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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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Our firm’s other community association attorneys and I have all seen our fair share of disputes arising from unapproved property improvements in South Florida HOA communities over the years. However, the saga involving a diamond design in a homeowner’s driveway at the Equus community just west of Boynton Beach appears to be exceptionally combative, so much so that it drew the attention of the Palm Beach Post.

According to a recent article from the newspaper, the HOA has been trying to have homeowner Barry Rosenthal remove the decorative red diamond design (see photo below) for more than three years. Both parties appear to be very deeply entrenched in their positions.

In its lawsuit, the HOA claims the driveway design “was not in conformity with other approved driveway designs throughout the community.” driveway-diamondRosenthal had it installed as part of his new driveway project in 2017 without obtaining the HOA’s prior approval, and he was subsequently fined $1,000 and lost his usage rights to the community’s amenities, which include tennis courts and a fitness center.

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Michael-Hyman-srhl-lawFirm shareholder Michael L. Hyman authored an article that is featured 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 “Ruling Exposes Perils of Overzealous Buyer Screenings by Community Associations,” focuses on a recent ruling illustrating how associations that go too far in their screenings of prospective new buyers and tenants could face legal consequences.  His article reads:

. . . The recent ruling ordered a Marco Island condominium association to stop its unreasonable screening practices, and the case made local headlines in the pages of the Naples Daily News.

David Mech, a prospective buyer at the Crescent Beach Condominium, sued the condominium association in December and represented himself in the case without the benefit of legal counsel. He alleged that he walked away from his $425,000 all-cash offer to purchase his dream condominium unit because he refused to comply with the associations’ request to provide his last two annual tax returns for himself and Katarina Palijusevic, who planned to invest in the unit with him.

“There’s no reason for them to know the total income for people,” he states in the newspaper article. He believed the financial screening requirement was unjustified and just “plain nosy,” so he walked away from his opportunity to acquire the Marco Island condo. “Do I really want to live in a building that has that type of board? That’s really an issue to me,” he stated.

dbr-logo-300x57The Collier County court judge ruled that the board’s blanket policy requiring new buyers to produce personal tax returns was “patently unreasonable.” The judge awarded Mech his legal costs and is yet to determine the final award. Mech claims that he lost approximately $4,000 just from his early withdrawal from his apartment lease in Irvine, California, prior to being informed of the tax return requirement.

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Community associations in Florida contending with fraudulent emotional support animal (ESA) requests may get some relief. Governor DeSantis signed SB 1084 into law on June 23, 2020.  The new law prohibits discrimination from housing providers to someone requiring an ESA, but also prohibits health care practitioners from providing information regarding a person’s need for an emotional support animal without having personal knowledge of the person’s need for the animal.

The law, which becomes effective on July 1, 2020, requires a patient to establish the need for an ESA by delivering to the housing provider supporting information from a licensed healthcare practitioner, a telehealth provider, or other similarly licensed practitioner, including an out-of-state practitioner who has provided in-person care or services to the patient on at least one occasion.  esupdog-300x234It is important to keep in mind that the in-person requirement is only for establishing the disability, not for establishing the need for an animal.  Housing providers may establish a routine method for receiving and processing ESA requests. However, they cannot require the use of any specific forms, deny a request solely because the resident did not follow their methods, or request information that discloses the diagnosis or severity of the resident’s disability.

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Maryvel-De-Castro-Valdes-002-200x300An article authored by firm shareholder Maryvel De Castro Valdes is featured 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 “Ruling Proves Community Associations Need to Revise Own Governing Documents,” focuses on a recent ruling by Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal that added to the growing string of decisions in recent years illustrating how an old and outdated provision in HOA and condominium association declarations is preventing some communities from collecting what they would be owed under the current state law from purchasers in foreclosure actions.  Her article reads:

. . . The ruling came in the case of Old Cutler Lakes by the Bay Community Association v. SRP SUB, LLC. The LLC took title to a unit within the community via a mortgage foreclosure auction and subsequently filed an action for declaratory relief seeking to determine its liability for the association assessments that accrued prior to acquiring title.

dbr-logo-300x57While Florida law holds that a parcel owner is jointly and severally liable with the previous owner for all unpaid assessments that came due up to the time of transfer of title, including by purchase at a foreclosure sale, the LLC was apparently well aware that the association’s declaration contained a provision that essentially extinguished its liability for the past-due assessments owed by the previous owner.

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While the 2020 Florida Legislative session was positioned to be a very active one, the COVID-19 pandemic seems to have affected the number of bills passed by the legislature. Below we have provided brief summaries of the bills passed by the Florida Legislature which impact Florida community associations.  It is important to note that at this time only a couple of the adopted bills have been signed by the Governor.

ADOPTED BILLS

SB 476: Law Enforcement Vehicles.  The approved bill includes provisions which preclude a condominium, cooperative, and homeowners’ associations, respectively, from prohibiting a law enforcement officer from parking his or her assigned law enforcement vehicle in certain areas.  The effective date of this bill is 2/21/2020.

SB 140: Fireworks.  The approved bill relates to the use of fireworks and defines the term “designated holiday”.  The bill provides for an exemption for the use of fireworks solely and exclusively during a designated holiday and prohibits homeowners’ associations from promulgating certain rules or regulations restricting same.  The effective date of this bill is 4/8/2020.

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RobertoBlanch_8016-200x300An article authored by firm shareholder Roberto C. Blanch was featured as the HOA View expert guest commentary column in the Business Monday section of today’s Miami Herald.  The article, which is titled “HOAs, Condo Boards Should Brace for a Slowdown in Dues and Tread Carefully,” focuses on the strategies that community associations should deploy in response to the financial strains created by unit owners who become unable to pay their monthly dues.  His article reads:

. . . As they begin to consider their options, some associations are now giving thought to relaxing their collections by waiving late fees and interest on delinquencies, and perhaps also foregoing entire monthly payments for those who become unable to pay due to the economic standstill. While this may appear to be a reasonable response, association directors must not lose sight of the fact that they are fiduciarily obligated to pursue the uniform collection of all payments and delinquencies, so they may be limited in their ability to offer any special considerations or concessions for those experiencing financial difficulties.

Payment waivers for the economic casualties of the COVID-19 pandemic could also open the door to future requests by unit owners for similar concessions related to other financial setbacks.

MHerald2015-300x72Instead, associations could borrow a page from the playbook of previous economic downturns and consider sanctioning a uniform payment plan to assist owners who become delinquent. With the help of qualified legal counsel and financial professionals, they could create a payment plan that is uniformly available to assist all the unit owners who suddenly become unemployed.

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The 2020 hurricane season has just begun, and NOAA predicts a 60 percent chance that it will be busier than normal.  In addition to all the standard hurricane preparations and measures that community associations should take in advance of a storm threat, the COVID-19 pandemic will bring an added dimension of protocols and precautions.

Associations for communities located in areas under evacuation orders will need to implement their plans in accordance with the CDC guidelines for social distancing and face coverings.  Residents will need to be reminded to adhere to the federal agency’s recommendations, and those who refuse to comply with evacuation orders out of fear of exposure to the virus will need to be referred to the association’s legal counsel and possibly also to law enforcement.

Below is a link to our firm’s Hurricane Preparedness and Recovery Guide, which includes helpful guidance and recommendations for community associations to prepare for storms and contend with their aftermath.  We encourage association directors and property managers to print and review the guide at the start of the season, and our attorneys are available to answer any questions regarding the information in the guide that may arise.

Hurricane Preparedness and Recovery Guide

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