Community association board members are asked to do a great deal for the communities they serve.  They give up a great deal of their time and lend their varying expertise to help their communities run as smoothly and effectively as possible.  Given that so much is asked of the directors, it is important that they take appropriate steps to delegate responsibilities to committees comprised of association members.

For most community associations, the benefits of involving committees are extremely worthwhile.  Not only do they create a forum for the implementation and enforcement of vital policies and decisions, they also serve as ideal incubators for prospective future board members.

By their very nature, committees comprised of volunteer owners and residents should have a good understanding of the best policies and practices for their community.  They may be ideally suited to oversee matters that involve the collection of information from the owners as well as the subsequent assessing of the data in order to make strong recommendations for suggested solutions.

Association boards should take the time to closely consider the use of different types of committees and their intended roles and responsibilities.  Most association governing documents will include provisions governing the establishment of volunteer committees and how their decisions will be enacted.

Some of the most popular types of committees are:

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The residents of the Concord Station community north of Tampa in Land O’Lakes, Fla. recently shared their complaints and confusion with a reporter from one of their local television stations over their HOA’s use of a drone equipped with a camera in their community.

The residents indicate in the station’s report that they received an online notice from their HOA alerting them that it would be flying the drone, which the association confirmed that it operated over the community in addition to a vehicle equipped with a mounted camera.

The residents who expressed their opposition to the HOA’s use of a drone were concerned about the invasion of their privacy, especially if the drone is recording video of their backyards.  One of them indicates:  “If the drone is flying above my property, I’m going to consider that a trespass to our property and we’re going to take appropriate measures to make sure that we protect our privacy rights.”

d2-300x176The property management company for the association explains in the report that they are using the drone to chronicle all of the physical characteristics of the community in hopes of helping to avoid the possibility of homeowner hassles in the future.  The video from the drone is being used for documentation of the state of the community, which is now transitioning from a developer-controlled association to one that is controlled by the unit owners.  The company also noted that the aerial images and video could also be used for promotional and marketing purposes in the future.

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Each year, our elected state representatives and senators meet in Tallahassee for a legislative session where they review and debate an extensive amount of proposed bills, only to send a few of those bills to the governor to be signed into law.  For the third year in a row, our elected lawmakers will be discussing a bill that has once again resurfaced, and if passed, may have a significant impact on community associations’ wallets.

House Bill 483 — also known as Senate Bill 398 or “the home tax” bill — proposes to place a considerable amount of requirements relating to the issuance of estoppel certificates on the condominium, cooperative or homeowners association responsible for preparing them. If signed into law, community associations will need to be both financially and operationally prepared to abide by the stringent changes set forth in the bill.

An estoppel is a legally binding document prepared by a community association or its agent that discloses any liens, overdue assessments or any other money owed to the association, such as late fees and attorney’s fees.  Estoppels are required by title companies in standard real estate transactions in order to inform the seller and buyer of any outstanding financial obligation(s) on the unit or parcel.  If prepared incorrectly, the community association could be liable for miscalculated or incomplete balances, resulting in a loss for the association.

Contrary to some people’s beliefs, estoppels aren’t generated by the push of a button. They take time and precision to prepare, which is why a bill that shifts even more of the burden on the association could be detrimental.

Florida-legislature2-300x169One of the main components of this proposed bill is to mandate more rigorous deadlines for the preparation of estoppels.  Currently, associations have 15 days to prepare and deliver an estoppel once it is requested.  The bill would shorten this period to 10 business-days, which could be difficult for associations of varying sizes and levels of sophistication, as some will be anchored by antiquated bookkeeping or a lack of resources.

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GaryMars-200x300Firm partner Gary M. Mars authored an article that appeared as a “Board of Contributors” guest 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 “Airbnb Gone Wild? Ruling Clarifies Rules on Short-Term Condo Rentals,” focuses on a recent decision by the Second District Court of Appeal that found that the fairly standard language present in the declarations of condominium and accompanying rules and regulations for many properties does not grant unit owners with the unrestricted right to lease their residences.  Gary’s article reads:

The ruling came from the Florida Second District Court of Appeal in the case of Le Scampi Condominium Association v. Hall. Le Scampi had petitioned the lower court for injunctive relief against the unit owners to prevent them from leasing their residence for less than one month without prior approval by the association in violation of its rules.

The Halls did not dispute to the trial court that they had rented their unit for periods of less than one month without prior approval, which constituted violations of the association’s rules. Their defense was based on arguments that those rules were unenforceable because they conflicted with their right to lease their unit under the community’s controlling documents.

