State law governs access to documents

Question: Are owners entitled to get all financial records and minutes from our homeowners association pertaining to repairs to the condominium foundations in 1998? If so, how do we go about obtaining them and is there a time limit? How soon after a request is received should the documents be provided and does the owner have to pay for them?

Answer: A titleholder is always entitled to request records but that doesn’t always mean the board will comply. Under California Civil Code section 1365.2, requests can be for association records only for the current and previous two fiscal years. This is why it’s a good idea to request these documents on a regular basis whether or not you think you will need them. You may not be able to get them later.

Minutes of board and member meetings, and of committees with decision-making powers, must be kept forever and should always be available. It is the board’s duty to keep these documents safe.

Because association directors change over the years, the records may be kept by several people or lost when former board members move out. Without a reliable archive system, an association will not be able to determine when they acted to approve or disapprove something. That can be as bad for the board as it is for individual titleholders.

As soon as they buy a home, owners should start collecting association documents and then augment them every year with copies of documents that are not automatically distributed but are available on request. A good rule of thumb is to request documents at least on a quarterly basis, being certain to obtain full copies of all insurance policies on a bi-yearly basis. It is not sufficient to just obtain the insurance declaration page or boilerplate summary sheet from the association. You need the hard copy of the entire policy from the carrier.

Owners should be prepared to pay for the copies they receive, though some boards make copies at no charge or allow the owners to make their own copies. Civil Code section 1365.2(c) allows the association to charge for the “direct and actual cost of copying and mailing requested documents.” The association must inform the owner of that amount, and the owner must agree to pay those costs before receiving the documents. The association also is allowed to charge up to $10 per hour, but not more than $200 total, for the time required to produce the records. The homeowner is not required to pay for someone to supervise while the records are reviewed or copied.

Civil Code section 1365.2 also sets forth time limits for producing the requested documents. The required response times vary depending on the documents requested. If the records are available but the association fails or refuses to provide them, titleholders can take the association to Small Claims Court for an order to produce the records and for damages of up to $500 per request that was refused. It is the board’s duty to know where the association’s documents are housed and to be able to access and produce them at any time.

Send questions to P.O. Box 10490, Marina del Rey, CA 90295 or e-mail