This week’s column was written by my colleague Donna Dimaggio Berger. Donna is a Shareholder in the law firm of Becker & Poliakoff and is the author of the popular Community Association Law blog which can be found at www.communityassociationlawblog.com. Today, I am discussing the pros and cons of homeowners’ association (HOA) board members and managers using email for community correspondence, and how to craft a sound email policy for your association. Board members, managers and association residents are no different from everyone else you know inasmuch as they are all heavily reliant upon electronic means to communicate. Phone conversations and, even more rarely, in-person conversations do still occur but not nearly as frequently as emails and text messages. Whether you are a member of an association board of directors or are a manager assisting such a community, it is important to understand that (a) everything you put in writing can and will be used against you and (b) some topics and situations are not well suited to an email response. Whenever I teach a Board Certification or other educational course, I always ask the directors and managers in attendance to raise their hands if their community has a comprehensive email policy in place. Surprisingly, not a single hand is raised. Deciding in advance how your Board will handle emails from residents, professional advisers and vendors is not only advisable, it is necessary. Here are some questions you need to ask yourselves and then craft the appropriate email policy with your association attorney’s assistance to ensure it complies with both your documents and applicable law.
- If a resident emails the entire board with a complaint, who should respond? Without protocol in place, chances are everyone will respond (and sometimes with different answers and conflicting information) or no one will respond as a result of assuming someone else did.
- If a resident’s email is akin to a rant with no specific purpose or request, how should it be answered, if at all? Florida and North Carolina law require written requests to inspect the association’s books and records to be answered within a certain time period. However, nothing requires boards to respond to venomous email rants. Decide as a board how you wish to handle these kinds of communications. Some boards choose to use a simple auto response such as: “Thank you for your email. Your input will be reviewed and should a response be necessary, you will receive one.”
- Email communications to and from professional advisers, particularly the association attorney should be deliberate and thoughtful. Since reading and responding to emails is typically a billable event, the board should determine who can send such communications to the attorney or the attorney’s staff. In addition, when litigation is being discussed, extraneous people should not be added to the recipient list for fear of jeopardizing the attorney-client privilege. Note that emails between board members and officers are not privileged and are subject to discovery by the opposing party in a lawsuit, so be judicious about what you say in inter-board email communications.
- Replying to all on an email and allowing Outlook to automatically complete email addresses (and thereby send to the wrong recipient if you don’t check carefully) are the bane of most emailers’ existence. This is doubly true for board members and managers so be sure to review your recipient list prior to hitting send. Also, know that blind copies are no guarantee that your email recipient will not reveal having seen a copy of your email so think twice before doing that as well.
- Emails are typically part of the association’s official books and records. As a director, if you do not wish to have your personal email address used to send and receive emails related to the business of running your association, it is wise to set up an official association email address for your directors. You should also discuss with your association attorney how many years you must retain those emails and the best method to do so.
These are just a few areas that need to be covered in your association’s email policy. If you don’t have such a policy, what are you waiting for? This column was originally published in the Charlotte Observer on November 26, 2016. © All rights reserved.