Virtual or In-Person Meetings During a Pandemic: Which is Best?

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Unlike in past years where I would have attended several owners’ meetings in a week during the busier times of the year, this year I have only attended a handful of in-person owners’ meetings since March. Most clients initially deferred their AGMs in the Spring. Since the deadline for holding AGMs will not be extended by the Government of Ontario, most condominiums have decided to hold their AGMs using electronic means or by teleconference (“virtual meetings”).

While the Government of Ontario has indicated that it will not extend the time to hold AGMs, it has extended the temporary amendments that allow condominiums to hold their meetings using virtual means without passing a by-law. The deadline was initially November 21, 2020, but it has been extended to May 31, 2021. As such, all condominiums have the legal authority to hold their meetings using virtual means until at least May 31, 2021.

The question is: Will you hold your meeting in-person or move to a virtual meeting?

Virtual Meetings vs. In-Person Meetings

I have already posted about some of the advantages and disadvantages of virtual requisition meetings: https://ontcondolaw.com/2020/07/13/virtual-requisition-meetings/ Similarly, I did a blog post for CCI’s Grand River Chapter on virtual meetings and recommendations for effectively communicating with owners: https://www.cci-grc.ca/blogs/view/communicating-in-the-digital-age-condo-edition. In short, the pros and cons of virtual meetings tend to be:

ProsCons
Easier for chairperson to control the meeting.Technology can be challenging for some owners.
Less costly if paying professionals (i.e. lawyer, engineer, auditor) to travel to the meeting.Accessibility issues with some of the options.
More flexibility about the time of the meeting (i.e. hold over lunch break instead of in the evening).Costs of hosted virtual meeting can be prohibitive for some condominiums.
Common pros and cons of virtual condo meetings.

In addition to the above, virtual meetings also have the added benefit of minimizing exposure to COVID-19 and other infectious diseases. Even if you aren’t concerned about catching it yourself, you should be concerned about the potential liabilities of your condominium if you host a meeting in-person and someone falls ill because of it.

The most common concern with virtual meetings is a perception that the technology is too complex for some owners to use. Some have concerns about the accessibility features of the virtual meeting platforms. In my experience, in-person meetings tend to be less inclusive than virtual meetings right now. This may seem counter-intuitive, but hear me out. For one, some people cannot attend meetings in person because they are in a high-risk group and do not want to put themselves at risk. Others may have returned from a trip and need to quarantine. Other owners may have jobs that expose them to COVID and they do not want to infect their neighbours by attending the meeting. While the intention with in-person meetings is often to be more inclusive by avoiding the technology required for a virtual meeting, in-person meetings can actually be less inclusive for the reasons above.

There are a number of other considerations with in-person meetings that you should be aware of right now. You need to monitor the restrictions on gatherings to ensure your condominium is complying with any at the time of the meeting. These restrictions change frequently right now, so be prepared to check at least once a day. You will also need to find a large space that will permit everyone to be at least 2 metres apart. You might want to consider renting microphones for the meeting as the extra distance can make it difficult for people to hear each other, especially with masks on. You will also need to enforce distancing and mask compliance throughout the meeting. You should have a plan prepared in the event someone refuses to wear a mask or keep a safe distance. Who are you going to call? What are you going to do? Lastly, while you might have been able to get away with meetings held outdoors during the warmer month, this is not a viable option with winter quickly approaching. You cannot expect owners to sit outside for an hour or two when it is -10 degrees Celsius, raining or snowing, or dark.

In my opinion, the most inclusive type of meeting right now is a virtual meeting through a hosting system that allows owners to call into the meeting using an ordinary landline telephone. This option eliminates concerns about spreading COVID-19 while minimizing potential technology issues with owners who may not be familiar with virtual meetings. If they have called a 1-800 number they can manage to call in for the virtual meeting. Voting can be done using proxies (in paper or electronic format) to minimize technology issues with voting during the meeting, which can be more common if you hold the meeting without a virtual meeting host. Spend the time that you would spend searching for a venue and ensuring all necessary precautions are taken to prepare the owners for the meeting. Send the initial notices earlier than required so owners have an opportunity to download any programs that they may need, purchase a microphone or headset, and speak with their techy family member to get some pre-meeting training. Provide detailed instructions for logging into the meeting. Once the meeting starts, go over the unique features of the virtual meeting system, such as how to ask questions, how to vote, etc.

