Document Retention and Your Association: What You Need To Know
Associations are obligated by Colorado law, and often their governing documents, to retain certain documents and make them available to owners upon request. A formal document retention policy can also assist an association that finds itself engaged in litigation. With more and more associations conducting some business and discussions over e-mail, the requirements of electronic discovery can create additional document retention burdens.
Failure to properly retain documents may result in fines or other penalties if the matter goes to court. Courts expect retention policies to be reasonable; however, what is reasonable depends on the surrounding circumstances. Some factors to keep in mind include the type of document, statutory requirements, and the likelihood of litigation.
Many associations have placed certain association documents online. These documents may be available to all members with a password, or they may even be available to anyone with the ability to Google. While there are several advantages of online documents, including greater transparency for members, they also create a number of questions regarding what documents should be retained, where they should be stored, and for how long.
The following is a small sample of documents that should be maintained and their recommended retention periods:
- Assessment Information: 7 years
- Budgets: Permanently
- Contracts: 7 years
- Election Ballots: 4 years
- Governing Documents: Permanently
- Insurance claims (settled): 7 years
- Meeting Minutes: Permanently
- Newsletters: 3 years
- Tax Returns: Permanently
If you place association documents beyond the typical governing documents online, consider the wisdom of redacting personally identifiable information, or limiting access to association members only. A significant portion of association governance is recognizing that treating members with dignity and respect will go a long way to resolving personality conflicts.
If litigation is ongoing or imminent, it is important to speak to an attorney prior to destroying association documents, changing the association’s policy, or even deleting e-mails. Send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have questions about your association's records retention policy and activities.
Susan Beblavi contributed to the research and writing of this post.