Meeting quorum for the election of condo board of directors means gathering representation from at least 25% of owners. Just meeting this minimum can be difficult for some corporations. So imagine having to pass a bylaw where not only does quorum need to be reached, but a majority of the total unit owners (more than 50%) must vote in favour of the bylaw for it to pass. This higher voting threshold is what traditionally makes passing bylaws so difficult, especially for condos that already struggle to reach quorum.
Many proposed or amended bylaws fail because a majority of owners simply choose not to cast their votes. Providing an online solution like electronic proxy voting can increase overall representation, which is particularly beneficial in buildings that have had difficulty with owner engagement. If an owner cannot physically attend the bylaw meeting then they have the option to submit a proxy form. Using an online proxy tool alleviates the inconvenience of trying to submit a traditional paper proxy which can include personally delivering, mailing, scanning and emailing, faxing, and in some cases photographing a physical copy to the property manager or condo Board. The usage of electronic proxies could relieve this pain point by providing a guided, elegant and convenient system for owners to easily submit their proxies.
However, the ease of using this tool does not mean that it is a quick fix to pass all of the bylaws you have sitting on the back burner. It’s important to keep the owner in mind when bylaws become agenda items at AGMs. Boards need to take a step back and see things from the owners’ perspective — this might be their first time dealing with one bylaw let alone multiple bylaws that cover different facets of condo business. We have worked on several bylaw campaigns and have learned a lot from these collaborations with our partners. We wanted to share some of our experiences with you to help make your next future bylaw meeting a success.
Don’t try to pass too many bylaws at once, but if you do then make it thematic.
We recommend that Boards try to keep agendas short by limiting one bylaw per meeting. If you have a number of bylaws that you need to pass take the time to rank their importance and formulate a strategy for rolling them out over a period of a time (eg. over several AGMs). We totally get the fantasy of having an efficient meeting where five bylaws and two elections could be passed at once, but in our experience meetings like these tend to be unsuccessful because the average owner becomes overwhelmed and frustrated. We are condo directors too, and we understand that boards are trying to be more efficient with limited funds, but the funds become wasted if the meetings are unsuccessful.
However, if there is a pressing need to pass more than one bylaw then group them together so that they cover similar condo business. When it comes to a communication strategy, focusing on one core issue surrounding one or more bylaws is much easier to get across than unrelated bylaws. Owners are more likely to relate to these changes in the bylaws if you can effectively shine a spotlight on the shared benefits of the proposed bylaws. For example, clearly outlining the potential cost savings to the corporation with a standard unit bylaw and insurance deductible in the case of a water damage will make it easier for owners to understand the importance of passing these bylaws.
Bylaws should be translated into clear and concise language that anyone can understand
Owners are asked to read the bylaw documentation, which is often drafted by the Corporation’s lawyers. We understand that legal wording in the documents gives precision. But, it is a lot to ask for the average owner to take in at once. We have seen General Operating Bylaws that span 50 pages of complex legalese and financial numbers — the average person will not even attempt to read this. Bylaws should be translated and summarized into clear and concise language that anyone can understand. If your condo needs the authority to borrow funds in the case of a burst pipe in a common area — then say it.
TIP — Include a one page letter in the AGM package summarizing the reasons why the Corporation needs to pass the bylaw, how it will benefit the owners, and what could happen should the bylaw not be passed.
It is in a condo corporation’s favor to explain to owners and property management staff “why” the bylaw is needed. We have witnessed firsthand owners who refused to cast a vote because their Board and property manager could not properly articulate why they needed to amend a standard unit bylaw. Owners do not mean to be difficult, rather they do not want to vote for or against something they do not understand. So it is important that when you distribute bylaw meeting materials that you translate the legalese using common language that anyone can understand.
TIP — Summarize it to an elevator pitch
Write a short pitch that encompasses the reasons why the owner should vote in favour of the bylaw. Write it as though you were in an elevator with an owner and only had the span of the elevator ride to convince them.
We have also learned that owners who do not feel educated enough to make an informed decision will choose to abstain and defer to their neighbours to make a decision for them. The idea of “passing the buck” to better informed community members is a reasonable justification. However these abstaining votes can throw a serious wrench in a bylaw campaign, since condo bylaws cannot be passed based on turnout alone. Bylaws can only be approved when more than 50% of owners vote in favour, so for a community with 500 suites this means that 251 owners must cast an “in favour” vote.
Getting the message out there
Leaving the notice package by the door or sending it by mail does not necessarily mean that owners have read it. Using electronic tools, such as free email marketing services and Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software, you can track if your communications are being read. These online tools can provide a more efficient way of keeping owners informed, and remind your community about upcoming elections and bylaw changes.
Marketing theory teaches us that you have eight seconds to capture the attention of a reader, so it is crucial to include your “call to action” in the first couple of sentences of your newsletter or email. This “call to action” could range from letting your community know of their right to vote to informing them of the financial impacts of the bylaw. We have seen significant upticks in engagement during our email campaigns when the approach becomes educational. Notifying community members of the hard costs that go into meetings, what quorum means, or the consequences of not passing a bylaw can be an eye-opening experience. Getting a better understanding of what is involved in running a condo corporation will not only engage owners, but also provide more appreciation that their vote counts.
Higher voting thresholds are what traditionally make bylaws so difficult to pass in condos. Condo Boards and their property management team have a number of tools at their disposal to increase overall owner representation. From email marketing software, electronic proxy platform, social media and the condo website — any one or a combination of these tools can engage owners when complemented with educational campaign on the importance of passing the proposed bylaws. So the next time a bylaw becomes an agenda item at your upcoming AGM it’s important to keep the owner in mind.