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Security cameras in community associations, especially in sprawling HOA communities with gated entries and considerable common areas, help to provide residents and guests with an added measure of peace of mind. However, there are important privacy considerations for associations seeking to install surveillance systems, and there are also questions about whether these systems may constitute material alterations that must be approved by a vote of an association’s membership.

In general, community associations are allowed to install and utilize security cameras to monitor their common areas. The most important limitation in their use is that the cameras should not be positioned to view areas in which residents may reasonably expect a level privacy, such as restrooms, locker rooms, and private dwellings or backyards.

Another important consideration is whether the deployment of security camera systems constitute a material alteration which may require a vote of the association’s voting interest. Decisions over this issue in arbitrations before the State of Florida’s Division of Condominiums, Timeshares and Mobile Homes have held that security camera installations may be considered material alterations. Therefore, unless an association’s specific governing documents provide otherwise, they may first have to be approved by a vote of the owners, which in some cases may be at least 75 percent of the membership. Some association governing documents require less than the statutory 75 percent threshold to approve a material alteration, and some only require membership approval when the cost of the alteration exceeds a specific amount.

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Senate Bill 630, a bill that has wide support from community association industry interests across the state, passed the Florida Senate with a unanimous vote of 40 to zero. It will now move to the Florida House of Representatives for consideration.

The bill represents sweeping changes for Florida communities. It allows condominium associations to use the same non-binding arbitration process used by HOAs; increases the amount that can be charged for a transfer fee from $100 to $150; addresses insurance subrogation; and clarifies that associations’ emergency powers extend to health emergencies.

The legislation also prohibits associations from requiring certain actions relating to the inspection of records; revises requirements relating to the posting of digital copies of certain documents by certain condominium associations; authorizes condominium associations and cooperatives to extinguish discriminatory restrictions; revises the calculation used in determining a board member’s term limit; and deletes a prohibition against employing or contracting with certain service providers.

Flalegislature-300x169The bill also features several changes pertaining to electric vehicle and natural gas charging/filling stations, including: revising the requirements for electric vehicle charging stations; providing requirements for natural gas fuel stations; authorizing boards to take certain actions relating to electric vehicle charging stations and natural gas fuel stations; providing that the installation, repair, or maintenance of electric vehicle charging stations or natural gas fuel stations do not constitute material alterations or substantial additions to the common elements or association property; and providing that labor and materials associated with the installation of a natural gas fuel station may not serve as the basis for filing a lien against an association but may serve as the basis for filing a lien against a unit owner.

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Community associations often struggle with securing a quorum, which is the minimum number of voting interests required to be present in order to conduct a meeting of the members, and this challenge has been exacerbated by the pandemic. One of the most effective ways for associations to secure enough votes from unit owners to achieve a quorum and conduct their business is through the use of proxies.

A proxy is a document that allows a designated individual to attend and participate in a meeting in place of a unit owner. Florida condominium laws provide that unit owners may not vote by “general proxy” but may vote by a “limited proxy” that substantially conforms with the form provided by the state’s Division of Condominiums, Timeshares and Mobile Homes.

meeting-vote-300x300Limited proxies for association votes must contain a specific statement of what the unit owner is voting on and how the unit owner is voting. A unit owner cannot vote on specific substantive questions by a general proxy, which can be used only for the purposes of establishing a quorum and non-substantive votes, e.g., the approval of minutes, adjournment or continuance of meetings, and other matters that do not specifically require a limited proxy.

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The Florida Legislature made Covid-19 civil liability protections for businesses, healthcare providers, non-profits, and other organizations a major priority for the 2021 session, and on Monday, March 29, it became the year’s first bill signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis. SB 72, the bill that provides several Covid-related liability protections for businesses, healthcare providers, educational institutions, government entities, religious institutions, and not-for-profit corporations such as community associations, is now the law in Florida.

Under the new law, covered entities will be shielded from civil liability for Covid-related lawsuits for monetary damages, injuries or deaths so long as the allegations do not involve gross negligence or intentional misconduct.

Flalegislature-300x169As of March 29, Florida community associations that have implemented measures to safeguard their residents and staff from the potential spread of Covid-19 in their communities and comply with local, state and federal guidelines are protected from liability for Covid-related lawsuits.

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EvonneAndris-srhl-law-200x300An article authored by firm partner Evonne Andris was featured as the “Board of Contributors” expert 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 “Considerations for Community Associations Reopening Their Amenities,” notes that community associations have generally done an admirable job of implementing and maintaining measures aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19 among their residents and staff.  Evonne writes that with the new vaccines rolling out across the country and the entire world, associations are now reassessing their options regarding the use of their amenities.  Her article reads:

. . .While the vaccines hold the promise of moving toward herd immunity, that remains to be months away based on the expected supply and vaccination levels. Also, it remains unclear whether vaccinated individuals may be able to become carriers and spreaders, so masking and social distancing are likely to remain the generally accepted protocols for anywhere people congregate and interact.

