If you are a homeowner, you will know first-hand how slow and cumbersome the decision-making process can be in a meeting of the board of owners, and the low involvement of many neighbors. An online and asynchronous voting solution, which allows each owner to participate at their own pace and from their home, makes it possible to increase the participation of neighbors in the decisions of their community. However, you have to take into account some regulatory aspects before taking this path.
How should the voting system look like
The decision-making and voting process in owners’ meetings is a very regulated one. According to the law, attendance at owners’ meetings, which must be held at least once a year, must be in person, although it is possible to delegate attendance and voting to a third person.
Only those owners who do not have outstanding debts with the community have the right to vote in the meetings. Neighbors who are not up-to-date with the community’s payments can attend the meeting and participate in the deliberations, but they do not have the right to vote and their presence is not taken into account for the calculation of majorities.
Normally, the agreements of a board of owners are taken by the criterion of the double majority. In other words, when it comes to counting the votes, the majority must be met in both the number of owners and the participation coefficient. The participation coefficient is a percentage assigned to each owner of the total property according to the surface of the house or premises and other factors, such as the use of common spaces. This percentage also determines the amount of community fees.
The meetings can be called by the president of the community or a group of owners who add up to at least 25% of the participation coefficient.
Can you vote online at a homeowners meeting?
The answer is yes with nuances. The law does not include the possibility of participating by videoconference, although it does not exclude it either. In order to do so, two issues must be taken into account:
- The use of an online conferencing system must be optional. A community cannot be forced to meet by videoconference in meetings, since there may be neighbors who cannot access it, due to lack of means or knowledge. This is why some video conferencing systems allow the option of joining the meeting over the phone line.
- In a health emergency situation, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, it is possible to hold meetings exclusively by videoconference, due to the limitations on the number of people in meetings during the state of alarm. But in this case the decisions that are made would have to be ratified in a face-to-face owners meeting once the state of alarm passes and the restrictions are lifted. Besides, the videoconferencing system alone is not enough. It is advisable to complement it with an electronic voting system with legal validity.
In any case, the use of video calling to attend owners meetings has to be very detailed. It must be defined which videoconferencing system is going to be used in the meeting and what deadlines an owner has to communicate that she will attend by that method, for example.
Although the use of this system is an advance to facilitate the participation of neighbors who would otherwise be excluded from participating in the meeting, if we have learned anything in 2020 it is that video calls do not solve all problems. How could we improve the whole process or?
Benefits of asynchronous online voting in homeowners? meetings
The implementation of an asynchronous online voting system, that is, one that does not require participation at a specific time, would go beyond videoconferencing in the implementation of technology in the management of communities of owners and would bring with it a series of Benefits:
- An increase in ownership participation. By not making it necessary to be present at the meeting at a specific place or time, there would be more neighbors willing to vote and participate in community decisions. Each one could actively participate from and when it suited her better according to her personal situation and her rhythm of life.
- A higher quality of decisions. An increase in participation would already bring about an improvement in the democratic quality of decisions. But also, as it is an asynchronous voting, the reflection time is increased and better quality decisions can be made.
- More agility in decision making. Most of the neighborhood councils meet once a year to ratify accounts, elect the governing bodies and discuss the issues that have accumulated throughout the year. An online and asynchronous discussion and voting system would increase the frequency of discussions on community issues. This agility would allow, for example, to make better use of public funds for housing rehabilitation, such as maintenance and energy reforms.
A legislation for the digital era
The legislation that regulates the owners’ meetings needs an update that allows those communities of owners that wish to use more modern systems of debate and decision-making.
Encouraging greater participation and involvement of neighbors in the management of their community of owners will allow us to have more lively, better managed communities, and a more participatory and democratic society.