Q: We live in a large condominium complex in the Washington Metropolitian area. We are quite upset with some of the procedures and activities of the board of directors, and the annual election for board members is scheduled shortly. We have attempted to obtain the mailing list of all unit owners so that we could send our version of what's going on to everyone. However, the board has taken the position that the mailing list is not available. What can we do?
A: In dealing with a condominium issue, one should start by reading the basic condominium documents that created the condominium in the first place. In the Washington area, there generally are three sets of documents: the declaration, the bylaws and the rules and regulations.
The declaration is the document that actually created the condominium. It is recorded among the land records wherever the condominium is located.
The bylaws of the condominium spell out the basic operating procedures as to how the condominium works. Generally speaking, condominium bylaws contain the procedures for governing the condominium, the functions of the officers of the condominium, rules and regulations regarding election and recall, and many other important items that allow all unit owners to know how the condominium is to be governed.
Many condominium associations also promulgate rules and regulations dealing with such things as collection of trash, keeping of pets, use of the swimming pool and similar housekeeping matters. It is easier to change the rules and regulations of a condominium than to go through the formal process of amending the declaration and the bylaws.
The answer to your question lies in the bylaws themselves. Of all of the various condominium documents that I have reviewed, I cannot recall a single condominium association that does not contain language permitting unit owners and mortgage lenders access to the books and records of the condominium association. For example, in one condominium in the Washington area, the bylaws state:
"Each unit owner and first mortgagee shall be permitted to examine the books of account of the condominium at reasonable times during normal business hours . . ."
As far as I am concerned, if language such as this is contained in your operating documents, this gives you the right to have access to the names and addresses of all of the condominium unit owners.
The board of directors or the management agent of your condominium may charge you for copying this information. I think this is fair, and provided that the fee is reasonable, you should be prepared to pay such a copying fee. However, if the board refuses to give you the names and addresses, I think you should consult your lawyer, or bring the matter to the attention of the full membership at the next annual meeting.
I recognize that there is a privacy issue involved. Clearly, unit owners do not want their names and addresses circulated for commercial or solicitation purposes. However, the name of each unit owners is a matter of public record at the office of the recorder of deeds where the property is located. The condominium board of directors should recognize that since this information is public, and is available to you under the bylaws, there should be no objection to your obtaining a list.
A word of caution is suggested, however. I do not believe that unit owners should obtain these mailing lists for purposes other than condominium businss. All too often, unit owners under the guise of condominium matters will obtain these mailing lists, only to use them for their own personal or professional reasons.