Be careful about how condo association handles owners' personal information

Article Courtesy of  The Orlando Sentinel

By Pamela Dittmer McKuen

Published November 15, 2018


The issue of privacy is getting a lot of exposure these days.

Widespread incidents of identity thieves, data breaches and other invasions have everyone feeling self-protective. That sentiment has ignited concerns about how community associations handle the personal information of their owners.

Any owner information should be handled with caution to ensure it does not fall into the wrong hands or incur liability for the association.

Here are some best practices to follow:

Reduce the amount of data collected.

Associations need a certain amount of information about its owners and their homes to maintain the property, collect assessments and enforce rules. Keep it to a minimum, said Brian Butler, vice president of property management at FirstService Residential in Chicago.

For example, use a third party such as a bank lockbox to accept assessment payments rather than allow residents to drop off checks in someone’s office or mailbox.

“The less we can touch the actual check and the information on it, the safer the data is and the lower the risk is for associations and for us,” he said.

An association without any intention of exercising its right of first refusal has no need to require prospective buyers to provide credit or income information, said association attorney Charles VanderVennet of Arlington Heights.

If the association is undecided, it cannot use a prospective buyer’s credit and income information to evaluate whether or not to exercise its right of first refusal.

“Then it’s a screening mechanism, and that’s an improper use of the right of first refusal,” he said.

Keep an eye on surveillance.

Cameras and drones are fine investigative tools, but they need to stay in the common areas, and owners should be made aware of their existence.

“Contractors who use drones should have permits to do so, and they should be using them only for the specific purposes for which they were hired,” said Kara Cermak, senior vice president of learning and development and senior offsite community manager at RealManage LLC in Elgin.

If owners want to install their own surveillance cameras, work with your attorney to draft appropriate rules so as not to infringe on others, she said.

Don’t ask and don’t talk about health.

When owners in non-pet associations request comfort animals for medical reasons, associations can ask only for documentation from a verifiable medical practitioner that the animal is beneficial, VanderVennet said.
Associations that have knowledge about residents’ medical conditions should refrain from providing assistance for or making wellness checks on those who are ill or frail.

“Those concerns are to be encouraged neighbor-to-neighbor, but if the association doesn’t do its daily check and someone is seriously injured in a fall or has died, you know the association will be on the other end of that lawsuit,” he said.

Uphold your fiduciary duty.

Boards should adhere to their governing documents and follow the business judgment rules, said association attorney David Hartwell at Keough & Moody in Naperville and Chicago.
“They don’t have to make the perfect decision all the time, but they have to engage the processes and thoughts a business person would,” he said.