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Nicole-Kurtz-2014-200x300An article authored by the firm’s Nicole R. Kurtz 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 “Recent Arrests for Community Association Theft Illustrate Laws Working, Associations Must Do Their Part,” focuses on several recent incidents of embezzlement at Florida community associations, and it discusses the impact of the 2017 changes to the Florida laws to add teeth to condominium fraud and enforcement measures.  Her article reads:

. . . In Kissimmee, Florida, the second arrest of a former HOA property manager was covered as part of a series of investigative reports by WFTV (Channel 9, ABC). The reports chronicle how Sherry Raposo, who had previously been arrested on charges related to having her ex-cop-turned-felon boyfriend patrol the Turnberry Reserve community and using the HOA’s funds to bail him out of jail in North Carolina, was arrested yet again on new charges of fraud involving the accounts she oversaw while serving as a property manager for the community. The station also uncovered similar allegations of embezzlement against her from a different community in Seminole County, leading to the possibility of another investigation into Raposo and thousands of dollars that were moved from that HOA’s bank account.

dbr-logo-300x57Theft by a former property manager at the tony Parkshore Plaza condominium tower in downtown St. Petersburg also made headlines recently in the pages of the Tampa Bay Times daily newspaper. The report indicated that Abby Elliott was found guilty and had been sentenced to two years in prison for using the condo association’s funds to pay for vacations, airfares, salon treatments and other personal expenses.

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The contentious presidential election and political divisiveness of the months leading up to it caused the Community Associations Institute, the leading organization which represents the interests of communities with associations, to issue an important reminder. In its blogs and emails, CAI recently appealed to communities to promote civility and unity by adopting the organization’s Community Association Civility Pledge, which is a commitment to the following principles:

  • Each individual must be accountable for his or her own actions and words.
  • All interactions in the community should be civil despite any differences of opinion on a particular issue.
  • A vow to respect all points of view and strive to provide a reasonable opportunity for all to express their views openly.
  • Residents are engaged and informed.
  • Residents review CAI’s Rights and Responsibilities for Better Communities.

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The GEICO Insurance TV commercials featuring an over-the-top HOA rules enforcer named Cynthia who takes a chainsaw to a noncompliant mailbox are hilariously satirical because they ring a bit too true.  Community associations have a negative image in the minds of many for perceived over-reach in their enforcement measures.  Unfortunately for associations, this stereotype is exacerbated by occasional media reports about HOAs and condominium associations being hit with numerous complaints from unit owners about their overly stringent enforcement and collections practices.

One such article, which appeared recently in the pages of the Star Tribune daily newspaper, focused on the disputes taking place between homeowners and their HOA’s board of directors at the Heritage Park community in north Minneapolis.  It chronicles how the association regularly sends violation letters and collects fines for what some residents see as minor infractions, and it includes an example of a homeowner who was ordered to remove parts of her garden or the association would do so and bill her for the cost.

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A recent survey by the Community Associations Institute found that 67 percent of respondents have noticed an increase in home-based businesses operating within their communities due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In the same survey, 83 percent of respondents reported that their community restricts home-based businesses, but 73 percent indicated that their association was now being more lenient when it came to approving residents’ requests to operate businesses such as daycares, school learning pods, hair stylists and others from their homes.

Most Florida community associations have restrictions prohibiting commercial business activities from being conducted in residents’ units. Some include blanket bans on commercial activity altogether, while others make a distinction between permissible and impermissible activities.

homework-300x200It makes sense for associations to regulate and restrict businesses from operating within their communities, especially for commercial activities that entail increased traffic and noise, but the upsurge in working from home in the new post-pandemic normal calls for HOAs and condominium associations to take a prudent approach that is guided by reason. Today’s technology allows for a great deal of work to be done from home with no disruptions whatsoever to the community at large. Rather 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.

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Laura-Manning-Hudson-Gort-photo-200x300An article by firm partner Laura Manning-Hudson 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 “Signs, Signs Everywhere: It’s Time for Community Associations to Address Sign Policies,” discusses recent news reports from around the country that are indicative of an uptick in disputes within HOA communities involving homeowners’ yard signs.  Laura writes that today’s polarized political environment and social movements combined with widespread societal cabin fever caused by the pandemic have seemingly created a perfect storm for tempers to ignite over political and solidarity signs, and she offers helpful suggestions for how HOAs should respond.  Her article reads:

. . . In Macomb Township, Michigan, a couple has been quoted in a local TV report alleging they were singled out by their HOA to remove their Black Lives Matter signs while the association seemingly permitted their neighbors to post other similar signs supporting politicians and local schools.

psignsReports involving HOA disputes over BLM signs also made local TV and newspaper headlines in late July in the San Francisco bay area and New Albany, Ohio, where an HOA issued an apology to its residents after it posted a deadline for the specific removal of BLM yard signs on its social media pages.

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After months of repeated emergency orders prompting the closure of amenities for condominium associations and HOAs, it comes as no surprise that many community association stakeholders are in search for guidance related to the safe operation of their pools, fitness centers, tennis courts, social rooms and other shared amenities.  Thanks to the Community Associations Institute (CAI), the largest organization representing the interests of community associations in the world, a complimentary new guide is available to provide boards of directors and property managers with a great deal of timely and helpful information.

