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This is the time of year when many Florida condominium associations conduct their annual meeting and election of directors.  Here are some helpful reminders about the process to ensure that your community’s meeting and election avoid potential glitches and remain in compliance with Florida law.

Board membership should be viewed as being akin to a civic duty for condominium owners.  So long as individuals meet the basic legal requirements, to wit: they are current on all of their financial obligations to the association and are not a convicted felon, they are otherwise eligible to run for a board seat in most associations.

The election notices that are distributed by the association to all of the owners begin with the initial notice that must be sent out at least 60 days prior to the election. This notice should include information on the deadlines for submission of notices to the association for those who intend to run for a board seat. All candidates must provide their association with a written notice of their intent to run for the board of directors at least 40 days prior to the date of the election. meeting-vote-300x300Registered candidates are then able to lobby their fellow owners, and they may submit a resume to the association at least 35 days prior to the election. The resume, which may not exceed one side of a standard piece of office paper, should contain details about a candidate’s professional and educational background as well as any other attributes and qualifications that they would like to include.

A second notice of the election, which must be distributed between 34 and 14 days prior to the election, must include copies of all the resumes submitted by the candidates together with the ballot and the inner and outer envelopes.

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ElizabethBowen-srhl-law-2-200x300Firm shareholder Elizabeth A. Bowen authored an article that appeared as the “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 “Suit Against Association for Emotional Support Animal Denial Sends Message to Fla. Condos, HOAs,” discusses the implications of a recent lawsuit by Broward County against a Lauderhill condominium association for alleged violations of fair housing laws over its denial of an emotional support animal for a unit owner.  Her article reads:

Emotional support animals have been in the news quite a bit during the last couple of years. There have been reports of airline passengers boarding with a peacock, hamster, pig, a duck wearing a diaper and a squirrel. As a result, companies have started to change their policies, and the public’s attitudes and perceptions toward ESAs also appear to be changing.

Frontier Airlines recently announced its new policy to allow only cats and dogs as emotional support animals. It joined Spirit Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines and American Airlines, which have all tightened their policies on ESAs this year. Publix also banned them from its stores and posted signs reading: “For food safety reasons, only service animals that are specifically trained to aid a person with disabilities are permitted within the store.”

esupdog-300x234These new policies and signs have raised awareness of the perceived abuse of ESAs by people trying to take advantage of federal disability laws in order to take their pets into businesses. As a result of the growing skepticism, community association boards of directors can easily fall into the trap of disregarding requests for accommodations for ESAs and summarily rejecting them.

A recent lawsuit by Broward County against a Lauderhill condominium association illustrates the potential pitfalls of such uninformed actions by associations. The county filed suit in federal court against the Environ Towers I Condominium Association seeking damages and injunctive relief for its alleged violation of federal fair housing laws as well as the Broward County Human Rights Act. Continue reading

In the aftermath of one of the worst school shootings in U.S. history, the residents of Parkland in Broward County have taken pride in the resilience and unity that they have demonstrated as a community. Memorials and messages of support were placed throughout the neighborhoods and enclaves surrounding Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, and signs reading “Parkland Strong” and “#MSDStrong” became ubiquitous.

However, at the home of Donna Ali, whose daughter is a student at the high school, the Parkland Golf & Country Club HOA had requested that her “Parkland Strong” yard sign as well as those of some of her neighbors should be removed.

According to a report by WPLG-ABC Channel 10, the HOA sent an email to residents reading: “In keeping with the memorial plans, the community relations committee is asking residents that have shown solidarity with the MSD family by placing memorials in their yard to take them down by Nov. 15.” plandstrong-300x225The community is apparently working on installing a permanent memorial, which is expected to be completed by February.

After hearing about the station’s report, the board of directors of the HOA distributed a news release stating that the signs will now be allowed to stay up until the permanent memorial has been completed. It reads: “The board immediately decided to suspend the removal request until the permanent memorial is complete as our community does not want to bring any additional pain to anyone, especially an MSD student.”

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The recent news about an accident inside G.L. Homes’ Seven Bridges community in Delray Beach involving four children on a golf cart highlights the potential legal liabilities for Florida associations concerning kids driving golf carts.

According to a report by BocaNewsNow.com, four children were riding a 2014 EZ Go “Freedom” Golf Cart on the community’s main street when the unlicensed 15-year-old girl driving the cart darted in front of an oncoming car.  The car, which was driven by Sunny Isles resident Eduard Hiutin, crashed into the golf cart, causing its driver and passengers, ages 11, 13, 14 and 15, to be ejected onto the street.  The children were transported by ambulance to the trauma unit at Delray Medical Center, where one was treated for a catastrophic injury.

The golf cart driver, who lives in the community along with two of the other children, was charged with operating a motor vehicle in a careless or negligent manner as well as failure to yield to the right of way.

gcart-300x158While the parent of the golf cart driver can be sued for negligence in such a case, the association can also be named as a defendant.  In fact, according to the Seven Bridges community’s governing documents filed with the clerk of courts, Seven Bridges requires a golf cart driver to be at least 16 years old and carry a valid driver’s license.  If enforcement of this rule was lax, potential liability could be alleged.

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The Florida Marketable Record Title Act (MRTA) requires HOAs to reaffirm and renew their covenants and restrictions 30 years after they were originally recorded in the local county records.  MRTA was created to extinguish claims to property which are at least 30 years old in an effort to stabilize property law by clearing old defects from the chains of title to real property, limiting the period of record searches, and clearly defining marketability by extinguishing old interests of record.

