Question: I am a director on my homeowners association board. Four of the five directors and some of the owners rely on our management company employees for legal advice. In response to a query about a recall action, one correspondence from management stated: "I believe it is inappropriate but not sure about legal for the board to support this."
In another case, a homeowner who wanted to circulate a letter to all owners wrote to management asking: "I'm still working on a letter we'll send out on behalf of the petitioners to the homeowners in support of the recall. I'm wondering if there would be a problem, ethically, legally, for the letter to indicate that this recall is supported by the remaining four board members; and I also wonder if the other four board members would mind a statement to that effect being included in the letter, should it be ethically and legally OK." The management company wrote: "If any member of the board chooses to participate as a homeowner that is certainly their right to do so, even by using the voice of a homeowner who is also a director."
I believe these communications interfere with the business of the association. What should we do about the homeowner asking for management assistance in this manner? Can a management employee give legal advice, and should the management firm be fired?
Answer: In California it is unlawful to practice law without a State Bar license. Only licensed attorneys can give legal advice, and boards are at their peril taking advice from a non-lawyer.
Interference with association operations by management companies happens only when boards allow it. The company's employer is the association, not the individual homeowners.
Both ethically and legally the management company employee's assistance regarding the letter and/or rendering advice as to a person's rights could be grounds for terminating the company. The job of management is not to instigate or aid and abet any owner in removing a board director. Its function should be to provide services to the association, not to stir up trouble among directors and owners.
By taking on the recall of one director, the company has breached its contractual obligation to the association as represented by the board.
Firing any vendor is a board decision, but under these circumstances the company's actions cast doubt on whether it is able to fulfill its contractual obligations to the association and to the entire board. A management company is not a law firm, and its employees are not licensed attorneys. Therefore, rendering legal advice would be tantamount to engaging in the "unauthorized practice of law," a misdemeanor under Business and Professions Code Section 6126.
Send questions to P.O. Box 11843, Marina del Rey, CA 90295 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.