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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, can create a revolving door for guests with none of the prior screening and background checks that are typically performed for new residents and tenants.

As many associations have already realized, enforcing rules and restrictions against short-term rentals can be very challenging. Savvy unit owners have been known to sneak their transient guests into properties by advising security that their visit is authorized.

As such, enhanced vigilance and guest-screening measures have become necessary, and many associations have developed and implemented new registration forms for use with guests and tenants along with written assurances and noncompensation statements indicating they are not paying for their stays.

sout-300x200That may not go far enough for some associations with owners who are highly determined to rent their units. For some, it has become necessary to retain a private investigator to gather and document incontrovertible proof that restricted rentals are taking place. Licensed private detectives can effectively investigate homeowners and tenants in violation of association bylaws and CC&Rs that prohibit turning units into short-term vacation rentals. 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.

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ElizabethBowen-srhl-law-2-200x300Firm shareholder Elizabeth A. Bowen appeared recently as the featured guest on the popular and award winning Legal News & Reviews radio show, which is heard in Florida every Monday at 3:30 p.m. on 96.9 FM, 103.9 FM and 740 AM-WSBR.

susanodess-srhl-224x300An article authored by shareholder Susan C. Odess was 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 “Florida Legislature Passes Assignment of Benefits Insurance Claim Reform,” discusses the ramifications of the new state law to reform the insurance industry practice known as assignment of benefits, or AOB.  Her article reads:

. . . The AOB process, which has been in place for decades, has become controversial in recent years because of an increase in residential water-damage claims, primarily for broken water pipes and leaks. Property owners sign over their claim benefits to contractors, which are then able to pursue payments directly from the insurers.

The proponents of AOBs say they help to ensure claims are properly paid, but the legislators supporting the bill have said it is aimed at curbing abuses of the AOB process. Insurance carriers have contended for many years that AOB fraud and the excessive litigation it generates have led to higher property-insurance rates.

dbr-logo-300x57The new law limits attorney fees in AOB lawsuits filed by contractors against insurers. The legal fees will be calculated using a set formula, but the caps would not apply to lawsuits filed by policyholders.

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Jeffrey-Respler-high-res-200x300Shareholder Jeffrey S. Respler 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 “Association Construction Contracts Require Deft Negotiation by Legal Counsel,” focuses on the nuances of construction contracts that community associations execute with general contractors for major renovation and remodeling projects.  It reads:

. . . Construction contracts often represent some of the costliest expenses that condominium associations will ever approve, yet many associations fail to utilize the necessary legal resources and expertise to craft and execute the most effective terms and agreements. Instead, they focus merely on obtaining competitive bids, as most associations are required to do for projects exceeding 5% of their total annual budget (10% for HOAs), and often neglect to consult with highly qualified and experienced legal counsel to negotiate and finalize every aspect of their agreement with a general contractor.

Without a lawyer involved, a poorly negotiated and written construction contract can have serious consequences. Having a qualified and experienced attorney draft or review an association’s contract can help avoid risks and expensive disputes. Dealing with the aftereffects of a poorly negotiated or poorly written contract can be far more expensive than paying a lawyer to do it correctly in the first place. An experienced attorney can draft and negotiate a contract that will protect an association’s interests and be legally sound.

dbr-logo-300x57Attorneys write contracts in ways that favor their clients. Attorneys with experience in the construction industry will know the customary contract terms, and they will draft a contract in their client’s favor. If the contractor is drafting the contract, its lawyer will be doing exactly that.

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Those who reside in communities with associations should view board membership in the same vein as a civic duty. An effective board is essential for the financial and administrative wellbeing of associations, so all eligible unit owners should consider running for the board of directors as their contribution back to their community.

In no way are the responsibilities of serving as a director too complex and demanding for the capabilities and skillsets of most association unit owners. What it requires is their time and dedication, but not to the point where it becomes too daunting for the average owner.

To be a successful board member, it is essential to make effective use of the professional and educational resources that are available. This begins with relying on highly qualified and experienced professionals such as attorneys, property managers, accountants, insurance brokers, etc.

RBlanch-seminar-1-17-11-photo-1-300x225At the start of one’s board service, Florida law requires that new board members become certified within 90 days of taking office. The best way to do so is by attending an educational course that has been certified by the Florida Department of Business & Professional Regulation, such as the board member certification seminars offered by our firm on a regular basis. These seminars enable board members to gain a keen understanding for everything that the position entails. They cover all the basics of community association governance and the laws which are involved, and they also touch on some of the most common problem areas that boards regularly encounter.

