“Pomerance” and “Musey” are two names capable of striking fear into the heart of a co-op or condo board. The names, shorthand for lawsuits from the early 2010’s, bring to mind unhappy residents wanting to dig through a board’s meeting minutes and other documents looking for evidence of wrongdoing. Both residents were successful in their pursuits, opening up co-op and condo records to their communities.
But what if a shareholder or unit-owner isn’t looking for misdeeds, but rather their neighbors’ contact information? What if they’re campaigning for office, or want to start a community newsletter?
“A generalized course of action is: Is the request being made in good faith?” says Rob Braverman, a partner at the law firm of Braverman Greenspun. “If yes, okay. Will they agree to sign a confidentiality agreement? Okay. While the unit-owner or shareholder has a right to have the documents photocopied, I prefer that they still be reviewed in the managing agent's office, so that's what we offer. If pushed on the issue, then yes, we will make photocopies because that's what the law requires.”
Boards also have to walk a tricky line of maintaining the transparency required by law, but also keeping residents’ personal information safe.
“There is a good bit of discretion in terms of how transparent boards want to be,” says Andrew Stern, a partner at Tane Waterman & Wurtzel. “But with respect to the specific request [for resident contact information], there isn't a tremendous amount of discretion. They're actually obligated to keep that particular set of information pursuant to the Business Corporation Law. They're not required to keep the email addresses, but they are required to keep some basic contact information. And these have to be essentially available to shareholders upon request.”
In addition, boards should be sure of the reason behind the request. “The [shareholder or unit-owner] can be asked to sign an affidavit that their reason for requesting this information is proper,” says Stern. “The Business Corporation Law provides that you can deny a request if they're not prepared to provide an affidavit. That's the real spirit of the statute: We want to encourage you to know who your fellow shareholders are, we want shareholders to be able to talk to their fellow shareholders and to campaign for the board. But we don't want this to be an opportunity for misuse.”