The Importance of Maintaining Your Digital Records

11 Jul 2019

Few statutory provisions are more exploited by owners, cause more expense and (legally permissible) harassment, or disrupt an association's operation, more than Fla. Stat. §§ 718.111(12)(c) (relating to condominium associations) and 720.303(5) (relating to community associations other than condos, timeshares, and cooperatives). Those subsections require that such communities make certain association records available within 10 working days of receiving a statutorily compliant request. As you may have learned during our Board Member Certification courses, the records which must be produced in response to such a request include essentially all written association records, with limited statutory exemptions (i.e., individual owners' confidential information, attorney-client privileged communications, etc.). If associations have no policy limiting the frequency or length of these inspections, owners could ostensibly issue requests on a weekly or even a daily basis, effectively forcing the community’s operation to a halt. Thus, it would benefit all communities to implement such reasonable limitations, in addition to undertaking steps to facilitate production of records rather than having owners visit management, counsel's offices, or for self-managed communities without a clubhouse or similar facility, having to incur the cost of renting space or even having someone come to an individual Board Member’s home, to complete the inspection.

In addition to these records maintenance and inspection requirements, the Florida legislature recently implemented a requirement that by no later than January 1, 2019, all non-timeshare condominium associations with 150 units or more must create and maintain a website, which pursuant to Fla. Stat. § 718.111(12)(g), must contain and provide unit owners access to most of the records of the association which would customarily be the subject of a records inspection request anyway. Although it is merely implied rather than expressly required that Chap. 720 associations maintain such websites, and also because many community associations are already required to provide certain records via their websites and provide login credentials (i.e., to password-protect certain records and make them available to the membership), we may be the first Florida law firm to publicly recommend that all associations consider digitizing ALL of their official records. Doing so would avoid the time-consuming task of producing those records or making them available in response to a records inspection request (or requests for production of records issued in litigation). Indeed, if all records are organized in digital format and readily available to all owners, the association's full and complete response to such records inspection requests could be a form letter directing owners to the web page(s) where the records can be accessed, saving significant time, effort, and in some cases, management and/or attorney’s fees. Likewise, litigants could be supplied limited credentials permitting access to certain responsive folders, and/or the association’s counsel can be supplied credentials to review the records and produce only the pertinent materials much more efficiently, resulting in similarly reduced litigation costs.

We anticipate that this recommendation will be attractive to all communities who must either pay management or counsel to address these requests, to managers who personally handle them on a daily basis, and especially to self-managed communities whose Board Members would no longer need to personally attend to these requests in a relatively short time.

If you are contemplating whether a paperless system can work for your community, please feel welcome to contact us to discuss whether we can assist in implementing such a system for your community, including locating local or statewide vendors to assist in the necessary web development and scanning of the Association's physical records. We are also available to assist clients with implementing protocols to ensure that physical originals are maintained as required, in addition to ensuring confidentiality, and that all other statutory and contractual provisions are met in taking the association toward a more advanced, efficient, and effective document management system.