Serving on a condo board has its challenges—mostly of a relatively mundane, everyday sort, like how to pay for new carpet in the clubhouse, or what kind of flowers to put in the new beds out front. Occasionally however, a much more sensitive issue comes along, involving potentially volatile legal or security situations, like residents with restraining orders or serious criminal histories. How such issues are handled is of crucial importance, and can impact not just a community's administration, but its morale, cohesion, and ultimate value.
Experts agree that if a board member or manager is advised by a resident that a crime is going to be or has been committed, he or she should advise the resident to call the police immediately, and take any further direction from law enforcement authorities. Generally speaking, there is legal principle that one party is not liable for the criminal actions of another (absent collusion, agency or the like). However, the condominium documents may also define the obligations of the board to a certain extent.
Experts agree that whenever sensitive topics arise, the board should proceed with great caution.
“Board members and property managers need to be very careful not to discuss or post written information about the membership about an owner’s past criminal background, and they certainly have no business discussing the personal financial or family matters of any member,” cautions Allan Goldberg, partner and co-chair of the Real Estate Practice Group of the law firm of Arnstein & Lehr, LLP in Chicago. “Slander and libel exposure should be explained to association representatives before they speak or write defamatorily about a member. We have seen board members sued for tortious interference with contracts in chasing away an owner’s renter by publishing derogatory remarks about the renter to the residential community at large. Such behavior may also implicate allegations of fair housing laws, including the Illinois Rights Act.”
“I have followed the advice of our attorneys over the years and I’ve told board members to do the same—and that is basically to keep a tight lip on it,” says Michael Rutkowski, president of First Community Management in Chicago. “You say something wrong, incorrect or inaccurate and that person could come at you with a defamation suit. We discourage rumor spreading and gossip.”