Every Community Association struggles with paperwork. Whether it's a basement full of filing cabinets or (shudder) outside storage units, paperwork can take up a lot of (literal) space.
Record-keeping is important for the community to be able to settle disputes, but you don't have to keep every single thing, and much of your documents can be digitized. So let's get into it!
For any project of a legal and/or financial nature, the first step you'll need to do is figure out what you are required to keep. Starting with your state statutes governing community associations, explore what records are required to be maintained, and for how long.
Next, dig into your governing documents to determine any requirements for record keeping. This is important, because anything that's written in the governing docs is sure to be requested by one of your homeowners at some point.
Be careful, your governing documents may have conflicting requirements from the law, and in those cases, a good rule of thumb is to follow the most stringent requirement. Let's say the state dictates that you have to retain meeting minutes for 7 years (which FL requires for HOAs) in print only. But, your community documentation only says to save meeting minutes for 1 year, in both print and digital copies. Saving those meeting minutes for the full 7 years keeps you legally covered, and saving the records in print and digital keeps you in compliance with your governing documents.
Times Are A-Changin'
Complying with both the law and your own requirements can be a whole different animal, especially now. Until recently, condo associations and HOAs only had to worry about the different lengths of time that they needed to keep records for: 1 year, 7 years, and forever are most common, however other time frames could be required depending on your state and governing documents.
With the dawn of the Internet came a new method of data storage. Twenty-five years ago people had shelves scattered throughout their homes dedicated to the books they’d read or wanted to read. Now, people house whole libraries in their pockets, accessible at the touch of a button.
Because these all will vary from state to state, it's important to check with your specific state's legal statutes. However, as Florida is the foremost authority on community association laws typically, and other states tend to create laws in line with what Florida puts forth, the list to the right of this page detailing document retention time frames specific to the state of Florida is a good place to start.
Organizing the Chaos
Spring cleaning is daunting no matter what it is you're cleaning. With your records and documentation, the easiest way to tackle the task is by divvying it up into more manageable sections.
Personally, I handle this in two steps: the first is I digitize EVERYTHING. I have one of those fun accordion folders that all of my important information goes into--home insurance documents, marriage license, tax forms, etc. But I also have those documents scanned and saved to a 1TB hard drive and a cloud drive through my email account, just in case we have to pack up and run (say during a hurricane evacuation) or if there's a house fire or flood. Having the documents in two formats across multiple storage types ensures I'm always covered.
With Document Management in TOPS [ONE], you have an unlimited cloud storage space to house your documents. So where I will likely run out if I ever end up with a ton of documentation and have to pay for more online storage space, you'll always have room to store your documents online.
Take it up a notch by organizing your physical copies in the same way as your digital ones. Choose a filing structure in your online database that makes navigating your records easy, and duplicate that structure by putting your physical documents into filing cabinets organized in the same way.
So let's say you keep your digital copies of governing documents, articles of incorporation, and CC&Rs in a folder called "Legal." Creating a folder or filing cabinet also labeled "Legal" to house the print copies of those documents means that when you forget where you put them, you can do a search for the digital copies to remind yourself which physical folder they're supposed to be filed under!
Recommended Records Keeping
(from inception of the association)
Maintain for 7 Years:
Maintain For 1 Year:
What to Digitize
I say this because having digital copies of your documents is the greatest "life hack" you can use to make multiple aspects of your work life easier without much extra effort.
You're required to keep print versions or copies of the founding documentation for your community of condo association, but that doesn't mean you should limit yourself to keeping them ONLY in print copy. Because those legal documents (and the majority of the documents detailed above) are required to be provided to homeowners or unit owners upon request, and having a digital copy makes that task worlds easier.
It's also worth noting that as of Jan. 1, 2019, the state of Florida requires that certain records be made available to your community members for both HOAs and condo associations at all times via website or web portal. Owner Access, in conjunction with Document Management, makes that seemingly daunting task incredibly easy. Ownership and attachment functionality means each document can be made visible at any and every level, from the community as a whole down to each individual homeowner. So managers don't run the risk of sensitive information being exposed to all unit or homeowners, or have to individually provide community-wide documentation to all owners either.