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All too often, the other community association attorneys at our firm and I are asked for help on how to prevent unruly behavior from disrupting board and owner meetings. Since items addressed at these meetings generally have a significant impact on the welfare of an association and the financial responsibilities of its owners, conversations dealing with topics such as special assessments and annual elections can quickly become contentious. The following are helpful tips on how to try to keep your meetings on track and in order:

  1. Use Robert’s Rule of Order – This common form of parliamentary procedure for meeting protocol allows meeting facilitators to manage time effectively, all while ensuring that everyone stays on topic. Many people are already familiar with this method, making it easy for participants to follow and respect the meeting procedures that are in place.

meet-300x1662. Be specific about who can attend – The association should establish rules determining who can participate in advance of the meeting. Generally, owners, or owners and residents are the only people allowed to participate in such meetings. Counsel for an owner is likewise permitted to attend.

3. Make the purpose of the meeting clear – Prepare an agenda that outlines the specific items that will be discussed. Be sure to be transparent about the topics, providing participants with any supplemental documents they may need to make educated decisions.

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“I’m putting my own life at risk!” That’s what an Ormond Beach, Fla. homeowners association director is reported to have said after he fired his gun into the ground in an effort to shoo away two teenagers from the community pool.

Thankfully, nobody was hurt in the incident, which resulted in the arrest of Richard S. Marcelle, 66 (pictured below), for three counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon without intent to kill and discharging a gun in public.

According to reports in the Daytona Beach News-Journal and local television stations, the encounter took place at approximately 9:15 on the evening of April 22 when Julian Johnson, an 18-year-old resident of The Village subdivision, and a younger friend visited the community pool. rmarcelle-280x300Marcelle, who is a member of the HOA’s board of directors, approached and informed them that the pool was closed.

When Johnson noticed a sign indicating the pool is open until 10 p.m. as he and his friend were exiting, they pointed it out to Marcelle. Apparently, residents had not yet been notified, and new signs had not been posted, announcing a recent change to the pool hours.

As they attempted to re-enter the pool area, the association director intercepted them and brandished a handgun, which he then fired into the ground. One of the teens then asked: “Did you really just shoot a gun?” Marcelle’s response: “Yes, I am putting my own life at risk!”

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susanodess-srhl-thumb-200x267-94402Stuart-Sobel-2013-200x300Firm partners Stuart Sobel and Susan C. Odess won a $3.67 million jury verdict in federal court in Miami for the St. Louis Condominium Association, which sued its insurer Rockhill Insurance Co. over a denied claim for extensive damage to the Brickell Key tower caused by Hurricane Irma.  The verdict was filed last Wednesday, June 5, and it is chronicled in an article in today’s edition of the Daily Business Review, South Florida’s exclusive business daily and official court newspaper.  The article reads:

. . . the judgment is good news for the association since it stood to get nothing from its insurer, said Stuart Sobel, who was part of the Siegfried Rivera team representing the association.

“I believe in juries, and I am pretty pleased with the results. In light of the alternative where the insurance company basically said, ‘We are not paying any money.’ They said we suffered no damage form Hurricane Irma,” Sobel said.

He said the hurricane churned in the condominium’s vicinity for 24 hours. The building sits on Biscayne Bay east of downtown Miami.
Sobel worked on the case with Siegfried Rivera’s Susan Odess . . .

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Hurricane preparedness is a significant undertaking for every community association in Florida. Being well prepared — and well informed — can determine whether association boards and their managers will sink or swim in the aftermath of a storm. Here are some helpful tips to enable associations to stay ahead of the 2019 hurricane season, which officially began on June 1 and will end on November 30:

Maintain an up-to-date paper roster of the current residents, and store it at an accessible off-site location. Hurricane-2-300x169A separate list of residents who are remaining in the building should also be kept. Accounting for the whereabouts of all residents can be vital for emergency response teams who might have to provide medical assistance to any residents in need.

Keep important documents at a safe alternate location. This includes a copy of the association’s governing documents, a certified copy of the insurance policy, bank account information, service provider contracts, and contact information for all residents, staff and vendors of the association.

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