The new booklet, which is titled “Status Check: A Reopening Guide for Community Associations,” offers aid and support for associations contending with the challenges of reopening all their facilities.  The guidance for the common areas and amenities is organized by risk level or reopening phase, enabling them to be applied in accordance with the current conditions throughout the country.

CAI-logoThe guide and other resources in CAI’s interactive Coronavirus Resource Page also offer helpful templates that may be modified for use by individual communities.  These include:

  • A sample letter template to update residents about common areas and amenities.
  • Common area signage templates.
  • Guidelines for community association common areas, amenities and operations.

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CSantisteban-200x300An article authored by the firm’s Christyne D. Santisteban 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 “Tennis Court Argument Snowballs Into $7M Federal Discrimination Suit Against HOA,” discusses how associations must be prepared to address and resolve disputes among unit owners over shared amenities and other matters by using a set process that typically includes letters from the association’s attorney, impartial board/committee meetings and hearings, and possibly also reasonable fines and suspensions.  Otherwise, these skirmishes could snowball into potentially dangerous confrontations that may expose associations to severe legal and financial liabilities, as a recent federal lawsuit with shocking allegations of discriminatory conduct illustrates.  Her article reads:

. . . The recent suit involves allegations of horrid discriminatory conduct and statements against homeowners Jeffrey and Deborah LaGrasso at the Seven Bridges community in Delray Beach, Florida. It seeks $7 million in compensatory and punitive damages from the community’s HOA and Rachel Aboud Tannenholz, who allegedly engaged in harassing behavior that included phone calls, text messages, personal visits to the plaintiffs’ home, and discriminatory posts on Facebook. dbrlogo-300x57The suit alleges the HOA and Tannenholz violated the federal Fair Housing Act by inflicting discriminatory behavior based on the LaGrasso’s religion and intentionally causing them emotional distress.

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The new post-pandemic normal includes many changes that affect how communities operate, and a recent national survey conducted by the Foundation for Community Association Research serves as a timely reminder that Americans are overwhelmingly satisfied with their HOAs and condominium associations.  The biennial nationwide survey conducted by Zogby Analytics is aimed at providing a better understanding of the experience of homeowners who live in communities with associations.

The 2020 homeowner satisfaction survey reveals that nearly 90 percent of those who live in communities with associations rate their overall experience as either very good (40 percent), good (30 percent) or neutral (19 percent).  Nearly three-quarters of the respondents have attended board meetings, 71 percent believe their community’s rules help to protect and enhance property values, and 62 percent say they are paying the correct amount in assessments.

CAI-research-300x169The respondents noted such association benefits as cleanliness and attractiveness, maintenance-free living, neighborhood safety, and maintaining property values as being among their most important advantages.  The results for 2020 even saw an increase in satisfaction and appreciation of community association rules (four percent) and the role of the board of directors (five percent) over those of the 2018 survey.

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Many South Floridians are unfamiliar with the impact the data collected by the census can have on their communities. Though a common misconception is that the census is simply used to count the general population, the information collected is primarily used to allocate funding and resources to neighborhoods based on the population’s statistics. Besides using the information received to distribute billions in federal funds to local communities, the data collected by the census is also used to determine the number of seats each state has in the U.S. House of Representatives. At a local level, the statistics collected are used by various agencies to provide funds for education, police, medical and emergency services, roadways and transportation, as well as various other federal and state resources. It is important to note that participating in the census is required by law. Individuals can respond to the 2020 Census by mail, phone or by completing the form online by clicking here.

Census-002-300x251Should a census representative visit your community and request access to visit units or parcels of individuals that have not filled out the census questionnaire by the designated deadline, access should not be denied to such representative. Restricting access to the property or failing to provide requested information to a census enumerator who has presented proper identification can result in a $500 fine (per unit), according to 13 U.S.C. §223. A legitimate census enumerator will always provide census identification.

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AEsterasThe firm’s Awilda Esteras 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 “Appellate Court Reverses Itself, Finds Condo Fees Are Subject to FCCPA Restrictions,” focuses on a recent unexpected decision by Florida’s Fifth District Court of Appeal that reverted from more than two decades of case law on the question of whether condominium association fees qualify as debts under the Florida Consumer Collection Practices Act.  Her article reads:

. . . The new opinion, which comes in a unanimous decision by all 11 judges of the Fifth DCA, redefines the term “consumer debt” under the FCCPA with its finding that obligations to pay condominium assessments may be considered debts under the FCCPA.

The appellate court’s decision in Williams v. Salt Springs Resort Association reversed the lower court’s ruling that dismissed the case in favor of the association and its property management company. dbr-logo-300x57In Williams, an association and property management company were sued after publicly posting a list of names of more than 100 delinquent unit owners along with the balance due by each owner. Williams, one of the owners whose name appeared on the list, filed a class action complaint against the association and the property management company asserting the public posting of “deadbeat lists” to enforce the collection of consumer debt amounted to a violation under the FCCPA.

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