ThinkstockPhotos-464628879Question: I requested that my homeowners’ association send me a copy of the association’s contract with the pool cleaning company. I sent this request via certified mail, but the association has refused to send me a copy. Rather, the association president is insisting that I go to the office to review a copy. He further noted that a copy will only be provided if I request a copy and pay for the copy in advance. Is this legal? S.M. (via e-mail)

Answer: Yes. Chapter 720 of the Florida Statutes, now officially known as Florida’s “Homeowners’ Association Act”, addresses this issue. Section 720.303(5) of the law provides that an association’s failure to provide “access” to official records within 10 business days after receipt of a written request submitted by certified mail, return receipt requested, creates a “rebuttable presumption” that the homeowners’ association willfully failed to comply with the association’s duty under the statute.

Submittal of a records inspection request by certified mail, however, does not change the association’s legal duty as far as how records are to be made available for inspection. A homeowners’ association is only required to make the records available for physical inspection at the place the records are located. The homeowners’ association is permitted, but not legally required, to make the records available in electronic format if the owner wishes to use that medium. There is no requirement that the association mail records to the requesting owner.

Chapter 718 of the Florida Statutes, known as the Florida Condominium Act, and Chapter 719 of the Florida Statutes, called the Florida Corporation Act, do not contain the same provision as the HOA statute about certified mail, but in all other respects are substantially similar.

All three statutes further authorize the board to adopt reasonable written rules governing the frequency, time, location, and notice, regarding records to be inspected, and the manner of such inspections. In the homeowners’ association context, the statute specifically states that such rules may not require an owner to demonstrate any proper purpose for the inspection, state any reason for the inspection, or limit the owner’s right to inspect records to less than one 8-hour business day per month. While the condominium and cooperative statutes do not contain similar details, the same principles have generally been applied by the arbitrators who adjudicate condominium and cooperative disputes.