The number of condominium corporations developing their own websites and newsletters increases steadily year to year, as an easy and efficient method by which each community communicates and portrays its unique identity to its members. Websites and newsletters present an opportunity for efficient mass communication and are often appreciated by residents as a valued source of information. A board of directors may wish to put its collective mind to a number of issues, outlined below, when either developing a publication, or evaluating the success of an ongoing one.
Identify the Purpose of the Publication
Like any other form of professional communication, a newsletter or website must have an identified “purpose” or “goal(s)”. The written content must be accurate, easy to read, and should align with the purpose or goals of the publication. A newsletter distributed by a condominium corporation could have various purposes: the distribution of reminders to residents about compliance with particular rules, providing seasonal updates regarding landscaping/snow removal, updates on common element renovation projects, notification of neighbourhood occurrences/events, safety and security reminders etc. The development of consistent headings and sections lends to a professional appearance so that readers know where to look for different types of information.
Acceptable Content & Liability Issues
The most significant reason for identifying the “purpose” and/or “goals” of the publication is to ensure that the board of directors has a clear direction as to acceptable content. Common sense must dictate the content that is included in a newsletter or website. As written communication directly from the board of directors to the residents, it is the voice of the condominium corporation. Therefore, the board must have the final say and control over the content of anything published under the name of the condominium corporation. Further, a newsletter or website published by a condominium corporation should not be a forum for unit owners or residents to communicate their thoughts, events or issues.Caution should be exercised to avoid liability issues that could arise. Below are some guidelines for developing the content of a newsletter or website:
- Remember that a newsletter or website is the “voice” of the condominium corporation that will be scrutinized by residents, owners and possibly potential owners.
- Personal information about an owner or resident should never be disclosed unless written permission is obtained from that individual. Personal information includes more than a name or unit number. If a person’s identity can even be determined based on the information in an article or story, then such information may be considered “personal” for the purposes of liability under privacy laws.
- It should go without saying that nothing defamatory should ever be put in a newsletter or on a website. If the board of directors is unsure, then err on the side of caution or get a legal opinion as to the risks of putting something into print.
Information about an event or activity hosted by the condominium corporation (movie night, wine and cheese, an outing, etc.) can be included in a newsletter. The board should assume that if something goes wrong, liability may attach to the condominium corporation. That is, regardless of whether or not the event is included in the newsletter, the board should assume that liability is an issue. As always, however, the possibility of liability should not always prevent the corporation from events or activities, provided the risk is reasonable and covered by insurance.
The newsletter or website should not be a forum or medium for individual residents to publicize or invite others to their own in-unit events or organized activities; inclusion of such events in the publication can give the appearance of the event being board-sanctioned or approved, regardless of any written waiver of the board’s involvement. If there is demand for residents to have an opportunity to publicize or promote their own activities, perhaps the condominium corporation could consider having a community bulletin board in a mail room or other space. Having such space on a website can prove to be problematic, as it would need to be constantly monitored. Better still, only pre approved items should be posted. This precaution is an unfortunate reality in the political life of a condominium, as many condominiums have experienced misuse of internet communications with owners on a serious scale, causing huge expense and community strife.
A publication should not include the personal opinions of board members and should not include personal opinions or comments of residents or owners. The board may decide to include a column in which it publishes questions submitted in writing by residents, and to which the board provides responses. There are advantages and disadvantages to having such a column. Published words can come back to haunt, therefore, caution should be exercised when choosing what to print. However, including such a column may be an opportunity for the board to address residents’ concerns on issues that have widespread interest.
Any written communication distributed on behalf of a condominium corporation must be correct, accurate and professional. Creating newsletter or website content is not rocket science, and if the purpose and the goals of the publication are clear to those authoring and editing the content, then the process will be easier, and the product, consistent. If any doubts exist as to whether or not something should be included, use common sense, look to the “goals” of the publication and exercise caution when putting things into print: remember it is easier to add information down the road than to take it back once it has already been published.
A Word About Unauthorized Websites and Forums
Incredibly, many owners, usually for misguided reasons, seek to enlarge the political sphere of condominium life by making it public on the internet. The reason that such public forums are misguided is because the communications contained in them usually leads to a less positive market position for units in the condominium corporation, as many real estate agencies are getting smarter and keeping abreast of the political strife in particular communities.
In a very few but serious cases, these forums and websites state such wildly incorrect information that they can stop sales from going through. Few purchasers in today’s market would buy in a condominium building without doing a Google search on the condominium. To make matters worse, information posted on the net is exceedingly difficult to remove – a black eye on the market value of a condominium can stay posted for a very long period of time – even years. It is incredible but true that it is usually owners not tenants that post such negative information thereby reducing the attractiveness of their own community in the public’s eye.
Unfortunately, court orders are sometimes the only solution to the problem and even then, not always practically obtainable, due to the expense.