Although members have the right to inspect and copy minutes, they don't own the minutes nor do they have the right to remove them from the association's office. Following is the experience of one association.
Theft. An owner entered the management office to inspect minutes. When the receptionist left the room to make arrangements, the owner grabbed a binder of original, signed minutes and fled the building. The manager pursued the owner into the parking lot, calling his name. She caught up with him as he opened his car door. She demanded that he return the association's property; otherwise, she would call the police. The owner threw the binder into his car and then turned on the manager and began screaming at her. He came within inches of her face, raised his hands and put his finger in her face. Fearful of being struck, the manager backed away. At that point, the owner jumped into his car and sped away.
Arrest. The Sheriff’s Department was notified. After investigating the incident, a Sheriff's deputy arrested the owner and recovered the minutes. The District Attorney filed a criminal action against the owner but later dismissed the case.
Lawsuit. The owner sued the association, the manager, the deputy who arrested him, the District Attorney, and the County. He claimed that as a member of the association he could not be guilty of "stealing his own property."
Ruling. The court ruled in favor of the association and ordered the owner to pay the association's attorneys' fees and costs. The court wrote that "while Plaintiff as an association member may have access to the minutes, he does not have the unfettered right to walk into [the] Association's office and take possession of the binder containing the meeting minutes without permission."
Ownership. The Davis-Stirling Act defines records as the "association's" records, not the members' records. (Civ. Code §5200.) Members may inspect the association's records but with limitations. Moreover, because the records belong to the association, owners cannot use or sell the association's records for commercial purposes, or for any other purpose not reasonably related to a member's interest as a member. (Civ. Code §5230.) The restriction on removal of records from the management office applies to directors as well as homeowners.
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