The Fundamentals of HOA Elections in California

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Homeowner associations are responsible for collecting the dues, managing the finances, running the physical operations of a planned community. California is one of the states with the highest HOA presence, second only to Florida. The self-governing HOA has democratically elected board members that handle all the matters involving the community. For this reason, HOA elections are crucial. Homeowners get to choose a few people (typically 3, 5 or 7) to represent them. The board is also responsible for reinforcing the community bylaws and other regulations. Therefore, every member of a homeowner association should be aware of how elections work.

The HOA Election Process

HOA election laws vary from state to state. In California, the Davis-Stirling Common Interest Development Act dictates HOA regulations. Different associations can also have rules about how they conduct their elections. Usually, an association’s governing documents outline the specific procedures. An HOA election includes announcements regarding an upcoming election and notifications about the open positions available to the members.

The association follows established rules to organize the election. Members are required to vote by mail. Once the votes are counted and winners announced, the new directors assume their positions. Due to SB 323 which amended the Davis-Stirling act in January 2020, HOA elections take at least 105 days from start to finish. Only association members can vote. However, a homeowner from the community can vote by proxy.

New Laws for HOA Elections in California

The Senate Bill 323, which took effect in 2020, overhauled the previous California HOA election procedures extensively. Every homeowner that is part of an HOA should be familiar with the changes that the bill institutes. The following are highlights of some vital elements of the new laws.

  • According to the Civil Code 5100(a)(2), associations are required to have elections at least every four years. A majority of HOAs hold elections every one or two years, so this provision might not affect many of them.
  • HOAs with over 6,000 members can have votes by acclamation in an instance where at the end of nominations, there are more open seats than candidates.
  • The board shall appoint independent third parties as election inspectors. Previously, some HOAs let managers act in this capacity. The board can have 1-3 inspectors who can be a member of the association, but not one of the directors, a relative of a board member, or a candidate for a board position.
  • HOAs now have a minimum 90-day election cycle. Previously, association members simply received their ballots 30 days before the ballot counting. In the new section, 5115(a), HOAs now must also mail out a “call for nominations” at least 90 days before the ballot counting and give members 30-days to respond. 5115(b) requires HOAs to also mail out a “Pre-Ballot Notice” at least 30 days before mailing out the ballots. The Pre-Ballot Notice must include information about the date, time and location of the upcoming election, plus a candidate and voter list for member verification.
  • Civil Code 5105(c) states that HOAs can disqualify candidates who have not been members for at least a year, are delinquent in assessments (lacking a payment plan), have a felony conviction, or co-owns a property with a director of the board. The law also requires candidates to receive Internal Dispute Resolution before disqualification. It means that a member should be given a chance to negotiate his or her eligibility. The law also adds another section, 5910.1, that prohibits associations from suing if a member requests Internal Dispute Resolution.

HOA boards are critical because they determine who will be in charge of safeguarding the finances and the interests of the entire community. Members should, therefore, be careful who they vote for and above all, understand how the process works so that they can get the best out of it.