Online Message Boards for Condos: Good Idea or Bad Idea?

Storytime!

A while ago, a friend of a friend (not me... I swear) found themselves in a bit of a pickle.

(We’ll call this person Jon.)

Jon was concerned about a major project that his condo was undertaking. He tried voicing his concerns with his property manager and the condo board, but felt like no one was listening to him. So to channel his frustrations he started his own Facebook page and invited his neighbours to take part in this group.

Since this major project was a hot topic in his condo, the members in the group grew quickly and eventually the discussions began to get out of hand.

Members of the group began speculating about how this major project had some potentially questionable aspects.

Some owners started calling other owners names.

Unpleasant rumours started to fly.

Eventually the corporation decided that they needed to de-escalate the situation for fear that their reputation (and property values) become damaged due to the contents of the message board becoming public.

In the end, Jon shut down the message board after getting a cease-and-desist letter from the condo.


I have the unique advantage of seeing this story from both sides - as an owner as well as a condo board director.

As an owner, I too would feel discouraged if I felt that no one was receptive to my take on important condo matters.

As a condo board director I understand all of the potential risks to the corporation when unsubstantiated information begins to freely flow within a community.

Resident Message Boards: A Solution to Communication Complaints?

We’ve heard complaints from owners that condos don’t communicate often enough. Condos will need to consider the manner in which they communicate with residents that balances how much information to share and how to manage the communication process.

A question that is commonly raised among condo communities is: “Do we set up a message board for our residents?”

There are a couple of considerations that need to be taken into account: will the message board be condominium managed or community managed? There are advantages and disadvantages to both types which we will explore below.

Condo Managed Message Boards

Condo managed message boards are usually hosted as a feature of one of the condominium software providers or as part of the condo website. Moderator styles are broad and can range from being strict (requiring moderators to approve all posts before they go live) to laissez-faire (remaining completely invisible and only appearing when an issue arises); or, something in between.

Some advantages of condo managed message boards include:

  • Being able to moderate discussion to ensure that commentary remains civil, no private information is shared publicly, and to keep the conversation focused on the topic at hand.

  • Controlling the flow of information to safeguard against inaccurate information.

  • Preventing the exchange of inappropriate material, links, images, or language.

  • The ability to identify exactly who users are and restrict posts to actual community members.

Some of the disadvantages of condo managed message boards include:

  • Censorship as not all participants’ comments are published, this leads to a tendency for the “real issues” to not be discussed

  • Lower engagement from residents and owners as they may not want to take part in another app or join another website.

  • Time devoted to moderating content - usually a board member or the property manager has to read through all of the posts and filter out inappropriate comments.

Community-run Message Boards

Community managed message boards are usually started by one or a few individuals within a condo community and is hosted using a public social media platform like Facebook. These message boards may or may not be moderated and may be focused on a singular issue.

Some advantages of community managed boards include:

  • Increased feelings of trust in the content as comments and discussions are not being censored by the corporation. This lends a more organic feel to the discussions.

  • Easy to join as most residents will be part of some social media platform.

Some disadvantages of community managed boards include:

  • Potential lack of moderation, so any uncivil commentary or inappropriate content may not be filtered out.

  • Increased flow of misinformation as rumours are not quashed quickly (or at all).

  • The vocal minority can control the group and steer the conversations for their own agenda which can be off-putting for many.

  • Legality issues surrounding defamation, harassment of individuals, or release of private information.

  • No way of confirming that individuals posting on the forum are residents or owners in the condo.

Liability and Legal Considerations

Regardless of which type of message board you go with there are important legal considerations. Living in a condo means being part of a community and the corporation and it's members can be liable for the content they post in the discussion forums.

When the condo manages the discussion forum they have a better handle on what can be posted and discussed which better protects all parties involved. However, this moderation can be viewed as censorship by some.

Community-run discussion boards are another option, but they don’t entirely absolve the condo corporation from liability. It does give the condo some protection via plausible deniability.

Community members running these message boards should be careful about what they are posting or allowing others to post. Allowing others to post personally identifying information, bullying other owners, and spreading rumours can lead to lawsuits.

Here's an example: the courts recently concluded that a condo corporation had a statutory duty to take all reasonable steps to protect the reputation of it's directors from defamation.

Community run discussion boards that get out of hand or post potentially damaging information could see legal action against its founders or moderators.

It’s not just disseminating false information either, I’ve seen examples of condo corporations taking legal action against community run message boards out of fear that any negative content can become public. And negative content can make the condo a less appealing investment.

This is what happened to Jon.

Good Idea, In Theory

Having a “safe” space for your community members to have open discussions is a good idea in theory, but left to it’s own devices can quickly snowball into a negative space. We have seen message boards started with good intentions, but end up overtaken by a vocal minority who have an agenda, or a grudge against a neighbour or corporation employee.

Good Idea, Requires Commitment

A good open forum for discussion needs two things:

  1. commitment by one or more individuals to balanced moderation; and
  2. proper education of the forum's participants on what is acceptable content.

Alternatives

If you don’t think that your condo is ready for a message board, there are other ways of keeping your community informed as a condo board:

  • set up a blog and post regularly; and
  • send a monthly newsletter

Both of these options work exceptionally well when they coincide with your monthly board meetings.

If you are set on a message board, then you should keep in mind that managing and moderating a message board can be time consuming, and you may not have control over community managed message boards that pop up.

Many discussion forums start out strong only to fade into oblivion once owners and residents lose interest or get caught up in the busyness of their lives. Should a message board or discussion forum organically appear, as a condo corporation all you can do is monitor it for any potentially damaging comments that pose a threat to the condo. It might even be prudent to have a director join in and remind the community to keep things civil else there be legal consequences. Trying to strike the balance between keeping your condo community informed while at the same time providing a safe channel to voice their concerns is what every condo has to deal with.

I’d like to hear your feedback on how you may have handled a community forum or your take on the matter. Or heck, maybe you’ve found a way to solve the issue and have an awesome message board. In which case, definitely contact me because I’m sure Jon would love to learn your secrets.

JJ Hiew

JJ is a former condominium director and is the co-founder of GetQuorum.com, a corporate governance platform specializing in electronic voting, proxy voting and notice distribution service.

Toronto