SIDE STREETS: Transparency coming to homeowners associations

BILL VOGRIN Updated: December 18, 2012 at 12:00 am • Published: December 18, 2012

If you volunteer on a homeowners association board, you better create a new email account, quickly, for HOA business only.

And be prepared to operate with greater accountability to your fellow homeowners.

A new state law taking effect Jan. 1 mandates new levels of transparency from HOA officers while it takes steps to protect the privacy of the 2 million Coloradans living in HOAs, or covenant-protected communities.

How much does the law change life in an HOA?

Consider those neighborly directories of names, phone numbers and email addresses of residents that are published by many HOAs. They can no longer be routinely distributed.

“Those kinds of directories now require written consent of the owners before they can be distributed,” said Lenard Rioth, longtime HOA attorney in Colorado Springs. “The new law requires personal identification and account information, including the telephone numbers and email addresses of owners, must be kept private.”

However the privacy protections in the bill, passed by the 2012 General Assembly, do not apply to board members. They are required to publish their own email addresses.  And they must be prepared to release all emails related to HOA business and decisions.

“My recommendation to all board members is that they get separate email addresses from their personal email accounts,” Rioth said. “If they use their personal email accounts for HOA business and there’s ever litigation, they may be forced by a judge to produce all their personal emails from their family and friends.”

The new law was contained in House Bill 1237, written by Rep. Angela Williams, D-Denver,  and the Community Associations Institute, an HOA management industry group.

It was a response to complaints about a lack of HOA board transparency, as reported by the state HOA Information Officer last year.

It specifies which documents – covenants, bylaws, financial statements, board decisions — must be maintained, for how long and how quickly they must be produced by the state’s 8,000 HOAs. And it bars HOAs from demanding the purpose of an owner’s document request.

It lets boards meet and vote via the Internet. But online chats and votes must be documented and available for owner inspection.

And it declares as private HOA records of covenant violation actions.

“In the past, if an HOA cites an owner for say a barking dog violation, that owner will demand to see all the covenant violations actions for barking dogs in the last 30 years,” Rioth said. “They want to argue they are victims of selective enforcement action. This will prevent that selective enforcement defense.”

Now, get your email accounts set up and get written consent before you send out those directories!

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