Record Retention: Meet the New Board, Same as the Old Board

By David A. Kline, Esq.

Often I hear members and directors distinguish between events that took place “under the old board” and those that take place “under the new board.” The implication of this distinction is that the election that brought in “the new board” somehow wiped the slate clean or that a new entity was somehow formed.  In reality though, a community association is a single entity that continues despite changes in its membership, officers, directors and management.

There is no legal distinction between decisions made by “the old board” and those made by “the new board.” Rather, the business and affairs of community association are conducted by one body – the board.

Although the board may change its mind from time-to-time, it is important to recognize that decisions made by the board may continue to affect the association into the future, regardless of any changes that may occur in the composition of the board or management.

A recent decision by a Federal District Court in Florida illustrates the problems that can occur when a community association fails to recognize decisions made by “the old board.” (Peklun v. Tierra Del Mar Condo. Ass’n, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 163554 (S.D. Fla., Dec. 7, 2015), “Tierra Del Mar.”)

In February of 2015, Sergey Peklun took his own life. He had been living with his dog, Julia, at Tierra Del Mar Condominium Association in Boca Raton, Florida. In 2011, he received a notice from the association that his dog’s presence violated the association’s pet restrictions.  He responded to that notice explaining that his doctors recommended keeping Julia as an emotional support animal due to his anxiety and depression. His assertion that Julia was an emotional support animal was supported by letters from two doctors. In September of 2011, the association’s board of directors granted Mr. Peklun a reasonable accommodation to keep his emotional support dog. Then, the composition of the association’s board changed and the association changed management companies.  Can you see where this is headed?

A neighbor complained about the dog’s presence and the association demanded that Julia be removed from the premises. When Mr. Peklun asserted that Julia was a service dog, the association sought evidence of the dog’s certification as such. In 2013, when Mr. Peklun failed to provide that evidence, the association denied Mr. Peklun’s request to keep his dog and demanded its removal.  Importantly, the board focused its attention on whether the dog was trained to provide a service for Mr. Peklun rather than on whether he continued to need the dog as an emotional support animal.

Meanwhile, the complaining neighbor sued Mr. Peklun for an injunction ordering the dog’s removal. The judge issued that injunction based on an affidavit from the association’s president stating that there was no record the board of directors had ever granted Peklun an accommodation. Mr. Peklun took his own life on the day he was to appear in court on a contempt motion for his willful disregard of that court order.

Mr. Peklun’s widow and son sued the association, its president, and the neighbor for intentional infliction of emotional distress and for violations of the Fair Housing Act, among other causes of action. The Court refused to grant the association’s motion for summary judgment on the Fair Housing Act claim. The Court explained that the association was within its rights to inquire whether Mr. Peklun continued to need his dog as a reasonable accommodation.  However, the Court continued, “Because knowledge of the 2011 accommodation…was imputed to [the association’s] current board and also brought to its attention again in 2013, it had an obligation to open a dialogue regarding Julia’s purpose before denying the request.” (Tierra Del Mar, at 48.)

The above case is just one example of the problems that can occur when a community association fails to retain adequate records through a change in management.

  • Are your association’s records maintained in a way that would alert future directors and managers of decisions the board makes today?
  • Does your document retention policy adequately ensure that minutes will not be destroyed?
  • Does your association maintain minutes in a format that is easily searchable?
  • If a new management company has taken over, were the old records reviewed and incorporated into the association’s current files? Or, were they placed in a file box and stored in archives without a second thought?
  • When corresponding with a homeowner, what steps do you take to ensure that the association’s “institutional memory” is as good as that homeowner’s? Does your association maintain an individual file for every unit or lot?

When associations change management companies, it is understandable that emotions may run high.  Rather than simply transferring disorganized boxes from one office to another, it is well worth the association’s efforts and expense for the old management company to index its files and records and to meet with the board and the new management company to explain how those records are organized.

  • What could the Tierra Del Mar board have done in 2011 to ensure that its decision in 2011 would be known by the board in 2013?
  • If you were the old manager, how would you have ensured a smooth transition of association records?
  • If you were the new manager, how would you have incorporated the association’s old records into your own records-management system?

If you have suggestions or best-practices that you would like us to share in our next newsletter, please e-mail us.