Privacy not guaranteed to HOA residents

By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities

How much privacy are you willing to give up, in exchange for better security or more open access to HOA records? It’s an important question facing millions of residents of association-governed common interest communities.

Today’s posts includes several important points for concerned homeowners and residents to consider.

HOAs fighting crime

Prevention of crime is one important issue for many private communities, especially if HOAs maintain private roads and gated entries.

For example, see the following two reports, one in Arizona and one in South Carolina. Both highlight planned communities plagued by vandalism and burglaries in communities governed by homeowners associations.

Vehicles vandalized in Phoenix HOA

In Dynamite Mountain Ranch, Phoenix, residents keep waking up to find their vehicles striped with black spray paint. After dealing with the problem for months, one resident’s home security system finally caught the vandal in the act of spray painting parked vehicles.

That video was given to a local TV station in hopes of leading to an arrest of the suspect.

Incidentally, some homeowners believe the vandal is a resident of the community, obsessed with punishing residents who don’t abide by strict HOA parking rules!

The HOA restricts parking on some of its main streets, and the unidentified suspect is damaging vehicles parked overnight on side streets and in driveways.

Spray paint can and mask vandalism
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Vandal spray painting cars in north Phoenix neighborhood, suspect may be HOA vigilante

Jason Barry
Updated Dec 9, 2018 | Posted on Dec 7, 2018

PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) – It’s a nice, family friendly neighborhood, but make no mistake, there’s something sinister going on in Phoenix’s Dynamite Mountain Ranch Community.

“It’s just a horrible thing that somebody would think it’s OK to come and destroy someone’s personal property,” said neighbor Jackie Croft.

Someone is painting black stripes along the side of vehicles.

According to neighbors, it’s been going on for months.

The latest crime spree took place early Friday morning.

At least six vehicles were targeted near 24th Avenue and Norterra Parkway in north Phoenix.

A home security system took video of a man vandalizing an SUV.

Read more (video):

Burglary break in crow bar crime
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Horry County Police restricted from patrolling private HOA streets

Meanwhile, in unincorporated neighborhoods of South Carolina, reports of burglary are increasing in gated communities with private roads.

Homeowners would like the Horry County Police Department to do regular patrols of its HOA-governed community. But HCPD says that a gated community would have to turn over their roads to the County to ensure regular patrols in the neighborhood.

In other words, homeowners member of an HOA would have to agree to make their private roads public roads.

But, the catch is, the County won’t take over maintenance of roads unless and until a private HOA brings those roads up to SC DOT (Department of Transportation) codes. That, in most cases, would require a substantial upfront cost for members of the HOA.

Horry County Police restricted when patrolling neighborhoods with private roads

By: Tori Gessner
Posted: Dec 03, 2018 03:46 PM EST
Updated: Dec 04, 2018 10:27 AM EST

HORRY COUNTY, SC (WBTW) – Neighbors in Tern Hall have seen a string of burglaries in the area over the past few months.

Some say they would like to see police regularly patrolling the area, however, Horry County Police say HOA’s need to sign an agreement with the county and meet DOT standards in order for this to happen.

Horry County Police say they can only patrol a neighborhood with HOA-owned roads if it’s requested. This often happens after a series of crimes occur in the area, but is not a requirement. The only way police could regularly patrol the area is if the HOA turned their roads over to Horry County.

“If they were to turn them over to the county, they would have to meet certain DOT requirements, for instance, the height of a stop sign, things like that, to meet the state standard,” Moskov said.

Otherwise, neighborhoods with roads owned by their HOA would have to hire private security.

Read more:

Cameras and license plate readers

Frustrated by lack of support from local police, and unable or unwilling to hire private security, HOAs across the U.S. are resorting to surveillance cameras as a tool to fight crime.

Companies that sell surveillance camera systems promise to increase security and prevent crime.

But law enforcement experts say that, while cameras do sometimes deter crime, video and photographic evidence is more commonly used as evidence by local police as part of their investigation, after the crime occurs.

Police officers generally agree that surveillance is no substitute for regular neighborhood patrols by trained professionals.

Privacy experts from human rights organizations such as the ACLU, say that tracking license plate numbers within private communities goes too far.

