Evan Richman, Partner, Fleischner Potash
What happened. In 2021 there was a disputed board election between two slates of candidates at a Port Chester condominium. Right before the election, the board issued a notice to all residents in the building letting them know that this meeting was going to be held virtually. It stipulated a new requirement that in order to vote in the election, each resident or member had to first authorize the email address from which they would be sending their directed proxy. The board provided an email authorization form, which required the member to list their name, unit number and a designated email address from which they would be sending their proxy. Each member had to sign and date it, then send it back to the managing agent.
At the annual meeting. A number of proxies were submitted that had no prior email authorizations. The accountant who was overseeing the election then found that there were not enough authorized votes to constitute a quorum. Since there was no quorum, there could be no election. The board that was already in office continued for another year, and the side that had submitted the proxies challenged the election.
In court. The challengers argued that the email authorization form wasn’t reasonable and shouldn’t be permitted under the new amendments to the business corporation law, which were added during the pandemic. The court, however, said that the board was required to take steps to verify who these individuals were and that the board was required to impose safeguards. It held that this simple email authorization form was indeed a reasonable requirement and was valid under the statute, and the court dismissed the case.
Going forward. This is very significant because it appears to be the first New York case in which a court is interpreting the verification requirement under the newly enacted statutes. As co-op and condo boards now shift from in-person to virtual electronic meetings, they will need to impose some type of reasonable safeguard to eliminate fraud or misrepresentation. If a board decides to ignore this completely, it could open itself up to some type of election challenge, risk or headache down the line.