Q: I am head of our neighborhood watch group. I need to understand the legal relationship between my group and the homeowners association. I was told by the association’s property manager that the neighborhood watch business had to be kept separate from the association board meetings. How then, do I approach the board to support our requests for better cameras and lighting? Can I hold my group’s meetings in the community center without causing liability issues for the board?
A: The property manager correctly stated that the association should not have an official relationship with volunteer neighborhood watch groups. In previous columns, we discussed the George Zimmerman case which made national news. In that case, an HOA in Central Florida officially appointed Mr. Zimmerman to lead the neighborhood watch program, and the HOA was successfully sued by the family of Travon Martin. Because of the liability and training issues, we advise our condo and homeowners associations to avoid an official relationship with these volunteer groups. In your case, however, there is no reason that you cannot approach the Board with security issues and suggestions for improvements. As a member of the association, you have the right to address the Board at meetings. The Board can evaluate your issues and suggestions independently and take action if necessary to better serve the community. Further, you should be able to hold your meetings in the community center, which is available for all members of the association on a non-exclusive basis. The Board would not incur additional liability simply because your volunteer group chooses to meet at the community center. At the end of the day, just remember that the HOA is not organized to provide security. It is organized to maintain the common areas and administer the community budget. As a volunteer and concerned resident, you should voice your concerns and suggestions in the proper venue, but do not expect the HOA to take significant measures with security.