I appreciate that some of you prefer in-person meetings (I do too), but the best option right now is a virtual meeting. You can return to in-person meetings when it is safe for all of your owners to do so.

End of the Declared Emergency: Your Most Common Condo AGM Questions Answered

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As you probably know, the declared emergency in Ontario came to an end on July 24, 2020, with the enactment of Bill 195. I’ve received several emails and calls today from clients looking for advice on what Bill 195 means for condominiums. The most significant concern seems to be the requirement for holding AGMs and the temporary extensions for holding AGMs that were provided for in Bill 190. Today I’ll answer a few of the most common questions. Continue reading

Virtual Requisition Meetings

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I am hearing reports that many condominiums are postponing their annual general meetings (“AGMs”) due to COVID-19 instead of using virtual means to hold them. Some condominiums are also avoiding decisions that could result in a requisition by owners, such as making changes to the common elements, assets, or services under Section 97 of the Condominium Act, 1998 (the “Act”), or creating, amending or repealing rules under Section 58. Many appear reluctant to use virtual meetings and electronic voting for a variety of reasons, but the primary concerns appear to be about the security of virtual meetings, the inability of owners to use the technology, and the associated costs.

Last week I participated in my first virtual requisition meeting to remove two directors from the board of directors of a condominium. I have participated in other types of virtual owners’ meetings, but this was the first requisition meeting so I was not sure if it would work as well. Today I thought I would discuss my experience. Continue reading

COVID-19 Resources & Update

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As you may have noticed, I have not blogged about COVID-19 much these past few months. This was an intentional decision based on a number of factors. The situation was evolving so quickly that it seemed like my advice was changing almost daily at times depending on the recent statistics, public health recommendations, emergency orders, and the law. I did not want to confuse or mislead people who might be reading the blog weeks or months later. Also, some people reported feeling overwhelmed by the number of articles, blog posts, and webinars on the topic. I felt it was unnecessary to add to the stress when so many others were doing such a great job publishing information about the subject. I am still frequently asked about COVID-19 resources for condominiums and owners, so today I am going to provide a list of some of the available resources. Continue reading

Latest Order Allows Virtual Condo Meetings

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One of the busiest times of year for annual general meetings (“AGMs”) normally begins in mid-April and lasts until the end of June. This period of time is normally when condominiums with December 31 year-ends hold their AGMs. Unfortunately, many condominiums have been unable to hold their AGMs due to COVID-19.  Often the directors felt like they were being forced to decide which way they wanted to contravene the Act: hold the AGM using virtual meetings even though the condominium did not have a by-law permitting virtual meetings, or postpone the AGM and contravene the requirement to hold the meeting within six months of the fiscal year end.  Not an ideal situation.

Fortunately, on Friday April 24, 2020, the Ontario government issued an Order to provide some temporary relief to condominiums struggling to make these tough decisions. The Order makes various amendments to the Condominium Act, 1998, with respect to meetings of the owners and of the board to make it easier to hold virtual meetings. A copy of the order can be found here: https://files.ontario.ca/solgen-oic-meetings-for-corporations.pdf Continue reading

COVID-19 Update: New Financial Option for Condominiums

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On March 21, 2020, we published a post entitled COVID-19 Update: Virtual Meetings, Condo Fees, and Liens. We suggested some ways in which condominiums could lessen the burden on owners who may be struggling to pay their condo fees, such as revising the budget or changing the payment schedule. We also eluded to a third option coming soon. This morning we learned more about that third option. Continue reading

Caremongering in Condos

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During the pandemic a new word is spreading around the world almost as quickly as the virus itself: Caremongering. Caremongering is a response to the scaremongering that some feel is prevalent these days due to the pandemic. Caremongering groups are popping up all over to help vulnerable groups or people struggling due to the pandemic. Some are aimed at helping seniors and other vulnerable people get necessities, like food and medicine. Some groups are trying to find ways to support small, local businesses stay open during the pandemic. Other groups try to help with the anxiety and depression caused (or exacerbated) by the pandemic’s isolation.

What does this have to do with condos? Condos are small communities and there are many opportunities for caremongering within the community. Before we get into some ideas, let me be clear about a few things. I am not encouraging people to engage in activities that endanger themselves or any other resident. Anyone participating in these activities must take the necessary precautions to avoid the spread of the virus and comply with any orders or recommendations made by public officials. (Sorry for the disclaimer, but remember this is a blog written by lawyers).

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