One of the unintended consequences of the Act is that the declarations of covenants, conditions and restrictions recorded by HOAs may be set to expire after 30 years of the date in which they were recorded.  Keep in mind that for most HOAs, if the residents are no longer compelled to act in accordance with the community’s declaration, the results could be catastrophic for the associations’ administration and finances.

Flalegislature-300x169The Florida legislature passed a law earlier this year to update the process for HOAs to renew and preserve their covenants and restrictions under MRTA in order to keep them in place after the 30-year term.  Under the new law, which is now in effect, at any time during the 30-year period following the effective date of the title for the covenants and restrictions of a community association, the association may preserve and protect those covenants or restrictions from extinguishment by following more simplified filing procedures which include the following:

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Hurricane Michael caused severe damage to condominiums and HOA communities in the Florida panhandle, and in the aftermath of the storm many of the area’s community associations will be filing property damage claims with their insurers.  Here are some tips that will help the boards of directors and property managers for these associations to make the process as smooth as possible:

 

Document the Damage

One of first steps for associations to take will be to document the damage.  Taking photos from a number of different angles and perspectives is a good start, and video recordings documenting all of the damage throughout the affected areas are also very helpful.  This should be done prior to any repairs or clean up, including the installation of tarps to prevent further water intrusion.

hurricane-damage-300x200For roof damage, associations should be very cautious and avoid walking on roofs that have been impacted.  Some insurers may attempt to demonstrate that the damage was exacerbated by individuals walking on the roof to take photos/videos and install tarps.  If the damage is not visible from the roof access door of condominium buildings, consider using a drone to take aerial videos.

 

Prevent any Further Damage

The only repairs that should be made immediately following all of the photo and video documentation should be those that are necessary to prevent further damage and ensure safety.  This includes emergency repairs such as covering damaged roofs and broken windows with tarps.

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A Lantana couple that had been arrested for defrauding their homeowners association were recently found guilty and hit with a severe jail sentence and restitution order.  The judge in the case found William and Darlene Cox, the former president and treasurer of Lantana Homes HOA (respectively), guilty of embezzling from the association that they helped to lead.

William Cox was sentenced to three years in state prison, while Darlene Cox was placed on probation for five years, the first of which must be served with a monitor.  They were also ordered to pay more than $360,000 in restitution to the HOA.

According to a report by CBS 12 News in West Palm Beach, the current leaders of the HOA are frustrated because Darlene Cox is still living in the community.  She remains a neighbor amongst all of those she defrauded and robbed.

willcoxDarlene and her husband were arrested in November 2016 after the current board discovered financial discrepancies in the association’s accounts.  According to the arrest report, the two were accused of taking the HOA funds and using the money to pay their personal car insurance as well as their homeowners and life insurance premiums.

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Earlier this year the Florida legislature passed an important update to the new condominium association website requirements that the state’s lawmakers codified during the 2017 legislative session.  The most important change was to extend the deadline for associations to launch their websites from July 1, 2018 to Jan. 1, 2019, providing condominiums and their property managers with an additional six months to develop and launch their sites.

In addition, the new website requirement no longer applies to multi-condominium associations with combined totals in excess of 150 units if none of individual condominium properties operated by the association contains 150 or more units.

Flalegislature-300x169The 2018 statutory amendments also changed some of the posting requirements to allow for the posting of summaries of certain documents rather than the documents themselves.  The official records that must be posted in the new websites also now include monthly income or expense statements as well as all bids in excess of $500 received from vendors during the past year for materials, equipment or services.

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Michael-Hyman-srhl-lawThe firm’s Michael L. Hyman authored an article that appeared as the “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 “$7.5M Verdict Against Condo Association Should Have Been Prevented,” discusses the multi-million dollar verdict in a case involving a hot tub accident at a St. Petersburg, Florida, condominium and the potential ramifications that can result when any defects in community amenities are not properly addressed.  Michael’s article reads:

In 2008, Ehab Mina was about to step into the hot tub at the Boca Ciega Resort & Marina Condominium when he became startled to see that it was partially drained. The problem in the hot tub caused the 44-year-old to slip, and he badly injured his right shoulder and spine.

Mina required multiple surgeries, and he was ultimately forced to sell his boat-building business as a result of his injuries. He filed suit against the association and its property management company, Condos by Sirata Inc., alleging that the hot tub should have had a posted warning and adequate lighting in the evening hours.

bciega-300x206The attorneys for the condominium association responded by arguing that the half-empty hot tub was an obvious condition, but the jury found the association and its management company to be jointly liable.  It awarded a $7.56 million verdict to Mina.

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Many associations’ governing documents include clauses that prohibit commercial business activities from being conducted in a resident’s unit.  Some include a blanket stipulation banning commercial activity altogether, while others make a distinction between permissible and impermissible activities.  While it makes sense for associations to want to regulate and restrict businesses from operating within their communities, HOAs and condominium associations should take a prudent approach that is guided by reason.

When considering how to regulate and enforce restrictions against commercial activities, associations should focus on the impact that particular activities have on the community and the quality of life of those who make it their home.  Today’s technology allows for a great deal of work to be done from home with no disruptions whatsoever to the community at large.  homework-300x200Rather than attempting to ban all commercial activities in a community, the better option is to specifically delineate in the governing documents the types of activities that are not allowed.

Some of the activities that communities wish to ban are those that entail significant vehicular traffic, including from clients as well as vendors and delivery vehicles.  Continue reading