The lower court issued a final summary judgment in favor of the Halls based on its finding that the conflict indeed existed and the language in the original declarations of condominium for the property supersedes any lease restrictions in the rules and regulations.

dbr-logo-300x57The appellate panel found that the trial court’s interpretation of the declaration was inconsistent with its plain language. It ruled that the section in question does not provide that the right to sell, lease or transfer a condominium unit is unrestricted with the exception of a notice requirement. Instead, the declaration merely imposes a prior-notice requirement and specifies the contents of the notice, but it does not otherwise address a unit owner’s right to sell, lease or transfer their unit to persons other than family members.

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One of the most common problem areas for condominium associations and their property management is parking.  Spaces are at a premium in most communities, and issues arise when unit owners and tenants fail to park in their designated spots.  Associations and their property managers must be well prepared in order to effectively contend with parking violations.

Most condominium bylaws allow for the adoption of reasonable rules and regulations governing the use of the common elements, which typically include parking areas and spaces.  Boards and management should determine whether the bylaws and/or rules are already adequately addressing parking in the community or if amendments to the governing documents and/or rules may be needed.

Some of the most typical issues addressed by parking rules are designated parking areas and spots for owners, guests and vendors, and spaces for commercial vehicles, boats on trailers, recreational vehicles, personal watercraft, campers, motorcycles and all-terrain vehicles.  Some communities have restrictions on the number of vehicles that a unit owner is allowed to park onsite, and some have time limits for the parking of vehicles in certain areas.

npark-227x300Bear in mind that all parking rules and restrictions must comply with the Fair Housing Accessibility Guidelines developed by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) with respect to designating handicap parking.

Once clear rules and restrictions are in place, condominium boards should develop effective enforcement measures, which will typically include warnings, fines (typically using a graduated scale that increases commensurately with each violation, but consistent with statutory constraints), and towing.  The bylaws or rules pertaining to towing should allow for the association to assess the costs to the corresponding unit owner, and towing notices and requirements must strictly comply with Florida law.

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Michael-Hyman-srhl-lawFirm partner Michael L. Hyman was featured in a “Profiles in Law” article by the Daily Business Review, South Florida’s exclusive business daily and official court newspaper.  The article, which appears in today’s edition of the newspaper, chronicles his career as one of the founders of community association law as a legal specialty in Florida.

The profile, which is written by DBR reporter Samantha Joseph, reads:

Michael Hyman’s journey into law reads like a series of fortunate coincidences.

It starts with a friend on his way to take the law school admission test stopping by and inviting Hyman to join him. It was the mid-1960s—decades before Hyman would contribute to shaping Florida real estate law, battle developers and help free condominium buyers in a then-emerging market from clauses buried in 99-year ground leases to escalate rents for shared amenities.

Back then, before he was shareholder at Siegfried Rivera Hyman Lerner De La Torre Mars & Sobel in Coral Gables, Hyman taught English and journalism to students five years his junior at a Hialeah high school, earning a $4,700 salary. His soon-to-be-wife, Iris, was completing her senior year of college, and he’d started considering career moves to support a young family. He knew little about law school, even less about being an attorney and had never considered taking the entrance test.

dbr-logo-300x57“I loved teaching, but it was a very different story to think about getting married and having kids,” Hyman said. “A friend of mine said he was going the next morning to take the law school admission exam. He picked me up. Without going to any type of tutelage or anything, I walked in, took an academic exam and did well enough to get admitted to University of Miami and UF.”

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With the approval of Amendment 2 last November to legalize the use of medical marijuana in Florida, the state legislature and Department of Health are now developing the rules and regulations that will govern the use of cannabis by those who suffer from a number of ailments listed in the new constitutional amendment.  Likewise, now is also the time for associations to begin discussing and considering the implementation of their own rules and restrictions regarding the use of the drug by unit owners in their communities.

For most communities, the question of whether the use of medical marijuana should be allowed in the common areas will likely cause the most unease.  Other concerns include the use of cannabis inside of the residences, especially in condominiums where the odor could permeate into the common elements or other residences, and some properties may wish to ban the drug from the community in its entirety.

It remains unclear whether the state’s lawmakers will attempt to ban the smoking of medical marijuana.  If smoking marijuana is allowed under the laws that will be adopted in order to comply with the amendment, community associations will need to address whether they must make exceptions to their rules in order to allow residents with a doctor’s prescription to smoke medical marijuana.

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When the Condominium Act was amended several years ago to allow associations to demand and collect rent directly from the tenants of unit owners who were delinquent in the payment of their monthly fees, community associations thought it was an answer to their prayers.  Associations were struggling to recover from the foreclosure crisis, and many homeowners made the decision to rent their units to make some money but, unfortunately, they also chose not to pay their associations.

