Community associations often fail to comply with the requirement under Florida law to provide owners with timely access to official records or responses to inquiries, and these violations can expose the associations to costly penalties and legal expenses. The applicable laws provide that association official records shall be made available to owners within days of the submission of a written request (5-10 days depending on the type of community). Failure to provide access to the records within the time specified by the applicable laws may create a rebuttable presumption of a willful failure to comply with the law, which can subject an association to damages.
Florida statutes include the following among the list of records that associations are required to maintain: a copy of the plans, permits, warranties, and other items provided by the developer; photocopies of the declaration, by-laws, articles of incorporation and rules and regulations; a current roster of all owners; insurance policies; and financial records. Condominium associations must maintain these official records within the state for at least 7 years and make them available for inspection to a unit owner within 45 miles of the condominium property or within the county in which the condominium property is located.
There are also several types of association records which are not accessible to owners, such as: records protected by the lawyer-client or work-product privilege; information obtained by an association in connection with the approval of the lease, sale, or other transfer of a unit; personnel records of association or management company employees; medical records of unit owners; and certain personal information of the owner, when consent for disclosure is not provided by the owner (e.g., social security numbers, driver's license numbers, credit card numbers, e-mail addresses, telephone numbers, and other contact information). Boards should ensure that protected records are not disclosed during records inspections.
With regard to responses to written inquiries, Florida law requires condominium and cooperative boards to respond within 30 days of receipt with either a substantive response or a reply indicating that a legal opinion or advice from the Division of Condominiums has been requested. If the board requests advice from the division, the board shall, within 10 days of its receipt of the advice, provide in writing a substantive response to the inquirer. If a legal opinion is requested, the board shall, within 60 days after the receipt of the inquiry, provide in writing a substantive response to the inquiry. Costly consequences may result from a failure to provide a timely substantive response to the inquiry.
Associations may adopt reasonable rules regarding the frequency, time, location, notice and manner of record inspection and copying. Boards may also adopt reasonable rules regarding the frequency and manner of responding to inquiries, and association governing documents may also contain additional restrictions governing the possible rules to be imposed.
Community associations should consult with experienced legal counsel to avoid the pitfalls of untimely responses to records requests or improper responses to owner inquiries.