Many laws affecting community associations went into effect this year, despite social distancing and legislators’ inability to meet in person because of the pandemic. In fact, many of the bills this year directly resulted from the effects of the pandemic. For example, because gyms and recreational areas were closed, many people turned to home fitness and recreational equipment, including portable basketball hoops to meet their exercise and recreational needs. And, whether or not a community association can restrict a homeowner’s use of a portable basketball hoop was one of the most controversial issues decided by the Maryland legislature. Effective as of October 1, 2021, Maryland community associations are prohibited from imposing unreasonable restrictions on the location and use of a portable basketball hoop if the homeowner has the exclusive right to use the area where it is located and used.
Similarly, the pandemic resulted in an increase of home improvement and landscaping projects while people were stuck at home due to the lockdowns. The result was Maryland House Bills 248 and 322, which also went into effect on October 1st and make covenant restrictions that prohibit certain landscaping projects that promote environmental conservation, such as rain gardens, pollinator gardens and composting unenforceable by community associations.
Other legislation born from the effects of the pandemic include legislation which authorizes community associations to hold and conduct meetings by video conference or other electronic means. Maryland House Bill 1023 went into effect on June 1, 2021 in order to allow associations to conduct their meetings by video conferencing. Members can vote by proxy and submit ballots by electronic transmission within 24 hours after the conclusion of the meeting and nominations from the floor for board elections are no longer required for any electronic meetings if there is at least one candidate for each vacant position. Also enacted was Maryland House Bill 593, which clarified the procedure for holding additional meetings where there is no quorum present at the initial owners’ meeting. Similarly, in April 2020 the Virginia General Assembly had temporarily authorized community association governing boards to meet virtually during the state of emergency declared by the Governor. The Virginia General Assembly then expanded the temporary authorization to allow community associations to meet virtually or by other electronic means, and to vote by electronic means provided that their governing boards adopt guidelines that comply with the statutory requirements. Virginia’s laws went into effect on July 1, 2021.
In an effort to help homeowners from losing their homes, Virginia House Bill 2175/Senate Bill 1327 prohibits judgment creditors from seeking a judicial foreclosure against a judgment debtor’s primary residence if the judgment amount, not including costs and interest, is $25,000 or less. This law also went into effect July 1, 2021.
Other significant legislation that went into effect this year includes Maryland House Bill 567, which is similar to the bill applicable to Prince George’s County associations that passed in 2020, and requires associations in Montgomery County, Maryland to obtain professionally prepared reserve studies and have them updated at least every five years. Associations must include reserve funds in their annual budgets in accordance with the reserve study recommendations for future replacement and repair of common property. This bill went into effect on October 1, 2021.
The other major Maryland bill that passed and went into effect October 1, 2021 is Maryland House Bill 110/Senate Bill 144, which prohibits associations from enforcing any covenant or provision in their bylaws that unreasonably restricts the installation or use of electric vehicle recharging equipment in a common area parking space that is designated for the owner’s use or is the owner’s deeded parking space. The owner is responsible for obtaining county or local permits and approvals, as applicable, and for the costs of the installation and for any damage caused by the installation. The owner is also responsible for the removal of the equipment and must maintain insurance to indemnify the association or must reimburse the association for any increased insurance costs to the association related to the electric vehicle recharging equipment.
In Virginia, House Bill 1842, which went into effect on July 1, 2021, gives community association boards of directors the authority to restrict or ban smoking in common areas, as well as in attached private dwellings (such as townhomes and multi-family condominium units), without the need for approval by the homeowners. House Bill 1842 also amends the Virginia Property Owners’ Association Act to make it mandatory for courts to award court costs and reasonable attorneys’ fees to the prevailing party in lawsuits to enforce association rules and regulations. In addition, it amended the Virginia Condominium Act to provide condominium association boards with the authority to adopt and enforce rules and regulations regarding use of condominium common elements.
Virginia House Bill 2161, also effective July 1, 2021, expanded on the scope of persons protected from housing-related discrimination under Virginia’s Fair Housing Law to include “military status,” which is defined as: (i) a member of the U.S. uniformed forces or the reserves, (ii) a veteran, or (iii) a dependent of the service member. In 2020, Virginia’s Fair Housing Law was amended to include sexual orientation, gender identity, status as a veteran, and source of income as protected classes (joining the other categories of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, elder, and familial status).
Lastly, Virginia House Bill 1971 clarified the Virginia Fair Housing Law by amending it to expressly state that when a person receives a request for accessible parking to accommodate a disability, the person receiving the request must treat such request as a request for reasonable accommodation, as defined in the Virginia Fair Housing Law. This law went into effect July 1, 2021.
Community Association governing boards should consider whether any of these new laws affect their governing documents and whether they should be amended and/or if new rules or policies should be adopted by the board. If you’re seeking legal help from community association lawyers in Maryland or Virginia, feel free to contact me with any questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.