Can an association turn over residents’ email addresses to an outside party? Our community wants to share our addresses with a local radio station so it can send news alerts, which would be specific to our area. Residents can opt out.
A homeowners association board has fiduciary obligations to its members, and while it may be debatable about how far the board must go to actually protect individual privacy, the association is not authorized to share, distribute, or publish private information to the public relating to its members.
Most states’ nonprofit codes will advise what personal contact records an association is obligated to keep. For example, in Georgia, the corporation or agent is only required to maintain the name and address for each member. Most associations also collect emails and phone numbers for efficient communication. This information should never be voluntarily distributed to third parties without each members’ specific consent.
Georgia statutes dictate that, “Without consent of the board, a membership list or any part thereof may not be obtained or used by any person for any purpose unrelated to the member’s interest as a member …” The section further specifies that such lists may not be used to solicit money or property, for commercial purposes, or sold to or purchased by any person. State law also limits the nature of the contact information and how it is shared even among neighbors.
Most importantly, perhaps, is that an association cannot control how released contact information to third parties will be handled, even if the original intent is widely acknowledged as beneficial. The third party could make deals with others for advertising purposes or allow the lists to go unprotected and widely accessible to marketers, creditors, and others. Beyond unwanted solicitation, release of such information could jeopardize individuals who may be hiding from a former abusive relationship or help a stranger tap into even more information about a person, making the member vulnerable to harassment, fraud, or exploitation. Divulging contact information to third parties also could result in unwittingly releasing private ownership information wholly unrelated to the personal occupancy of a home.
So, in this example, providing information to a radio station should not be presented as an “opt-out” but as an “opt-in” scenario, where a resident would have to take an affirmative step to receive the news alerts. And even then, the association should not facilitate the connections between individuals and a particular commercial entity.
The radio station can be invited to send any alerts to the association’s email. The association could then share the information with interested community members through the website, newsletter, an email blast, or a general posting on the community bulletin board.
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