And, as previously noted here on IAC, the potential for HOA abuse of license plate data and video monitoring of residents and their guests is dangerously high.

Security camera surveillance
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Snap! The local HOA just captured your license plate number

Rachel Swan Dec. 9, 2018 Updated: Dec. 9, 2018 6:29 p.m.
San Francisco Chronicle

They’ve tried building fences. Hiring private security guards. Installing closed-circuit cameras around their homes to spot every passing car or suspicious-looking person.

And now, homeowners throughout the Bay Area and in other U.S. cities are turning to license plate readers as a next line of defense against property crime. The trend has helped generate a fertile market for companies that make the technology, though it also has raised concerns about privacy and led some academics to wonder whether people’s desire for protection has gone too far.

For Joseph Narvaez, a resident of Richmond’s Country Club Vista neighborhood — a community of single-family homes nestled by a golf course — a license plate recognition system seemed logical. He manages the one that his homeowners association purchased in March from an Atlanta startup called Flock Safety, now a leader in the home security sphere.

The major vendors have drawn scrutiny from lawyers and privacy experts at the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation of San Francisco, which published an extensive guide to license plate readers on its website. In one post, the foundation says that license plate data “can paint an intimate portrait of a driver’s life” or be used to identify “drivers who visit sensitive places such as health centers, immigration clinics, gun shops, union halls, protests, or centers of religious worship.”

Dave Maass, a senior investigative researcher at the foundation, said he is wary of the technology’s recent shift from police departments to property owners. What if someone uses these devices to stalk an ex-spouse or girlfriend, for example?

Read more:

Drone with camera

Information privacy for HOA, condo residents

For owners and residents of planned communities and condominiums, information privacy is an even bigger issue.

Even though plenty of Americans are willing to share common swimming pools, or living in homes with shared walls and roofs, many are not comfortable sharing personal and private information with all members of their neighbors.

For example, most homeowners don’t want the HOA to publicize their debt.

List of members delinquent in payment of assessment or fees

To avoid embarrassment of its members, most HOAs do not publish the names and addresses of members who aren’t current on their payments.

Actually, in many cases, state laws do not prohibit the HOA from sharing such information. It’s just that most people acknowledge that publicly shaming one’s neighbors doesn’t necessarily result in prompt repayment of debts.

However, when state law considers homeowner ledger accounts as part of official records, any member of the HOA is entitled to view records for delinquent accounts. Thus, there’s no guarantee of privacy for homeowners who have not paid up their financial obligations, regardless of the reason.

Laws vary by state. But with the national trend toward open access to HOA records, homeowners face potential exposure of their HOA account status.

Laptop computer internet communications
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What about distribution of homeowner e-mails?

Similarly, state with “open records” laws for association-governed communities are still sorting out whether an e-mail address is an “official” record of the association.

For example, in Florida, a homeowner’s e-mail is only considered an official record of the HOA if that owner has opted, in writing, to receive communications from the association in electronic format.

In other words, if a homeowner prefers not to share her e-mail with other owners, she would opt to receive all important communication from the HOA by way of postal mail.

By contrast, the Illinois Condominium Act, as amended in 2018, now considers e-mails and telephone numbers to be official records of the association. Thus, these records can be made available to association members upon request.

However, some critics and members of community association trade groups don’t like the idea that condo owners can’t keep their e-mail addresses private.

Last legislative session, real estate stakeholder groups attempted to amend Illinois statute to declare that e-mails and phone numbers are not official records open to inspection by all condo owners in the association. That attempt was unsuccessful, but the issue is likely to be addressed in future legislative sessions.

In the meantime, the City of Chicago used its Home Rule powers to enact an Ordinance that prohibits distribution of e-mail addresses and phone numbers to condo owners.

Critics of the Chicago Ordinance say that restricting e-mail access makes it difficult for condo owners to communicate with other members about official association business, or to campaign for a seat on the board.

Florida’s statute seems to be a reasonable compromise. It strikes a balnce between homeowner privacy and right to communicate by email with some of their willing neighbors.

But the controversial issue of e-mail privacy is bound to be hotly debated in state Legislatures across the U.S.





Can condo owner see ledgers of those delinquent in assessment payments?

Can owners keep email addresses private?

Be careful about how condo association handles owners’ personal information

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