"Can an HOA impose an Inspection Fee to view official records? My HOA's management firm has said that they require an 'inspection fee' of $20/hour to allow me access to the association's official records. Apparently, the justification is that the management firm must have a member of staff supervise my visit. I contend that neither the HOA or its agent can charge a fee for me to just inspect the records but only in relation to providing copies of the records."
My answer is as follows:
This issue comes up frequently. Here is what the HOA Statute says:
"The association may impose fees to cover the costs of providing copies of the official records, including, without limitation, the costs of copying. The association may charge up to 50 cents per page for copies made on the association's photocopier. If the association does not have a photocopy machine available where the records are kept, or if the records requested to be copied exceed 25 pages in length, the association may have copies made by an outside vendor or management company personnel and may charge the actual cost of copying, including any reasonable costs involving personnel fees and charges at the hourly rate for vendor or employee time to cover administrative costs to the vendor or association."
Some associations try to separate the "personnel" fees from the "copying" function discussed above and charge a fee for merely monitoring the inspection even if the association is not being asked to perform copying services. If you read the language carefully above, that is a very liberal interpretation of what is written. It appears to me that the personnel charge is tied to the copying function and not independent thereof. For communities who have concerns about preserving the sanctity of their documents during the inspection process, they can certainly request an employee or board member to sit in on those inspections. If there is an additional charge for the association employee to perform that function that would be a cost of doing business for the association like any other.
In fact, some owners merely want to look with no need to copy. Others show up with their own portable scanners so there is no need to burden the manager, board member or any other person with that function. Associations who are concerned about nuisance inspection requests can adopt reasonable rules regarding inspections including limiting the number of documents and/or amount of pages that can be requested at one time as well as the number of hours permitted in any one sitting.
For some fortunate associations, the inspection process is a breeze. The documents are well organized, easily reviewed and there are few concerns about nuisance requests or owners showing up with a malicious intent to destroy or alter records. Other associations are not so fortunate and they have endured repeated requests for the same documents and/or requests for catch-all inspections for "everything pertaining to the association since its inception"! Associations would be well advised to the control the process but not thwart it. Any attempt to make the process more difficult or even impossible for an owner to inspect the association's governing records will certainly be met with disfavor by a trier of fact. Speak with your association attorney about how the inspection process can best be handled.
This work by Donna DiMaggio Berger, Esq. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Generic License.