New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community

Habitat Magazine Business of Management 2021




Gossip on a Building's Communication Portal Can Get Boards in Trouble

New York City

July 3, 2014

According to Stuart Saft, a partner at Holland & Knight, yes —  if the system allows for resident-to-resident communication.

Ragging on Your Fellow Owners

"This concern arose earlier this year, when the board of a large condominium that I have represented for years decided to improve its connection to the unit-owners by signing up for one of these systems, installing it in the building and allowing unit-owners to utilize the system by posting information to their co-owners," he says. "It seemed like a great idea until the site became a source of not only useful information but also of derogatory statements by several of the owners."

Here's where boards need to pay attention: Anything posted on an open communications network that the co-op or condo supports and that is distributed to the residents could be considered libel — and place your property in jeopardy.

It helps to understanding the legal definitions here. Libel is written defamation. Defamation is a false statement that shows a person in a negative light, when the person who wrote it made no reasonable attempt to discern if the information was true or false.

Boards need to understand the introducing a building-wide communication system won't suddenly introduce libelous intent to your community, but it will allow the board to be held liable.

More Than the Libeler Is Liable

"The problem in 2014," says Saft, "is that the condominium now participates in the system, which is made available by the cooperative or condominium to the shareholders or unit-owners, which means that the co-op or condo can be sued by the individual who is libeled. Since the co-op or condo controls the means of dissemination, it could be held responsible and liable for damages to anyone who is libeled by material distributed via the system."

Saft urges boards to limit the information that can be distributed on the communication system; make the author of any content indemnify the board, managing agent, shareholders and, basically, anyone not the author; or even appoint someone as editor or moderator of the system, to make sure no abuse is posted. He also recommends letting your insurance carrier know about your new tech. 

Who knew fostering community could have such potentially dire consequences?


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