The firm’s Lisa A. Lerner was the subject of a profile article in today’s edition of the Daily Business Review, South Florida’s exclusive business daily and official court newspaper. The article, which is titled “Attorney Lisa Lerner Chose Condo Law Before it Was a Popular Practice Area,” chronicles Lisa’s 36-year career as one of the […]
While most garden-variety disputes between unit owners and their condominium associations are mandated by law to go to nonbinding arbitration before going to court, certain types of more complex disagreements are specifically excluded from this requirement and can proceed straight to trial.
The latest ruling over whether a dispute between an owner and a condominium association involving an addition to a common element was required to first go to arbitration before trial came in the case of Palisades Owners’ Association v. Thomas F. Browning before Florida’s First District Court of Appeal.
Dan Phillips and Jamey Phillips, who each own a unit in the Palisades condominium in Panama City, Fla. and serve on the association’s board of directors, added a boat lift to the community’s dock in 2016 for their exclusive use without prior approval from the other unit owners. As a result, unit owner Thomas F. Browning sued the association, which moved to dismiss the suit based on the contention that it must first be submitted to nonbinding arbitration in accordance with The Condominium Act.
The firm’s Lisa A. Lerner was the subject of a profile article in today’s edition of the Daily Business Review, South Florida’s exclusive business daily and official court newspaper. The article, which is titled “Attorney Lisa Lerner Chose Condo Law Before it Was a Popular Practice Area,” chronicles Lisa’s 36-year career as one of the pioneer female South Florida attorneys in community association law. It reads:
Lisa Lerner is a pioneer on two fronts. She became an attorney when the legal profession was dominated by men, and she picked a practice area that was relatively obscure at the time.
Lerner became an attorney for community associations in 1983. She has spent her 36-year career with Siegfried, Rivera, Hyman, Lerner, De La Torre, Mars & Sobel, where she now is a shareholder based in Coral Gables.
In the 1980s, the field wasn’t entirely devoid of women. Lerner worked with a few, and there were some in other firms, she said.
But during most meetings with opposing counsel, she was the only female attorney, she said.
One meeting stands out in her memory.
“I am not going to name names, but a senior partner for one of the most prominent law firms … call(ed) me honey and asked me to get him coffee,” Lerner said. With a smile, she agreed, “then sat down, and we proceeded to expose every loophole in the easement agreement they drafted.”
Her team got everything it wanted for the condo board it represented, she said.
“You kind of had to be there.”
This year’s legislative session has come to an end, establishing new laws and amendments to a number of statutes regulating community associations in Florida. On March 23, 2018, Governor Rick Scott signed the following laws into effect:
Official Records of Condominiums and Cooperatives – § 718.111, § 719.104
- The deadline for condominium and cooperative associations to fulfill official record requests has been extended from 5 working days to 10 working days. §718.111(12)(b), § 719.104(2)(b), Fla. Stat.
- Electronic records relating to voting have been included in the list of official records that must be kept by condominium and cooperative associations. §718.111(12)(a)12., § 719.104(2)(a)10., Fla. Stat.
- Condominium associations must now permanently maintain specific documents from the inception of the association, unlike the previous 7-year limitation. The following is a list of those documents: §718.111(12), Fla. Stat., §719.104(2), Fla. Stat.
- A copy of the articles of incorporation, declaration, bylaws and rules of the association;
- The minutes of all meetings;
- A copy of the plans, permits, warranties, and other items provided by the developer;
- Accounting records for the association.
Condominium associations and HOAs throughout South Florida as well as across the country are seeking effective responses to the problem of short-term rentals that are in violation of their rules and restrictions. These unauthorized rentals, which have become prevalent with the growth of Airbnb and other online home-sharing platforms, are creating significant security and liability concerns for associations.
One response by a San Diego homeowners association recently drew the attention of its local ABC affiliate, which chronicled how the community had retained a private investigator to gather and document incontrovertible proof that specific owners were conducting the restricted rentals. The licensed private detective and his associates were hired by the HOA and other local associations to investigate homeowners and tenants who are violating association bylaws and CC&Rs that prohibit turning units into short-term vacation rentals.
While the hiring of private detectives may initially seem as an extreme measure for an association, it makes sense when one considers the risks and concerns that are brought on by these rentals for HOAs and condominiums. Also, court actions may become necessary against some unit owners who flout the rules, and the evidence obtained by these investigators as well as their testimony can be very helpful in these proceedings.
