HOA Neighborhood Watch Liability After Trayvon Martin

August 6, 2013

By Curtis G. Kimble.

Since the Trayvon Martin death in Florida, neighborhood watch groups in HOAs have become a hot button issue.  The neighborhood watch group that George Zimmerman, the man that was carrying a gun and shot Trayvon Martin in self defense, was a part of was overseen by the homeowners association.  That HOA was sued by Trayvon’s family for wrongful death and other claims and ended up settling for an undisclosed amount of money that is thought to be over $1,000,000.

When something like the Trayvon Martin death occurs, claims are filed against anybody who could possibly have any culpability, which will include the HOA when the issue even remotely involves or implicates the HOA.  So, what’s an HOA to do?   Should your condominium or HOA establish, or continue, a neighborhood watch?  What are the risks and how do you mitigate them?  HOA insurance specialist Béat Koszinowski answers these questions in his recent article here: Neighborhood Watch Groups in Your HOA.

The single biggest factor as to whether a watch group will create more issues and liability for an HOA isn’t whether the neighborhood watch volunteer carries a gun or other weapon, because if it gets to the point where a weapon could be used, the HOA will likely be sued either way.  For instance, if the volunteer ends up being beaten to death and was not allowed to carry a weapon by the HOA, the HOA will likely be sued by the family of the volunteer (whether rightfully or not).  Instead, it’s when volunteers go beyond simply reporting suspicious activity and instead take law enforcement into their own hands that the issues and liability open up like floodgates.  As Béat points out, “watch groups can do more harm than good when group volunteers go beyond contacting the local police department and act as the HOA’s own law enforcement.  Watch groups that engage perpetrators, use physical force or carry weapons put your HOA at risk for a lawsuit.”

Béat also points out, and I agree, that, ideally, to reduce liability, a neighborhood watch program should have no official connection to the HOA and the board should have no involvement in the creation or regulation of the watch group.  But if your HOA decides to start a watch group, it’s imperative that the HOA:

  1. establish specific written guidelines and policy for the group stating what the volunteer should and should not do, what the volunteer’s duties are exactly, and a procedure when suspicious activity is encountered,
  2. contact the local police department to receive watch group training, and
  3. check that its insurance covers the watch group.

While neighborhood watch groups can serve an important and effective purpose, they can also create more issues and liability.  An HOA board should contact its association insurance professional and attorney and follow certain risk mitigation steps if it operates, or plans to institute, a neighborhood watch group.


Pop Quiz on New Utah HOA Laws

August 16, 2012

By Curtis G. Kimble.

Many changes were enacted to the laws that govern HOAs in Utah in 2011. We tested your knowledge a year ago soon after the changes went into effect.  How is your knowledge of these changes over a year later?  Take this short quiz and find out (answers at very bottom).

There’s no need to click submit, unless you’d like to print your answers, in which case, click submit and then when you click print below, it should print your answers.

Don’t look below until you’ve finished!  Warning – answers below!

Now grade yourself.  Here are the answers:

1.  False, only condominiums are governed by the Utah Condominium Ownership Act.

2.  14 days

3.  may not . . . may.

4.  D.  all of the above

5.  all of the above

6.  True, except as to a member who has made written demand to the association to provide notice to the member by mail

Thanks for playing!

Utah HOA Registry Now Operational

June 16, 2011

The Utah HOA Registry required by a new Utah law is now up and operational on the website of the Utah Department of Commerce.  As discussed in our blog entry (click here to read it), all HOAs must register with the Department of Commerce by July 1st.   Here’s a link to the registry (note that you do have to create an account to view or register an HOA, but creating an account is free): secure.utah.gov/hoa

It is crucial that you register using the exact same name as the corporate entity of the  HOA, as it is stated in the articles of incorporation and as it is registered with the Division of Corporations & Commercial Code.  For example, if an HOA is a nonprofit corporation with the name “Whiteacre Homeowners Association,” do not register the association in the HOA registry as “White Acre Homeowners Association.”  This is very important because a search on the HOA Registry for White Acre will not bring up Whiteacre.

This concept applies to all business dealings for an HOA.  It must conduct business using its proper corporate name, not the name of the subdivision itself or some other name or variation of the name that isn’t registered as a Utah business entity.  Click here to look up an incorporated HOA to see exactly how it is listed as a corporation:  https://secure.utah.gov/bes/action/index

Curtis G. Kimble

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