QUESTION: The majority of our members speak Chinese. Can our board meetings be conducted and minutes taken in Chinese? If not, are we required to provide an interpreter?
ANSWER: There is nothing in statutes or case law that requires your meetings be conducted in a particular language. Nor is there anything on point regarding translation of meetings and records. Even so, there is enough in the law to adopt a reasonable policy.
California Law. Article III, Section 6 of the California Constitution provides that “English is the official language of the State of California.” The Davis-Stirling Act (which governs community associations) and the Corporations Code (which governs corporate entities) are both written in English. That indicates that, at a minimum, all association records must be kept in English.
Conducting Meetings. As a practical matter, if everyone on the board and everyone attending a meeting speaks Chinese, then Chinese should be spoken. If even one person speaks English-only, the meeting should be conducted in English or a Chinese-to-English interpreter provided at no cost to the attendee. The minutes, as the official records of the association, must be in English. They can be taken in Chinese but must be translated into English whether or not English speakers reside in the development.
Interpreter. If meetings are conducted in English, HOAs are not required to provide an interpreter for other languages since English is the official language of California. If there are attendees who speak other languages and want to bring an interpreter to board meetings, they may do so at their own expense. Boards should not exclude an interpreter just because the person is not a member of the association. If the interpreter happens to be the member's attorney, you should show the lawyer to the door.
Interpreter vs Translator. An interpreter is a person who converts spoken words from one language to another. A translator is a person who converts written words from one language to another.
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