As leaders in the field, our firm’s community association attorneys are often contacted by journalists for their insights into timely issues involving condominium associations and HOAs. The latest example of one of our partners serving as an industry source on association topics comes in an article featuring quotes and analysis from Roberto C. Blanch that appears on the front page of today’s Daily Business Review, South Florida’s only business daily and official court newspaper.
The article focuses on a complaint to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development against a Florida condo that is accused of religious discrimination for prohibiting prayers and religious meetings in its social rooms. The association for the Cambridge House condominium in Port Charlotte is alleged to have violated the Fair Housing Act when its board voted to forbid religious meetings in the common rooms.
The complaint, which was filed earlier this week, is on behalf of resident Donna Dunbar against both the association as well as its management company. It states that as a lay minister in the Seventh Day Adventist Church, Dunbar led a women’s Bible study group with about 10 women, including Cambridge House residents and guests, in a common room for two hours on Monday mornings, but the board of directors voted Feb. 6 to prohibit prayers, religious services and religious meetings in the common areas. It then posted a sign on an organ in the lobby reading “ANY AND ALL CHRISTIAN MUSIC IS BANNED!”.
A recent newspaper report about squatters in condominium units illustrates the level of vigilance that associations and their property management must employ to prevent any unauthorized uses of their residences.
The article in January by the Citrus County Chronicle documented the case that took place at The Islands condominiums in Crystal River, Fla. (pictured below). Work on the residences in the community became necessary due to extensive damage caused by Hurricane Hermine in September 2016, and it had been progressing well until several unit owners discovered workers were staying in the units without permission.
It began when one of the owners noticed wet floors near the shower and other indicators that the construction workers were not just replacing cabinets or working on the carpets. He and a neighbor later found workers sleeping overnight in the condo unit of another owner who did not know they were there, so they called the police. Continue reading
Just as with the “sunshine” laws mandating public access to the decision-making processes within the state government of Florida, community associations have their own sunshine laws to ensure that unit owners are able to monitor and participate in their governance. These laws, which include the owners’ right to attend and record board of directors’ meetings as well as to speak on agenda items at the meetings, are brought into play in the association context when a quorum of the board of directors meets to discuss association business. As such, directors must always remain mindful of the fact that they should avoid discussing association business, or making decisions on behalf of an association, outside of properly noticed meetings. Continue reading
The 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 “Associations Must Strictly Comply With Notice Requirements to Impose Fines, Liens,” focuses on a recent ruling by the state’s Fourth District Court of Appeal that illustrates how Florida’s courts are going to demand very strict adherence to the statutory notice requirements in order for associations to impose fines and liens against unit owners. Michael’s article reads:
A ruling last year by the Florida Fourth District Court of Appeal illustrates the severity of the consequences for community associations that do not follow the law to a tee in their notices to unit owners. In Dwork v. Executive Estates of Boynton Beach Homeowners Association, the appellate panel reversed the lower court’s award of fines because the HOA only provided 13 days’ notice of the fining committee hearing to the homeowner as opposed to the statutorily required 14 days.
The case arose over a dispute involving the stipulations in the HOA’s governing documents requiring all homeowners to keep their roofs and driveways clean and their fences in good condition. The association notified Jonathan Mitchell Dwork of violations of these requirements multiple times over several years, but he took no action.
Firm partner Michael E. Chapnick 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 “Emotional Support Animals Leave Many Condo Associations Howling,” focuses on the growth in requests for emotional support animals in condominium associations and other communities with pet restrictions. Michael’s article reads:
The laws governing emotional support animals emanate from the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988, and its state and local counterparts. The act prohibits discrimination in the provision of housing to disabled persons, and it requires that a reasonable accommodation in an association’s rules and regulations be provided to a disabled person so that they can use and enjoy the property to the same extent as a nondisabled person.
Disabilities can take many forms: some physical and others emotional and/or psychological. For emotional and/or psychological disabilities such as depression, there are rarely obvious, external symptoms.
Community associations often have to wrestle with challenging issues and areas of concern that can be extremely difficult to remedy. While directors are charged with developing appropriate rules and regulations to solve all of the difficulties that may arise, without the proper guidance from highly experienced and qualified management and legal professionals they can easily make the mistake of over-reaching with responses that wind up doing more harm than good.
Such appears to be the case with the California association that made national headlines recently for its reaction to its discovery that an owner was allowing tenants to reside in their converted garage. To address the problem, the association for Auburn Greens in Placer County taped notices on all of the residents’ doors informing them that their garage doors must be kept open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, effective immediately, with violations resulting in $200 fines and an administrative hearing.
As one would imagine, the outcry from residents was severe. Residents had legitimate security concerns about the rule, which left them without any effective means for protecting their belongings in their garages during the day.