However, utilization of this amendment has proven to be difficult and sometimes costly to enforce in cases in which de facto tenants and their landlords are able to demonstrate to the court that a tenancy under the letter of the law is not actually in place.  How many times have we heard that the tenant is “family,” that the tenant does not pay the landlord, and that there’s no lease in place?

A noteworthy example is found in a ruling last year by the Miami-Dade County Circuit Court Appellate Division in the case of Cecil Tavares v. Villa Doral Master Associationvdoral-300x226 Tavares had conveyed his condominium unit via quit claim deed to a new owner, but he and his wife continued to live there.  When the new owner went into arrears with the association, it attempted to collect the rent directly from Tavares and eventually filed for an eviction.

The county court granted default judgment in favor of the association and issued a writ of possession to enable it to move forward with the eviction, but Tavares appealed on the question of whether the court erred by defining him as a tenant based on the quit claim deed.

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GaryMars-200x300The firm’s Gary M. Mars shared his insights into the ramifications of a recent Miami-Dade grand jury report on condominium association fraud in an article in today’s edition of the Daily Business Review, South Florida’s exclusive business daily and official court newspaper.  The article, which was written by DBR reporter Samantha Joseph, notes that “[c]riminal charges could soon be in store for misbehaving condominium board members and managers if recommendations in a Miami-Dade grand jury report gain traction.  Self-dealing, destroying accounting documents, withholding records, participating in kickbacks, interfering in elections and other willful violations of Florida’s condominium statute could leave individual board members criminally liable for the first time.”

The DBR article reads:

The question isn’t whether there’s fraud and abuse among some of the boards, according to the grand jury report, which cites thousands of annual reports of alleged wrongdoing to Florida’s Department of Business and Professional Regulation. The question is how to police it and shore up a regulator described as a toothless tiger.

“Our investigation exposed . . . severe weaknesses within the current laws and regulations,” the grand jury concluded. “Because the condo laws and regulations lack ‘teeth,’ board directors, management companies and associations have become emboldened in their willful refusal to abide by and honor existing laws in this area. They even engage in fraudulent activity which goes unpunished.”

The report took aim at the Department of Business and Professional Regulation — an allegedly understaffed agency with broad jurisdiction over condo associations and more than 1 million businesses and professionals, including accountants, contractors, cosmetologists, veterinarians and real estate agents.

“The DBPR seems ill-suited to resolve, correct or prevent many of the recurring problems that have been brought to their attention,” it stated.

dbr-logo-300x57. . . Longtime community association counsel Gary Mars, shareholder at Siegfried, Rivera, Hyman, Lerner, De La Torre, Mars & Sobel in Miami, applauded the agency’s efforts in juggling thousands of complaints that would otherwise clog civil courts, but suggested an overhaul to place criminal cases beyond the department’s purview.

“Ultimately these should end up in a court proceeding, rather than going through a state agency,” he said.

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Michael-Hyman-srhl-lawThe firm’s Michael L. Hyman authored an article that appeared as a “Board of Contributors” guest 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 “Association Deficits Don’t Excuse Developer From Funding HOA Reserves,” focuses on a recent decision by the Florida Fifth District Court of Appeal that found a developer was not excused from funding reserves while it remained in control of the association and was funding deficits in the operating expenses.  Michael’s article reads:

For the developer of the Sullivan Ranch community in Mount Dora north of Orlando, it appears that its decision to stop funding reserves after it established the account and began funding it in 2007 has significantly backfired. The Fifth District Court of Appeal recently overturned a lower court’s summary judgment, which concluded that the developer was excused from funding reserves while it remained in control of the association and was funding deficits in its operating expenses.

The Fifth DCA’s decision in Sara R. Mackenzie and Ralph Mackenzie v. Centex Homes et al. illustrates the importance for developers of HOA communities to tread carefully whenever they attempt to avoid funding for association reserves. Condominium developers are provided with a statutory mechanism to avoid funding for reserves if they guarantee a set minimum level for the association’s entire annual budget during its first two years of existence, but the laws governing HOAs do not include this exemption.

dbr-logo-300x57Based on the circumstances in this case, it appears that the developer of the community was either unaware of its statutory requirements governing the funding of reserves or it failed to adequately think through its actions. After establishing the account for the association’s reserves and funding it in 2007, the developer opted to pay Sullivan Ranch’s operating expenses in lieu of making any contributions to the reserve account in the following years, claiming that it had made no guarantee to fund the reserves.

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