HOA Communications: What to Say--and What Not to Say--In Your Homeowner Association Newsletter
Whether it's online or on old-fashioned paper, a newsletter is a good way to keep your owners informed of issues in your association and to build a sense of community. But you can't just print anything you want in an association newsletter. Here's a list of what you should and shouldn't include.
1. All the news that's fit to print. Include news about your members, association, and local community. Announcements could range from notices about members' new babies and new jobs to events planned for your community, dates and times of meetings, planned maintenance or repair work, and reminders about rules. Be factual and careful not to include personal information about your members that they may not want to be publicly known. How do you know what information members don't want published? Ask them—in writing. For example, if you're considering publishing information about Sue Brown's new job, send her a brief e-mail asking her to provide you with a short paragraph describing her new position. As a precaution, also seek permission from members before including photos, even those taken at community events.
2. Say yes to easy document access. Want to cut down on the number of times you photocopy your CC&Rs for members? If your newsletter will be online, add links to documents that members frequently request. Those might include your CC&Rs, meeting minutes, financial statements (without account numbers, of course), budget information, and archived copies of newsletters. Also include all the forms your members frequently use and those that will make your job easier. For example, if your clubhouse is available for rent, put a rental request form online. Create forms for member suggestions and requests for repairs, along with forms that allow members to submit information for publication in the newsletter and suggestions to the board.
3. Say no to humiliation. Though you may be within your legal rights to publish lists of members delinquent in paying assessments or fines (truth is an absolute defense to claims of libel), it's probably not worth the trouble you'll create. In addition to delinquencies, avoid rumors, commenting on disputes among members, and opinion pieces that could generate unnecessary controversy.
4. Generate revenue through advertising. Some boards increase association revenue by accepting advertising in their newsletters. The caveat, however, is that you must retain control over the content of ads in your newsletter. Don't publish any ads that include illegal pitches. For example, if you allow people to submit classified ads, you may get a submission from a person seeking a roommate but restricting applicants to a single gender or excluding people with children. Because those ads would violate fair housing laws, you'd have to reject them or insist that the illegal restrictions be removed.
5. Think hard about a community forum. Online community bulletin boards can be great, but they can also invite trouble. Most courts have held that Webmasters of online forums can't be held liable for the libelous writings of people who comment on the boards. Even so, if your goal is to foster a positive atmosphere in your community, you may not meet it by allowing members to voice their grievances, sometimes in less-than-respectful language. Then again, if members are voicing concerns online, they're likely doing it among themselves, too. So a community forum may be a way to get early warning of members' concerns. A moderated forum can be a middle-ground approach between no forum and an unregulated free-for-all, but it requires a time committment on someone's part. Given all the pros and cons, think hard before determining which path you'll take.