Thursday, May 13, 2010

How far can Census Takers go in community associations?

A client emailed me yesterday about a problem her community is having with overzealous Census Takers. The client reported that the association office has been harassed during the past couple days by Census bureau workers and supervisors asking for information on the residents of the buildings. Apparently the Census Taker wanted this board to match names and telephone numbers, as well as state the occupancy status of the units in the building.

When the manager declined to provide this information, she received a threatening phone call from a supervisor citing Federal law and telling them that they would show up with a letter stating they will have the right to review the association files in the association office in order to collect the necessary information.

First a little background on the 2010 Census is in order. Every 10 years, the U.S. Census determines how many people live in the United States. More importantly, it determines how the federal government will allocate money to improve schools, roads, hospitals and other institutions.

A Census Taker is a person from your community who is hired by the Census Bureau to make sure that your neighborhood gets represented as accurately as possible. The Census Taker’s primary responsibility is to collect census information from residences. So far, 72% of households have mailed back their census forms which is the same rate that was achieved during the 2000 Census.

• The Census Bureau provides the Census Taker with a binder containing all of the addresses that didn’t send back a filled out census form.
• The Census Taker then visits all of those addresses and records the answers to the questions on the form.
• If no one answers at a particular residence, a census taker will visit a home up to three times and attempt to reach the household by phone three times. The census worker will leave a double-sided (English and Spanish) NOTICE of VISIT in the doorway that includes a phone number for the resident to schedule an appointment.

The census taker will ONLY ask the questions that appear on the census form.

Individual participation in the 2010 Census is required by Section 221, of Title 13 of the U.S. Code. However, rather than rely on criminal charges, the Census Bureau usually elicits participation by explaining the importance of the questions we ask and how the information benefits our communities. The question for community associations is how far must the board and/or manager go in assisting a Census Taker in obtaining information not being provided by individual owners and/or in allowing entry in guard-gated communities. Some communities are not permitting Census Workers to go door to door inside the building and others are not assisting in compiling the information on behalf of recalcitrant owners. Further exacerbating the problem is the fact that many condominium units are vacant right now.

In terms of access, I would treat a Census Taker no differently than a process server and allow entry. The stickier question becomes whether or not the Census Taker can inspect association books and records to obtain the information they need. Certainly with a subpoena they can but prior to that time some communities are assisting and others are not. Most Census Workers are leaving a box of forms in either the association office or in the lobby of condominiums and cooperatives.

Certainly there is benefit to be gained in having your community’s and city’s needs accurately reflected in terms of federal funding. If privacy is a concern, you should know that the Census Taker who collects your information is sworn for life to protect your data under Federal Law Title 13. Those who violate the oath face criminal penalties: Under federal law, the penalty for unlawful disclosure is a fine of up to $250,000 or imprisonment for up to 5 years, or both.

So how many of your communities have run into problems or questions as a result of the 2010 Census?


  1. Associations that are not helpful to the Census are hurting themselves. The number of representatives to congress are determined by the number of people living in a given district.

    And, when Federal funds are distributed population count is the tool most often used.

    Property managers can act as agents for absent householders and can answer all questions for the census taker. We have two buildings, each with 200 units and found the census taker very easy to deal with.

    Donna is right: treat them as process servers,and give them immediate access to the building. The census taker has ID and it should be examined, but after ascertaining that the census taker is legitimate full cooperation is warranted.

  2. I'm currently the President of our HOA for a condominum complex. I was approached by two census workers a week or so ago about gaining access to our secured buildings to collect information. I had our groundskeeper contact them to go with them to the buildings that housed units that did not reply. Then, two days ago I had a voice mail at my home from the Enumerator, stating they were not able to gather all the information and if I would call him back. I did so and spent a good amount of time answering questions to the best of my knowledge about who owned the unit, if I knew their phone number, race, how many people lived there, etc. We are a HOA, not an apartment complex. We do not know all of this information. I gave him what I could. Today, I received an email from another worker thanking me for my time, allowing our groundskeeper to help them, however they were still missing information. Now they want me to research our financial records and tell them who actually pays the association fees on these locations and what that persons phone number is. This is private information and I will not give that out. An owner name and or possible phone number are public record that anyone could look up on a computer, but I will not give out private information. I asked for information that legally binds a HOA to provide this information when a resident fails to do so. So far, no response from the census bureau. Oh, and the email came from a "yahoo" email account, not a "census" account.

  3. The Census also presents a unique opportunity for fraudsters looking for sensitive personal information. As far as I can tell, there is no obligation for an association to actually perform occupancy analysis or disclose sensitive information to any Census Taker. Once access to the unit or home is provided, it is the Census Taker's responsibility to obtain the needed information. Be very careful of people who might be posing as Census Takers for their own purposes.

  4. I am on the Board of Directors for my Condo. A census worker, who is also a resident, approached me yesterday saying that she needed the Condo Office to provide her with name and phone number information for those not responding to her knocking at the door. She implied that we had to provide this information as it was required by the census. Do we have to give her this info? It seems from your response to the last post, that if the census worker can't gain the information themselves then that's their problem.

  5. Absent a subpoena, I find nothing in the law currently that requires a board member or an association manager to perform a Census Taker's duties for him or her.