Can a Homeowner Request Association Employee’s Salary?

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D.B. from Massachusetts writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I am the Property Manager of a self-managed property in Massachusetts. We have financials available at every monthly Board meeting, and at our Annual Meeting. Salaries are line items, i.e. Maintenance, Administration, etc.

My question is, can a homeowner specifically request the salary of any staff member on payroll? He says it is his right as a homeowner. I say (and the Trustees back me) that the privacy of the individual employee would be breached, and we are under no legal obligation to disclose individual salaries. (No, I have not gotten legal advice as yet.)

I do know that in some states, Florida for instance, individual salaries must be disclosed if asked. Thank you in advance for your friendly advice on this matter, and for providing a valuable service to condo dwellers, Board members and Property Managers alike.

Mister Condo replies:

D.B., thank you for your kind words and your question. As you know I am not an attorney so please consider my advice as friendly and not legal. For a legal opinion you should consult with a qualified community association attorney from your state, many of whom I know and respect. You will find many to choose from at the Community Associations Institute New England Chapter website at http://www.caine.org/.

Over the past few years, almost all states have passed legislation that adds transparency to association operations and governance. There are arguably advantages and drawbacks to complete transparency but the bottom line is that the governance of the association is quite comparable to the governance of a municipality. I have seen a few different techniques used to divulge information on salaried employees without divulging specific information about any one employee. For instance, if your association employed several groundskeepers and someone asked what does Groundskeeper Joe Smith earn? You could reply with a statement like groundskeepers at our association earn between $12 and $15 per hour and average a 40 hour work week. We have three groundskeepers, and last year we spent $90,000 on their collective salaries. In my opinion, that effectively adds transparency without divulging too much personal information on Joe Smith. That may or may not satisfy the person asking the question so I would use a little diplomacy including the right to respect Joe Smith’s personal information when delivering the reply.

The real issue that comes in to question is when there is just one employee of the association, for instance, you. I cannot think of any way to protect an individual’s salary information from inquiring unit owners who clearly have a right to know how their common fees are being spent. That being said, they do not have any business requesting any information that might put the individual at risk for identity theft, items like Social Security number, address, etc.. Strictly personal and private information is protected and should not be made public at the request of an owner. The examples of states with large condominium concentrations such as Florida and California that have enacted legislation that requires disclosure of such information as salary is very likely a harbinger of what will come to the rest of the country over time. As I said at my opening, my best advice is for you to contact an attorney who specializes in this area of law to make sure you are in compliance with any such request. Best of luck to you!

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