Featured Articles

One of the key takeaways from Hurricane Irma was a reminder about the importance of keeping trees properly trimmed in order to avoid damage to power lines from downed foliage.  However, a recent report by Channel 7 News (Fox) in South Florida about a Hallandale Beach HOA’s troubles with the city over its allegedly exorbitant tree trimming serves as a cautionary tale for all Florida community associations.

According to the report, the insurance company for the Hallandale Village Homeowners Association asked association president Richard Masone to trim the trees around the property at the start of this year’s hurricane season.  Masone complied and asked the association’s regular landscape maintenance company to trim the trees.

hrack-tree-300x225The job pleased the community’s insurer, but Hallandale Beach Code Enforcement officers were not happy with the tree trimming.  City Manager Roger Carlton called the trimming unacceptable, noting that it “enormously exceeded any reasonable amount.”

The association was told by the city that the trees were “hatracked,” or over-trimmed, and they ordered the community to dig up and replace the trees, which entails hiring an arborist and pulling permits for each of the 10-15 trees that would need to be replaced.

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Nicole-Kurtz-2014-200x300The firm’s Nicole R. Kurtz authored an article that is featured as a Board of Contributor’s guest commentary column in today’s edition of the Daily Business Review, South Florida’s exclusive business daily and official court newspaper.  The article, which is titled “Court: Association Declaration’s Reference to Alterations Encompasses Material Alterations,” focuses on a recent ruling that illustrates how Florida courts will turn to the plain and unambiguous meanings of terms in interpreting a community association’s governing documents.  For associations with declarations of condominium stating that the board of directors has the authority to approve alterations to the common elements, the decision emphasizes that such authority extends to all additions or improvements to the association’s common elements, including material alterations.  Nicole’s article reads:

. . . In 2016, the [Regency Tower condominium] association’s board of directors voted, without obtaining membership approval, to replace the existing Carrara marble flooring in the lobby with ceramic tile flooring. In response, one of the association’s unit owners challenged the board of directors’ authority to replace the lobby flooring without first obtaining approval from the association’s members.

The unit owner asserted his challenge by filing a petition for arbitration with the state’s Division of Condominiums, Timeshares and Mobile Homes. After the petition was dismissed by the arbitrator, he filed a lawsuit against the association in circuit court.

dbr-logo-300x57The owner’s position, in both the arbitration and the lawsuit, was that the association’s declaration of condominium did not include a provision detailing the procedure for approving “material alterations,” as it only referenced the board of directors’ authority to approve “alterations.” As such, the owner argued that Section 718.113(2)(a), Florida Statutes, which is triggered should there not be a procedure in an association’s declaration of condominium for the approval of material alterations, applied and precluded the board of directors from being able to unilaterally approve of the lobby flooring modification.

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The recent news report by CBS4 Miami about a Miami Beach man who was charged with attempted murder and attempted arson for plotting to burn down his condo building should serve as a wake-up call for all condominium associations in Florida and across the country.  It appears to be a case in which the warning signs may have triggered a call to authorities that averted a horrific tragedy just in the nick of time.

The report states witnesses told police that Walter Stolper, 72, had shown aggression toward his fellow residents and the members of the association’s board of directors at their building at 56th Street and Collins Avenue.  As a result, he was facing an eviction action.

cbs4The breaking point for the initial call to authorities came when Stolper spoke with his friend Luis Diaz, who states in the station’s report:  “He told me he was tired of the association and the Jews in the building and he wanted to do something about it. He said he wanted to burn down the building. At first, I didn’t think he was serious, but then I heard him talk about blocking the fire department and their hoses, I realized he was serious and I had to do something.”

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MichaelHymanFirm shareholder Michael L. Hyman authored an article that appeared as a “Board of Contributors” guest commentary column in today’s edition of the Daily Business Review, South Florida’s exclusive business daily and official court newspaper.  The article, which is titled “Circuit, Appellate Courts Issue Injunction Against HOA to Fix Flooding Problems,” focuses on recent decisions by circuit and appellate courts that illustrate how Florida’s courts will issue mandatory injunctions to force community associations to do their duty to maintain drainage systems.  The article reads:

The case of Coconut Key Homeowner’s Association v. Gonzalez pitted a homeowner against her HOA, which she alleged breached its governing documents by failing to properly maintain the surface water management system for the community. This caused chronic flooding problems in her own backyard whenever it rained and led to significant damage to her home.

Gonzalez sought an injunction to require the association to cure the alleged surface water management violations and stop the flooding problem. A Broward circuit court jury ruled in her favor, concluding that the association breached its governing documents by failing to maintain and operate the surface water management system in the community. However, it concluded that this breach was not a legal cause of damage to Gonzalez, so it awarded no monetary damages.

dbrlogo-300x57The court then conducted a post-trial hearing on whether to issue an injunction against the association. It granted Gonzalez’s motion for a mandatory injunction in accord with the jury’s finding that the HOA’s violations of its own governing documents caused her irreparable harm without an adequate remedy under the law.

