Association must keep unit keys under lock and key

Q: It has become increasingly necessary for our condominium association to go into units on an emergency basis to address common element issues. We are thinking of requiring owners to keep a unit key with the association so we can get access to units without damaging a door. Are we stepping into a liability trap?

A: Associations maintain owner keys for a variety of reasons. As long as the association takes reasonable steps to secure the keys and prevent unauthorized access to the keys, the association should reduce its exposure to liability if a key is, for example, stolen and used to gain unauthorized access to a unit.

Owners' keys should be secured in a locked box in a locked room where access is limited. The keys should not be marked with a unit number or owner's name. Rather, keys should be labeled with some random number. A separate log (not kept with the keys) should identify to what unit the number on a particular key refers.

Q: The board of our condominium association is considering entering into a contract with a board member to provide services to the association. Does this board member need to resign in order to do work for the association?

A: The board may enter into a contract with a board member to provide services to the association as long as the board follows the process described in the Condominium Property Act. This is governed by Section 18(a)(16) of the Act. Here is a summary of the process:

• The board, at a board meeting, would approve a decision to enter the contract with the board member. Note that the contract would not be signed at that point.

• Within 20 days of the board's decision to enter into the contract, the board would have to issue a notice to all owners of the board's intent to enter the contract.

• Within 30 days after such notice, the owners have an opportunity - by filing a petition signed by 20% of the unit owners - to request an election to approve or disapprove the contract.

• If the board receives such a petition, a meeting of the owners must be called within 30 days after receiving the petition for the purpose of voting to approve or disapprove the contract.

The Act does not state what percent of the owners is needed to approve or disapprove the contract. I suggest it is whichever option (to approve or to disapprove the contract) gets the most votes when a quorum of the owners is present.

The board could sign the contract if no petition is received after the time has passed for owners to file the petition; or following the vote of owners if they approved the contract after a petition is received.

If this process results in a meeting where the owners do not approve the contract, the board member would need to resign in order for the board to enter into the contract with him or her.

Q: The board of our association wants to implement rules regarding the installation of surveillance cameras for the common elements. The board wants to allow security cameras, in light of growing demand of many owners. Anything we should consider?

A: In general, a rule must be reasonable to be enforceable. The rule should address where an owner can install the surveillance camera (e.g., on a door/door frame).

With respect to privacy issues, keep in mind that a surveillance camera is permitted in areas where a person does not have a reasonable expectation of privacy. Moreover, the surveillance cameras should not capture activity in another person's individual unit. So, rules should address these issues.

• David M. Bendoff is an attorney with Kovitz Shifrin Nesbit in the Chicago suburbs. Send questions for the column to him at The firm provides legal service to condominium, townhouse, homeowner associations and housing cooperatives. This column is not a substitute for consultation with legal counsel.

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