Website Wary

Websites are a great tool for associations to communicate with their members.  It many ways a website improves the efficiency of association governance.  Do not ignore the possibility, however, that statements contained on an association’s website could present potential liability for the association.

For example, do not overstate association duties and responsibilities, or create duties that do not exist.  Although the existence of owners’ associations are a mechanism for maintaining property values, it is not a good idea to expressly state on the website that the association has the duty to maintain property values.  If an association has a website, Section 207.006 of the Texas Property Code now requires that an association post its recorded dedicatory instruments.  Do not give the association’s legal interpretation of its duties created by the dedicatory instruments.  You could end up creating a duty where one did not exist before.

Website content is an easy target for evidence to be used against a party in a lawsuit.  In a recent Virginia case, homeowners sued the owners’ association and cited information posted by the association on its website as evidence of diminution in value of their property values.  See Manchester Oaks Homeowners Association, Inc. v. Batt, 732 S.E.2d 690 (Va. 2012).  Although the Virginia Supreme Court did not uphold the jury award of damages for loss in property value, the court did uphold a finding in favor of the owners reimbursing them for assessments paid, and an award of attorneys’ fees of over $188,000.  Ouch!  The award of attorneys’ fees was based upon a Virginia statute similar to Texas Property Code Sections 5.006 and 82.161(b).  Don’t think it can’t happen in Texas.

Additional pitfalls to avoid are potentially defamatory statements about owners, contractors, or anyone else.  Be sure all photographs do not violate copyright laws.  Include a disclaimer stating that the association makes no warranties as to the information on the site, and that limits the liability of the association.  Have an attorney review your content at least annually as part of your legal audit, and when there is a substantive change to the website.