Friday, February 22, 2013

Your Right to Privacy vs.Community's Security Protocol

Last week a member of my HOA's board of directors caught me out on a jog and asked me if it was legal for the guards at our entrance gate to scan in the drivers' licenses of people seeking access to our community.  Apparently, more and more associations with guard gate features are gathering this kind of information in an attempt to keep track of who is entering and exiting their premises.
Knowing exactly who has entered your community can be extremely useful information in a crisis situation; a recent situation comes to mind. A resident in our community returned from work to find that her nanny and her child were not in her home. Naturally, she became frantic when she could not locate the caregiver on her phone. The guard's log (with scanned picture ID) did show that her mother-in-law had entered the community earlier in the day and had taken the child assuming the mother knew. Crisis averted although I'm sure there was some discussion about better future communication between the two of them.
So why did the director in charge of security for our community inquire about the picture identification in the form of drivers' licenses being scanned? Well, he advised that a non-member, non-resident guest became irate when she was asked to produce her driver's license. She did so very reluctantly to gain access and then later threatened to sue as she believed her right to privacy had been violated.
Research reveals that there is a federal Driver's Privacy Protection Act of 1994 which restricts a state government from disclosing highly personal information such as that found on a driver's license without express consent. However, there are no restrictions preventing private citizens from collecting this information directly from individuals who wish to gain entry to private residential property, particularly when they are not owners of such property.
The bigger question in my mind is not whether the association can request a picture ID to enter the community from folks who don't live there (I believe they can) but it is what is done with that sensitive information after the fact.  Under Chapters 718, 719 and 720, these scanned licenses could fall under the catch-all document inspection provision as follows: "all other records of the association not specifically included in the foregoing which are related to the operation of the association." The privacy restrictions upon an association's disclosure of drivers' license numbers pertains solely to members; there is no mention of securing the privacy of this kind of information related to vendors' drivers or non-member invitees who seek access to the community.
In this day and age of rampant identity theft, associations are well advised to seek a legal opinion on how sensitive information is to be gathered, stored and destroyed. 

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Do association members have a duty to work towards a resolution of some of their own problems?

Community association boards are often contacted about matters that might be more easily resolved on a neighbor to neighbor basis. I've often wondered why this is until I had an issue myself and debated bringing it up to my HOA board rather than confronting the issue head-on myself.

I live in a typical suburban homeowners' association with lovely homes and nice yards. My next door neighbor is an elderly widow who owns several dogs. While the dogs are friendly and cute, they do have one trait that makes them not very neighborly; they bark incessantly from morning to night. Normally this is not an issue as I am out of the house at work, social events, etc. However, during the times I do find myself home and wanting to either lounge at my pool or out in my yard, the racket becomes an issue.

Our HOA governing documents contain the typical language regarding nuisance. I was quite confident that my neighbors' barking dogs were a nuisance; the question then became what to do about it?

I toyed with the idea of mentioning it at our next board meeting but then remembered some of the complaints that came my way when I served on the board and my first question on most of them was: "did you speak to your neighbor about this problem yet?". Why do people shy away from this kind of interaction? Fear of conflict or violence or is it just the fact that it is often seen as being easier to task the board with solving these issues?

What were the typical complaints? Parking on a neighbor's swale or blocking access to their driveway, excessive partying by a neighbors' teenage children, dog poop and more. While the board could have addressed all of these issues, whatever happened to a neighbor discussing these issues in a non-confrontational way in an effort to resolve the matter?  I do not naively believe that every such conversation will yield a successful result but certainly the starting point for a resolution is to find out if the behavior is deliberate and repetitive or unintentional and an anomaly.

I mustered up the courage to discuss the matter with my neighbor. I wish I could say it was an easy or even comfortable conversation as it was neither. She told me matter-of-factly that dogs bark but had no real solution to the non-stop barking. I made several suggestions and was not sure any of them would be adopted. However, the problem did resolve itself over the following weeks. Perhaps my neighbor took the dogs inside, got them trained or I just got lucky. In any event, I saved some time that the board could spend on more worthwhile pursuits by resolving the issue on my own.

Monday, February 4, 2013

How much input does your board solicit from the members prior to undertaking new projects?

There have been quite a few changes in my community over the last few months, most of which I had no idea were in the works. The first change I noticed entering my community one night was a brand-new 25-foot flagpole standing proudly at my community's entrance. While it looked nice, I wondered two things as I drove by it: how much did it cost and why was it necessary? While I personally like flags, I could see that some folks might not think that particular flagpole looked appealing in the spot that was chosen. Soon enough though, I forgot about the flagpole entirely and never sought answers to my questions.

The next change that became apparent were new video cameras at the guard house entrance, four in total. I remember during my time on the board several years earlier that adding these cameras had been discussed but nothing had been done since then. I remember thinking as I drove by these new electronic eyes capturing me on film "Good for Sam, he finally saw this project through to completion." About a quarter of a mile past them, I followed that thought with the follow-up questions of how much they cost and how were these cameras to be maintained, utilized, etc.

The third change that caught my eye was the fact that guests' driver licenses were now being scanned in by the guard, something that had never been done before. How did I catch wind of this change? I saw cars stacked up five and six-deep at our entrance when we've never had more than two in a queue before. I was also pleasantly surprised to learn that we can now receive text messages advising us when someone visits the community which is always helpful to ensure the lawn guy shows up as planned or to keep tabs on a teenage daughter.

The last change that took me by surprise was the fact that our community was allowing itself to serve as a sales center for a neighboring development going up. While this development has no connection with ours, apparently the private country club in my community wanted to be helpful and allow this activity inside our gates. Naturally, that may or may not be appropriate depending on one's perspective as a member of the HOA and not the club who pays for security each month.

Why didn't I know about any of these significant changes in my community? Well, perhaps missing board meetings played a significant role but we also have a newsletter and an association website which reveal these projects after they are adopted and funded. Had I known that some of these items would be discussed ahead of time, I might just have made it to that meeting. I wonder how many boards use these kinds of communication portals to take straw poll votes on which projects deserve priority attention and funding prior to heading off down those paths without such input.

Naturally, there is a certain amount of danger and frustration in trying to please everyone and waiting around for consensus isn't going to help many worthwhile projects become realities. Overall, I am pleased with most but not all of the changes that took place recently. Would my knowing about them before the fact have changed the outcome? Maybe not but I probably would have avoided driving off the road a time or two in astonishment.