to an “in-person” meeting. Also, are there any things we need to consider in this regard?
Finbar McDonnell writes: This is a question that is currently being debated by many OMC boards and members across the country.
The legal situation is that the possibility of holding online or electronic general meetings was introduced as an emergency measure during the pandemic and has been extended several times. In December 2021, the measure was extended until the end of April 2022. Thus, the first requirement of a virtual general meeting is that the Department for Business, Trade and Employment again extends the period during which they can be used (and perhaps underpin them permanently). on a statutory basis).
In my opinion, the ministry should allow this option if that is what an MOC wishes to do. Many residential development general meetings have low attendance and there can be a saving of hundreds of dollars on meeting room hire. Another benefit is the greater ability for owners who do not live in (or near) the development to attend. My own experience has seen online attendance over the last two years from owners who have never attended a meeting before, from all parts of Ireland and overseas. (Regular attendees on vacation are also facilitated.) Another advantage is that the time that is generally convenient for owners for meetings is the early evening. This coincides with rush-hour traffic, which means in-person meetings tend to increase both attendee stress levels and carbon emissions.
In my opinion, virtual general meetings have been a success and should be an option for the future. While it took time for people (including managing agents) to get used to the technology, most people are now comfortable with it.
There are some arguments in favor of in-person meetings. The first is that they can facilitate social interaction between neighbors. However, such interaction is perhaps best organized via a social event rather than the annual general meeting, which has a formal business agenda. Another point raised was that the Annual General Meeting is an important forum for members to make their points to the WTO Board. This is important and no WTO Board should use the electronic format as a way to end the discussion (and, if organized correctly, there is no reason for that to happen ).
Another point raised was that for larger developments, particularly where complex issues are to be discussed (eg the introduction of a levy for an investment project), it may be appropriate for a face-to-face meeting. Such cases are still being elucidated. It is certain that complex meetings, for example with multiple presentations from different experts, require careful preparation to work online.
One question that has arisen is whether the requirement in Section 17 of the Multi-Unit Developments (MUD) Act that a general meeting of the WTO be held “within reasonable proximity to the MUD” means it must take place in person. My own interpretation of this section of the Act is that it is intended to ensure that meetings are accessible to members and does not preclude the holding of general meetings by electronic means, if that is what the members of the business.
Another question concerns holding a “hybrid” meeting, which some members attend in person and others virtually. Although this is an option, in my own experience it can be somewhat cumbersome because without roving microphones or cameras, people online may not be able to see or hear those who are in the meeting room, so the chair should repeat the points for those not present in person. However, this option can be useful in certain circumstances.
In terms of ensuring the proper management of electronic meetings, the WTO may wish to review its constitution (note and articles) to ensure that it is consistent with online meetings. For example, there may be a reference to a quorum requirement “in person” which may need to be changed.
Another issue not directly related may be whether GA notifications and supporting documents can be sent by email rather than by post, which may also require an amendment to the WTO constitution, with options for members who wish to continue to receive paper documentation. Another issue can be whether an online meeting is recorded and, if so, what consents are required from the participants, how long the recording will be stored, etc. In my own experience, it has not been necessary to record meetings and meeting minutes. are based on notes taken, as has always been the case.
Overall, I view online meetings as a positive lesson from the pandemic experience that will benefit many MOCs.
Finbar McDonnell is a Chartered Property Manager and a Fellow of the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland, scsi.ie