A topic that is frequently the subject of controversy between a homeowners association and an individual homeowner is the right of the homeowner to inspect and/or obtain a copy of the Associations list of members (Membership List). The typical HOA Membership List includes a members name, property address, and mailing address. Phone numbers and emails are not generally part of the Membership List, unless specifically provided for in state statutes or an associations governing documents.
Because state statutes and governing documents typically mandate that corporations / homeowners associations maintain a record of its members, the HOA Membership List becomes a part of the records of the association that its members have a right to inspect and/or receive copies of. The Membership List is an asset of the corporation/association and it can only be used for a proper corporate / association purpose. While there is no specific list of what constitutes a proper purpose, there are statutes that state what is an improper purpose such as:
- Using the HOA Membership List to solicit money or property unless the money or property will be used solely to solicit the vote of the members in an election to be held by the corporation.
- Using the HOA Membership List for any purpose which the user does not reasonably and in good faith believe will be for the benefit of the corporation.
- Using the Membership List for any commercial purpose or a purpose that is in competition with the corporation.
- Selling the Membership List.
When an association member requests to inspect or obtain a copy of their HOA Membership List, the member must state the purpose for the request, and that purpose must be reasonably related to the requesting members interest as a member of the association. If the association reasonably believes that the requesting member will use the HOA Membership List for an improper purpose, the association can deny the member access to the list. In said event, the associations denial of a members access to the Membership List must be supported by adequate facts to justify the denial as mere suspicion or speculation that the member will use the HOA Membership List for an improper purpose is not sufficient. When an association does deny a members request for access to the Membership List, the requesting members recourse is to commence an action against the association seeking a court order that compels the association to provide the member with access to the requested Membership List.
Some state statutes specifically allow for an action to compel the production of association records to be filed in a Small Claims Court so that the issue can be heard by a judge expeditiously and at minimum cost to the parties. There are also state statutes that will allow for the recovery of attorneys fees and/or penalties for the wrongful withholding of access to properly requested association records, and there are statutes that will impose liability on members for damages caused by the misuse of an associations Membership List.
Association directors, management personnel, and members who are desirous of obtaining access to association records, including the associations Membership List, should be familiar with the provisions contained in their associations governing documents and their states statutes pertaining to association records that are available for inspection and copying by association members. If a members request for the Membership List demonstrates that the list will be used for an improper purpose such as to advance the members personal interest at the expense of the association, withholding access to the list is permissible– so long as the associations decision is supported by more than conjecture. When in doubt, association management personnel should consult with the associations legal counsel for guidance on how to respond to the request.