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Handling Residents Meetings
Holding Residents Meetings is good practice even if legally there is no requirement to do so. Managing Agents can consult and inform leaseholders in a proactive way which can be particularly helpful if there is no Residents Association or RMC – Resident Management Company.
Taking the initiative to consult and not just sticking to the bare minimum legislative requirement under Section 20 will build a good rapport with leaseholders which in turn creates a fruitful and constructive relationship. Consultation may be on management and maintenance matters of which there could be many different elements, most likely to impact the quality of services and the service charge.
Residents meetings should form one strand of a network of communication; not everyone can or will want to attend meetings so the process of interaction may also involve personal letters, newsletters, surveys and information bulletins posted on a website.
Protocols for Residents Meetings
Consider carefully the purpose of the meeting – there may be several things to be discussed such as the accounts for the annual service charge, proposed improvements to the building or choosing contractors for specific works. Rather than just create a talking shop, anchor the meeting with clear and stated purposes such as consultation on the choice of contractors to refurbish a communal area or debate over certain improvements to be made to exterior lighting or parking, for instance. It should always be made clear that the final decision will rest with the Managing Agent and that the forum is to provide a majority view, not the ultimate outcome. Set out the meetings’ expectations in clear and simple language by using an Agenda.
Every meeting should have an agenda which should be circulated well in advance and also published on the appropriate website for residents to refer to. Two weeks is a good period to issue the Agenda especially if you are inviting questions to be sent in advance to which answers may require some research or investigation. Agendas can be sent by email but not every resident may have access to email or a printer to print off the document. Always print and take plenty of copies of the Agenda to the meeting including spares. It can be a good idea to put times on the Agenda so allocate specific amounts of time for each point to be discussed.
Try and pick a venue which is central and convenient to the majority of the residents with good parking and accessibility for all.
- Pick a sensible time for the meeting, a time when the bulk of people can attend but don’t fall into the trap of making this too late in the evening as meetings can run on and will end up finishing late. It can also set a precedent for late meetings
- Early evening is one option or you could, by using the format of a questionnaire, explore the possibility of holding meetings during business hours particularly if the topics for discussion are not likely to generate a great attendance
- Don’t make the mistake, however, of holding a meeting which is going to debate something controversial or unpopular at a time which is likely to be inconvenient for most residents as this can be seen as a way of burying bad news
- Most meetings are held with an early evening starting point say, 7 pm, but don’t leave the finish as open-ended, always put a closing time as well. It can be helpful to use a venue where you have to vacate the room at a set time as this can close a meeting which looks in danger of running on
Issuing documents for consultation
All leaseholders should be sent relevant documents on important issues irrespective of whether or not a meeting is to be called. Even if there is a meeting, not all residents will want to attend and some might not be able to.
How to prepare a document for consultation
- Use simple language
- Start the document with a short summary of the proposal
- Highlight the objective of the consultation and the issue in question
- Outline who is likely to be affected and how
- Debate the merits and set out the different options, don’t assume knowledge even if there is only likely to be one way forward or the preferred route is clear and obvious
- Discuss and detail costings
- State clearly how a decision will be reached after consultation
- Add the contact details of one or two people whom leaseholders can approach to discuss the issues. It is probably better for the sake of continuity and reporting to just have one person but if the matter is contentious or controversial then this could be a large burden
The position of the Managing Agent
Residents meetings that fall outside normal business hours will usually generate a charge in the form of fees for the Managing Agents who attend in line with any provisions set out in the management agreements. These should be transparent and reference can be made to the additional burden that Managing Agents may have in terms of travelling home after the meeting which could be some distance away. Also, keep in mind the Lone Working Policy to protect individuals who are attending the meeting without colleagues.
Notice of the Meeting
A common period to give notice of a meeting would be 14 days, this can be circulated by letter, email and with notices posted in communal areas of the building. Two weeks gives residents enough time to plan to attend or raise questions. If the Managing Agents are going to issue documents then these need to be sent to residents at least 7 days before the meeting and in hard copy form as well as by email.
It needs to be abundantly clear that meetings are for consultative purposes only and that whilst the leaseholders’ views will be taken into account, the decision rests solely with the Managing Agents. To manage expectations, set out the protocol for consultation and review, will this involve a leaseholder ballot or is the final decision solely in the hands of the Agents? Always make sure that the proposed plan for reaching a decision is fully compliant with the Management Company’s Memorandum and Articles of Association and it is often a good idea to have copies of these to hand at the meeting to demonstrate the right to have the final say if necessary.
Minutes of the Meeting
- Appoint someone experienced to take the minutes
- Minutes should record who attended the meeting and this can be particularly relevant if there is a dispute further down the line
- Accurate minute taking is very important if a matter being discussed is contentious
- Minutes are an opportunity to also record any decisions made following the debate at a particular meeting
- It can be useful to have copies of the minutes from the previous meeting to hand to refer to
- Minutes of the meeting should be reviewed before they are sent and signed off by the meeting Chairman or leader
- Minutes should be issued within 14 days of the meeting
- Decisions made as a result of the meeting need to be made public via the usual channels of communication so hard copy letter, email and posting on a communal notice board
Sometimes a ballot can be the preferred option as it is a more direct means of canvassing views and focusing the minds of residents on the decision-making process. Ballots should be conducted as a secret postal vote with a clear ballot paper that offers no room for ambiguity. The ballot paper should state the majority vote required to pass the motion and detail who will count the ballot and how the count will take place, whether in public or in private. Allow at least a month for ballot papers to be returned and use notices in communal areas to act as a reminder.
The count should be conducted by an independent person so without connection to the Managing Agents or leaseholders or any of the residents. Ballot papers should be designed so that they remain completely anonymous. The standard protocol is one vote per leaseholder and one vote per joint leaseholders. State when the count will take place and when and where the result will be announced ahead of the ballot date. Communicate the results for and against rather than simply the outcome including any rejected votes and why they were rejected, i.e spoilt ballot paper.
The outcome of a ballot or consultation
Inform all leaseholders of the outcome in writing which should include a reference to the ballot or consultation and the reasons why a particular decision was made.
The process of residents’ meetings and also consultation and balloting creates a channel of communication which, whilst it can be challenging at times, ultimately leads to better relations and decision-making between residents and Managing Agents.