Q&A: Preserving Privacy

Q. I would like to know if it is legal for board members to share personal and financial information regarding our home in the community with other residents who don’t serve on the board — and some who don’t even own property here, but live in the community as renters. We feel that what goes on in executive sessions should remain in those sessions, and not be shared as a topic of casual conversation, gossip or threatening with other members of our community. Am I correct in believing board members should keep owner information private?

—Wondering

A. “Board members are elected by unit owners to manage and operate the condominium association, which election and duties bring with them certain obligations to maintain the privacy of their unit owners’ personal information,” says Frank Lombardi, Partner in Goodman, Shapiro & Lombardi, LLC, with offices in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. “In Rhode Island, and I’d imagine in most states, board members who are elected by unit owners are required  to exercise a duty of ordinary and reasonable care. If the board members are elected or appointed by the Declarant, then the standard is even stricter, that of a fiduciary. 

 “Moreover, again, in Rhode Island, board members are under an obligation of good faith in the performance of their duties as such. Under both standards, careless, callous or just plain mean gossiping about a person’s personal or financial information which is not technically “Association Business” could mean a breach thereof, exposing the board and association to lawsuits by the offended unit owner. 

 “Unless the personal or financial details are the center of a lawsuit, and even then, the less said the better, I would avoid discussing or divulging any unit owner information outside of the boardroom. 

“I cringe when I hear that board members are sharing or publishing information relative to assessment arrearage — in fact, there was a case in Florida a decade or so ago, where the board published a list of recalcitrant unit owners in the common area elevator. Not surprisingly, the association’s board was sued and lost big. In most cases, there is no need to name a unit owner who is in arrears. 

 “Again, unless the topic discussed was raised by the unit owner in question himself or herself, ie., association-wide email campaign disparaging the board, and the board needs to defend itself, the better course would be to refrain from sharing any information about him or her outside the boardroom. Loose lips sink ships, for sure, but they also cause lawsuits.” 

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