Therefore, for the time being, community associations would be well advised to remember that most insurance policies do not cover virus-related claims, and there is currently no federal or state law that shields associations from litigation for alleged on-site virus infections.

dbr-logo-300x57While infection-based litigation is a greater concern for businesses in the health care sector, Florida lawmakers are now considering a bill that would create COVID-19 liability protections for the state’s businesses and nonprofit organizations, including community associations. The proposed bill (House Bill 7) provides several COVID-related liability protections for businesses, educational institutions, government entities, religious organizations and other entities.

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Community association collections of monthly dues and other monetary obligations from unit owners have been strained by the Covid-19 pandemic. Given that many families are now struggling with lost work and businesses, some associations have cut back on expenses wherever possible and carefully considered their collections options with debtor owners.

However, occasionally we learn of erroneous or overzealous community association collections efforts reported on local news outlets across the country, perpetuating a negative stereotype of associations being exorbitantly stringent.

One example of such a report appeared recently in the newscasts of WFTV Action 9 News (ABC) in Orlando and Central Florida. The station’s report chronicles how Mims, Fla. residents Cindy Decker and her husband were threatened with foreclosure by their HOA for a debt they claimed to not owe.

wftv-300x169“They put me through hell,” she says in the report.

The Deckers, who had raised six children in the home where they have lived for the last 26 years, say they fell behind on their association dues to the Lake Harney Woods Property Owners Association. They claimed that they eventually made good on their debt with the issuance of a check for $892 to cover everything they owed, but Cindy Decker said one month later the association filed a claim of lien against her home to collect the dues and fees that she had just paid.

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Steve-Siegfried-2013-srhl-lawIt is hard to believe that we are officially one year into the COVID-19 pandemic. As the entire world continues to battle the virus and adjusts to the daily changes in protocol and restrictions, our firm remains fully operational, staying up-to-date with the latest news and making decisions based on those developments.

With our staff’s, clients’, and families’ health and safety remaining of utmost importance, our firm continues to operate with a majority of our attorneys and support staff working remotely. We are happy to say that we have all remained safe during this time and the initial closures never caused any interruptions or delays in service. We have also pivoted in the way we serve our clients by upgrading our network’s infrastructure and making improvements to how we conduct business, such as enhancing our data security and offering digital document signature options as well as online notaries. Though we’ve all had to overcome our own set of challenges, we have conquered them together and have only become stronger.

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Amendments to the Florida Condominium Act enacted in 2018 provide that association board members may not serve more than eight consecutive years, unless they are elected by more than two-thirds of the voting membership or there are not enough eligible candidates to fill the board vacancies at the time of the election.

The initial guidance from the Florida Division of Condominiums, Timeshares and Mobile Homes under the Department of Business and Professional Regulation was unclear, but last summer it concluded that years of board service prior to the date that the law went into effect in July of 2018 did not count towards the eight years of consecutive service precluded by the new law.

dbprlogo-300x170Essentially, this means that only condo association board members who serve eight consecutive years starting in or after July 2018 will be disqualified from additional service unless the specific exemptions are met.  This clarification by the Division of Condominiums has helped to allay concerns by association boards with long-term members from prior to 2018, as those directors will have at least five more years of eligible service.

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MichaelHymanThe firm’s Michael L. Hyman authored an article that is featured as the “Board of Contributors” expert 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 “Ruling: Community Associations Can Take Owners to Court Without Completing Arbitration,” discusses how Florida law calls for associations to file for nonbinding arbitration with the state agency that regulates condominiums prior to going to court.  Michael notes that the law, which is designed to relieve Florida’s courts from routine disputes between community associations and their unit owners, certainly does not mean such arbitration proceedings under the Department of Business and Professional Regulation’s Division of Condominiums must completely run their course prior to seeking emergency relief in local circuit court, as a recent ruling by the state’s Fourth District Court of Appeal reaffirmed.  His article reads:

. . . In Aquarius Condominium Association v. Boris Goldberg, the owners of a unit refused to grant the association’s contractor access to their residence for the purposes of initiating a balcony renovation project as part of a mandated 40-year recertification for the property. In response, the association filed a petition for arbitration with the Division of Condominiums, Timeshares and Mobile Homes as prescribed under Florida law. On the very same day, it also filed an “emergency motion to abate arbitration and temporarily relinquish jurisdiction” in Broward County circuit court against the unit owners to seek injunctive relief to secure immediate access to the residence.

dbr-logo-300x57Apparently in light of the emergency court proceedings over the injunction, the arbitrator with the state agency abated the matter for three months and noted that the association would need to file a status report or the arbitration petition would be dismissed.

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Recent news reports chronicle the tale of a former Marco Island city council member who was charged with three counts of forgery of a ballot envelope and three counts of criminal use of personal identification information, which is third-degree felony, in his condominium association’s annual board of directors election.

The reports from the Naples Daily News and several Southwest Florida television stations indicate Victor Rios, 78, was charged with forging ballots for the Belize Condominium Association election to remain a board member. Several ballots for the property’s March 2019 condo election were cast under the names of residents who testified that they had not voted in the election, and their signatures on the outer ballot envelopes were forgeries.

FDLElogo-150x150Complaints alleging election fraud were filed with the state’s Division of Condominiums under the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, and with the Marco Island Police Department. MIPD subsequently asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate the matter because Rios was a sitting city council member at the time.

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