Q: We are a self managed association and members often ask for copies of records such as financial data and minutes of meetings. Often they ask for minutes before they are approved. One request is for our contract with the landscaper. We don’t feel that all these requests are appropriate.
A. This is a recurring topic of questions and has been the subject of several amendments to the statutes. Obviously it is a popular topic. The pertinent Code Sections are Section 55-79.74 of the Condominium Act and Section 55-510 of the Property Owners Association Act. Homeowners are generally asking for records for genuine reasons. The Virginia legislature has been under constant pressure from a variety of constituents to insure more openness on the part of boards – both as to meetings and records. It is important to understand what you are required to do to respond to a request for records – and it’s not immediate copying and provision of the copies to the member either on demand or within 24 hours. First of all you may require the request to be in writing stating a proper purpose related to the person’s membership in the association, and not for commercial purposes. Second, the statute grants a right of examination at a reasonable time and upon 5 days written notice identifying the purpose of the request and the specific books andrecordsrequested. Upon examination, copies can be requested and a charge can be made for the copies reflecting a reasonable cost of materials and labor. The time for providing the requested copies will vary depending on the volume and available staff. Many times the requesting party is asking for a specific document and can describe in detail what he wants (e.g. last year’s minutes of the annual meeting of members). There is no purpose in requiring him to come to the physical location of the document to obtain a copy.
Basically the pertinent statutes require that records of the Association be made available to its members for noncommercial purposes; that is, to understand, and keep current on, the business of the association. A few owners are typically more interested in the details than most other owners. However, the statutory provisions referred to above provide a list of certain records which can be withheld from inspection by members, which are as follows:
1. Personnel matters relating to specific, identified persons or a person’s medical records;
2. Contracts, leases and other commercial transactions to purchase or provide goods or services currently in or under negotiation;
3. Pending or probable litigation. Probable litigation means those instances where there has been a specific threat of litigation from a party or the legal counsel of a party;
4. Matters involving state or local administrative or other formal proceedings before a government tribunal for enforcement of the condominium instruments or rules and regulations;
5. Communications with legal counsel which relates to subdivisions 1 through 4 which is protected by the attorney-client privilege or the attorney work product doctrine;
6. Disclosure of information in violation of law;
7. Meeting minutes or other confidential records of an executive session of the executive organ held pursuant to subsection C of §55-79.75;
8. Documentation, correspondence or management or executive organ reports compiled for or on behalf of the unit owners’ association or the executive organ by its agents or committees for consideration by the executive organ in executive session; or
9. Individual unit owner or member files, other than those of the requesting unit owner, including any individual unit owner’s files kept by or on behalf of the unit owners’ association.
Please note that the statute is permissive, not mandatory, as to the withholding, so that the board could, in some instances, decide to provide copies of documents in the categories listed in the Code provision. Please also note that drafts of minutes or other documents not yet finalized by the board can be withheld. Also, salary information about employees is not available on an individual basis, only on an aggregate basis, that is, the total wages paid to all employees. A contract which has been signed by a vendor and the association is obtainable by a member as it is no longer “in negotiation”.
We trust this will give you the necessary guidance to respond to requests from your owners.