Guard Your HOA's Membership List Carefully
If an owner or someone else asks to see your association's member list, can you say no? If your state requires that you provide members your list, can you redact some information? Are there restrictions on how members can use the list?
To answer those questions for your association, you'll need to review your own state's law and your governing documents. Here's how a sampling of states address the issue.
California—"All members can view the membership list, but no outsiders can," says Sharon Glenn Pratt, a principal at Pratt & Associates in Campbell, Calif., who advises many homeowners associations. "It should include the owners' name, the property address, and the mailing address."
However, members can opt out of providing their name and address and tell the association they want to be contacted through alternative procedures, says Robert M. DeNichilo, an attorney at DeNichilo & Lindsley LLP in Irvine, Calif., who specializes in representing community associations.
"If an owner requests it, the list must be supplied as long as the member states the purpose and that purpose is reasonably related to his interest as a member," says Pratt. "But there are restrictions on how members can use the list. If they misuse it for commercial reasons or the association has reason to believe they're going to misuse it, they can restrict the use. If it's to be used for another purpose, the association may deny access to the list. If the association doesn't want to give the list to the member, the association has the burden of proving the member was going to use it for an improper purpose."
Associations often deny members' access to the list. "A member may ask for the list and give you a stated reason, but you're aware of facts that show their reason for accessing the list isn't related to their interest as a member," explains DeNichilo. "Maybe you know a member is a contractor, and while he's saying he wants to discuss an upcoming election, you have reason to believe what he really wants to do is prepare a mailing or sell a list to another contractor. Generally, we'll tell the person, 'Give us what you want to mail out, and we'll mail it for you.' If it's a marketing piece, we wouldn't send it out."
New York—"Owners are entitled to a list of names and addresses of members, nothing more," says Marc Andrew Landis, a partner at Phillips Nizer LLP in New York City who advises associations and co-ops and is a member of the executive board of the Council of New York Cooperatives and Condominiums. "The use is restricted to the affairs of the co-op or association and can't be used for private purposes, such as marketing."
North Carolina—"We have a specific state statute that governs this issue," says Michael S. Hunter, an attorney and partner at Horack Talley in Charlotte, N.C., who represents more than 500 community associations. "Under North Carolina law, the homeowner's association membership list may not be used for any purpose unrelated to member's interest as a member. Then it names specific examples: It can't use it for solicitations, nor for any commercial purpose, and it can't be sold or purchased."
The statute doesn't specify what information must be kept on an association's member list. "It's whatever information the association keeps," says Hunter. "That's often the member's name and address and sometimes the phone number and email address."