Cary, NC asked in Real Estate Law for North Carolina

Q: Can a home owner in an HOA collect email addresses of other home owners using a glitch in the HOA online portal?

I am receiving emails once a week from a particular homeowner who misused a glitch in our HOA's online portal to download all home owner information and is now using those email addresses to run a campaign against our current HOA. He is quoting Article 55A and claiming these email addresses are available to all home owners. Our HOA is telling us only home owner names and address should be available. Who is correct?

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1 Lawyer Answer
Will Blackton
Will Blackton
  • Raleigh, NC
  • Licensed in North Carolina

A: It depends, but probably doesn't matter. There is unlikely to be a legal cause of action against someone emailing everyone in a neighborhood.

Federal law prohibits accessing a computer without authorization, or in excess of authorization, but that law is probably inapplicable here. Research the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act to determine if there is a private cause of action under federal law.

If I receive an email with 100 other email addresses CCed, there is nothing that prevents me from (as a private individual) emailing those email addresses about anything. The CAN-SPAM Act restricts how businesses may use email addresses, but that also seems inapplicable here. Furthermore, I could pick any neighborhood and find and compile the email addresses of every resident using publicly available information, then email them all about whatever I wanted. So, the mere fact that someone is emailing everyone in a neighborhood does not create a private cause of action.

As to whether something in Article 55A requires that the HOA provide email addresses of all members, it arguably does. Nonprofit corporations are required to keep permanent records of actions, meetings, and information relating to its members and the number of votes each member is entitled to cast. The HOA (if incorporated as a nonprofit, which I'm assuming because you're referring to Article 55A here) is specifically required to keep the "names and addresses of all members" and members are entitled to inspect and copy those records. Almost always, when you buy a home subject to an HOA, you agree to become a member upon purchasing the home. Addresses here generally means physical addresses. However, if a nonprofit keeps email addresses of all members in its official corporate records (which many do) I see nothing that would prohibit a member from copying all of those email addresses.

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