Is a condominium - or any type of common interest community - actually a democracy? Do shareholders have unfettered access to the documents and information boards use to make decisions? Can they demand to see those documents? The answer is not a simple yes or no.
What Does the Law Say?
When it comes to non-board residents accessing documents, “Generally, and upon reasonable notice, records are available for inspection and copying, but limited to typical things,” says Michael Kim, an attorney specializing in community law with Chicago-based law firm Schoenfeld Finkel Beederman Bell Glazer. Documents easily obtainable by association members not serving on the board include things like a roster of members of the association, and the minutes of meetings.
But then, what about other kinds of documents, like vendor bids for major capital projects or, for argument's sake, commitments for financing - perhaps for common area improvements in a condominium, or an underlying permanent mortgage for a co-op property? Are condominium members entitled to see those?
“For condos, which are typically not-for-profit corporations, Section 19 [of the Illinois Condominium Property Act] talks about rights to books and records,” explains Kim. “In Chicago specifically, there is an ordinance relative to books and records under state home rule, which overrides state law. One may also look at the governing documents for an individual property. Those documents may add or subtract something. There may be a books-and-records entitlement there.”
Alternatively, Kim continues, “If there is a contract between the condominium entity and a vendor, that contract is eligible for unit owner inspections and copying, but that does not include bids. In some situations, these contracts are confidential by caveat; vendors don’t want competitors to see their bids. Contracts are final, but bids are not. Notes on the evaluation of bids are not included either. The treatment of financing arrangements solicited by board is similar. With respect to a signed loan agreement binding on the entit, the loan docs are eligible for viewing and inspection. But competing proposals are not. An unsigned commitment is not a commitment - therefore, it’s not eligible.”