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GaryMars3For the second consecutive day, an article on important community association issues authored by one of our partners has served as the featured guest commentary column in the pages of the Daily Business Review, South Florida’s exclusive business daily and official court newspaper.  The article in today’s edition of the newspaper is by Gary M. Mars, and it is titled “Community Associations Should Make Effective Use of Social Media.”  Gary’s article reads:

There is no doubt that the use of social media can save community associations time and money with some of their communications and outreach efforts aimed at their owners and residents. Adding new posts with photos and videos to an association’s social media pages is simple and free, and millions of Americans are now visiting Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, LinkedIn and others on a daily basis.

Some associations are now including community calendars in their Facebook group site as well as meeting notices, agendas and notes. dbr-logo-300x57These group pages are also ideal for posting links to copies of annual reports, community bylaws, and other helpful items and forms.

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MichaelHymanFirm partner Michael L. Hyman authored a guest commentary column that appeared in today’s edition of the Daily Business Review, South Florida’s exclusive business daily and official court newspaper.  The article, which is titled “Legislative Fix Needed in Condo Association Property Tax Assessment Appeals Ruling,” focuses on the ramifications of a recent ruling by the Third District Court of Appeal involving challenges to property tax appraisal assessments by community associations on behalf of their unit owners.  His article reads:

Condominium associations regularly represent all of their unit owners as a consolidated class of litigants in cases challenging their local county ad valorem property tax appraisal assessments.  However, a vital segment of the representation that associations provide their owners in such actions may soon be coming to an end as a result of a recent Florida appellate court ruling.

The ruling in March by the Third District Court of Appeal in Central Carillon Beach Condominium Association v. Garcia surprised many of the attorneys who focus on this highly specialized area involving condominium and real estate tax law. It found that unit owners cannot join together as a class to respond to a county appraiser’s appeal of an assessment reduction because the law requires that the defendant in such appeals must be the taxpayer. dbrlogo-300x57The result could be deleterious for Florida property owners and circuit courts, and it demands a legislative fix during next year’s session.

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One of the changes to the Florida condominium laws from this year’s legislative session that are set to take effect on July 1 is the mandate that the minutes of all condominium association board meetings must now be kept permanently as opposed to seven years, as the law previously held.  This new requirement should not present any difficulties for the state’s condo associations, as recording the meeting minutes and keeping them available for inspection as state law requires are basic functions of association administration.

The minutes of association board meetings must reflect all of the votes or abstentions of the directors in attendance.  They are extremely useful association records for those who wish to gain an understanding for all of their association’s undertakings and decisions over a period of time.

meet-300x166Associations should record their meeting minutes in a well organized and uniform format, and the information should be very brief and to the point.  The minutes should reflect the format and topics from the meeting agenda, and many associations break them down into standard sections for attendees, reports, old business, new business and others.

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susanodess-srhl-224x300Michael-Clark-Gort-photo-200x300Article authored by:  B. Michael Clark, Jr. and Susan C. Odess

After Hurricane Irma made landfall in Florida last year, many property owners were surprised at how unfamiliar they were with the property insurance claim process — mainly because of Florida’s remarkable hurricane-free streak. However, the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season marked the end of that winning stretch, catapulting many Floridians who experienced property damage into insurance claim purgatory.

By now, community associations, business owners and homeowners who filed a claim relating to Hurricane Irma damage should have heard back from their insurer as to whether their claim was denied, determined to be under the deductible or fully covered. For many policyholders, their insurer’s coverage decision came back as a disappointing slap in the face, leaving them as discouraged as they felt after receiving the pricey estimates for their repair costs.

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Some good news for community associations struggling with questionable requests for the approval of emotional support animals:  The Department of Housing and Urban Development is expected to issue revised guidelines later this year focusing on ESA requests and approvals.  According to The National Association of Realtors, the new guidelines should give landlords, property managers and community associations greater authority to verify that the need for such an animal is legitimate.

The NAR reports it has had separate conversations with HUD and disability rights groups. esupdog-300x234 Senior Policy Representative Megan Booth recently told attendees at a conference that the disability rights groups have expressed concerns over the widespread abuse of requests for companion animals, as they believe it is already making it more difficult for residents with legitimate needs to receive the approvals they require.

It appears that the new HUD guidance will be specifically aimed at curtailing the use of online ESA certification mills.

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For many condominium associations in Florida, the amount of board members serving on a board of directors is usually dictated by the association’s governing documents or bylaws. There are associations, however, whose documents are silent on the number of directors that can be elected. In the absence of such a provision, condominium associations would have to refer to Chapter 718, Florida Statutes, which provides that a board of administration of a condominium shall be composed of five members.  For those bylaws that do include language with specifications regarding a board’s size, the average number of board members serving typically ranges from three to five board members. But is there an ideal size?

While there is no “right” size for a board of directors, community associations that are considering decreasing or increasing their existing board’s size should always evaluate the pros and cons of doing so. It is possible for a board to be either too big or too small. Continue reading