Homeowners associations are frequently involved in contentious issues with homeowners over the producing of copies of HOA records and books that have been requested by a homeowner. Notwithstanding the fact that state statutes and an association’s governing documents have provisions that specify the nature and scope of records that a homeowner is entitled to inspect and copy and the costs that the association is permitted to charge for making copies and delivering those records to the homeowner, disputes over what a homeowner is entitled to and the cost associated with providing those copies are common.
Homeowner’s Right to Inspect and Copy HOA Records.
Subject to time limitations that may be imposed by state statutes and/or the association’s governing documents, and the request being for a proper purpose that is reasonably related to a homeowner’s interest as a member of the association, homeowners have a right to inspect and obtain copies of most of the association’s books and records. Because the scope of what records must be provided to homeowners and those that are protected from inspection by homeowners is covered in state statutes, it is important for homeowners to be familiar with those provisions in their state laws as well as the provisions contained in their association’s governing documents. In many instances, the permissible scope contained in the statutes trump limitations that are in an association’s governing documents. Additionally, the statutes may impose restrictions on how far back in time a member’s request can go. For example, in California, with the exception of minutes, association members are limited to inspecting and copying records for the current fiscal year and the two previous years.
Homeowner Request to Inspect / Copy Records.
The process of inspecting an association’s books and records starts with the homeowner delivering a written request to the association’s management personnel. The request should clearly identify the items being requested to avoid confusion over what the member is entitled to inspect and/or receive copies of. Because of time limitations that the association has to respond to the request, it is important that the written request be dated and the date of delivery of the request to the association be documented. The date of delivery can be documented by signed receipts, proofs of service, delivery and certified mailing records. If the homeowner elects to have another person such as an attorney or an accountant inspect the records as an agent of the homeowner, the written notice should inform the association of that election and the name of the person to do the inspecting of the records. State statutes and/or the association’s governing documents may also provide the requesting member with the option of having the records delivered in electronic form.
Association Response to Request.
Because the association is entitled to be paid for the direct and actual costs of copying, redacting, and mailing the records requested by a homeowner, upon receipt of the request from a homeowner, the association should respond to the member by stating which of the records requested by the homeowner will be produced and what the estimated recoverable costs will be. The association’s governing documents and/or the applicable state laws will specify the time period for the association to respond to the request and may specify limits on the amounts that can be charged for the costs of copying the requested documents and redacting sensitive information. If the association fails to properly respond and/or produce the properly requested items, the requesting member may seek a court order that compels the association to perform as required by the state statutes and the association’s governing documents. In many states, these enforcement rights can be enforced in small claims court so the process can be completed relatively quickly and economically.
Location for the Inspection of Records.
The association must make the documents being produced for inspection and copying at the association’s business office, or such other location that the association and the member may mutually agree upon. If the member is only seeking copies of specified documents, the association can copy the requested documents and mail them to the member within the required timeframe.
The process of inspecting and obtaining copies of records from a homeowners association should not be complicated or adversarial. State statutes and HOA governing documents contain specific provisions that detail the rights and responsibilities of the association and the homeowner relative to inspecting and obtaining copies of records and, if those provisions are adhered to the process should go smoothly. Thus, it is important for both the association’s management personnel and the homeowner to be familiar with what the state laws and the association’s governing documents provide for relative to the inspection and copying of the association’s records. Unfortunately, unfamiliarity with those requirements often results in costly controversies that could have been avoided by spending a few minutes reviewing the relevant portions of the applicable state statutes and the association’s governing documents.