Tips To Help You Pass Your Next Bylaw

Achieving the minimum representation of 25% of owners (or quorum) can be difficult for some condos. When a bylaw needs to be passed, gathering a majority ("50% plus one") of "in favour" votes can seem like an insurmountable challenge. As of today, we have been involved in over 20 bylaw campaigns, and as a result, have summarized a set of recommendations below which we have found to lead to successful bylaw confirmations.

  1. Translate and summarize the proposed bylaw into plain language
  2. Provide a one-page cheat sheet for owners
  3. Try to pass only one bylaw per meeting
  4. Start educating your owners early - months in advance
  5. Engage your owners regularly
  6. Keep your owners email list up-to-date
  7. Be prepared to adjourn the meeting and try again later

Tip #1 - Translate and summarize the proposed bylaw into plain language

The proposed bylaw documentation is often drafted by the corporation’s lawyers, and while the legal wording provides for precision, the complexity of the language makes it hard for the average owner to grasp. Owners that don’t understand what they’re voting for will choose to abstain (or not vote at all) -- a serious problem when every vote counts.

Tip #2 - Provide a one-page cheat sheet for owners

We’ve seen Proposed General Operating Bylaws that span 50+ pages of complex legalese and financial numbers. The average owner will not even attempt to get past the first few pages. A simple one page summary outlining the amendments will help owners understand what they are voting for.

Tip #3 - Try to only pass one bylaw per meeting

In our experience, condos that attempt to pass more than one bylaw at a meeting tend to be unsuccessful at passing either one. Conversely, Condos that attempt to pass one bylaw per meeting are more successful at passing it. Why? Trying to understand the impact of changing one bylaw may already be a lot to grasp for the average owner. Trying to pass two or more bylaws is likely to lead to more overwhelmed and frustrated owners who are unable to understand what’s happening. Frustrated owners tend to vote unfavourably, or just won’t vote at all.

If there is a pressing need to pass more than one bylaw, group the bylaws together thematically to cover similar condo business. Combining related bylaws together will help simplify the messaging when communicating with owners and make it easier to highlight the benefits of the amendments. And the next tip becomes even more critical.

Tip #4 - Start educating your owners early - months in advance

If you know that you have a bylaw to pass, start informing owners about it as soon as possible. You want a good few months. Chances are owners are going to have questions, and lots of them. Providing ample notice will provide condos with an opportunity to fully engage owners through educational emails, Q&A sessions, town-hall informational meetings, and more. Not only do you need to convince owners to vote, you’ll need to convince them to vote “yes”.

Tip #5 - Engage your owners regularly

In one of the most successful bylaw campaigns we were involved with, our client sent weekly bylaw Q&A emails to owners over the course of two months. Residents were given the opportunity to submit their questions either by email or drop off their questions with the concierge and property manager. The bylaw Q&As were posted in the lobby, elevator, distributed electronically, and were included as part of the mailed package. The Q&A approach culminated into an informational town-hall meeting attended by owners, the Corporation’s lawyer, and the condo insurance agent. By opening up the lines of communication and engaging with owners in a meaningful discussion, this condo was able to minimize the number of unfavourable votes (and, of course, maximize favourable votes), thus allowing them to easily pass their Standard Unit Bylaw.

Tip #6 - Keep your owners email list up to date

Unsurprisingly, condos that have a more complete and accurate list of their owner email addresses tend to be more successful at passing bylaws. Such condos are able to get the bylaw messaging out to a greater number of owners and, using GetQuorum’s proxy software, significantly increase the number of online proxies collected from owners.

Tip #7 - Be prepared to adjourn the meeting and try again later

Despite your best attempts, sometimes it takes more than one meeting to pass a bylaw. A number of our clients have successfully adjourned their meetings, collected additional online proxies to reach majority, then re-held the meeting to confirm the bylaw. Speak to your corporation’s solicitor about the proper way to adjourn the meeting and retain the existing votes.

Remember that every vote counts -- treat it like a political campaign

If there’s one takeaway from this post, it’s that owners who do not feel educated enough to make an informed decision will simply choose not to vote, or will abstain and defer to their neighbours to make a decision for them. The idea of “passing the buck” to better informed community members may be a reasonable justification. However, “abstaining votes” can throw a serious wrench into a bylaw campaign since bylaws cannot be passed based on turnout alone. A bylaw can only be approved when more than 50% of owners vote in favour of such bylaw. This makes it all the more important to ensure that every vote is a favourable one.

JJ Hiew

JJ is a former condominium director and is the co-founder of GetQuorum.com, a corporate governance platform specializing in electronic voting, proxy voting and notice distribution service.

Toronto