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Articles Posted in Budgets and Reserves

Laura-Manning-Hudson-Gort-photo-200x300Our firm’s South Florida community association attorneys are often called upon by journalists for their insights into the issues impacting condo communities and HOAs.  When The New York Times “Wealth Matters” columnist Paul Sullivan decided he needed to turn to a highly experienced community association attorney for input for a major article on association living, he called on shareholder Laura Manning-Hudson in our West Palm Beach office.

Paul’s article, which is titled “When Condo Boards and Residents Clash, Legal Bills Mount” and appeared in the Your Money section on Saturday, March 30, 2019, focuses on some of the most common issues that can cause disruptions and financial strains for community associations.  It reads:

My mother-in-law recently regaled me with a tale of intrigue, money and power in her South Florida homeowners association.

Seeking to raise about $6 million to refurbish the 20-year-old community, the association’s board had voted to assess each homeowner $7,000. But a group of vocal residents fought back, setting up a power struggle.

This conflict is nothing new to anyone who has dealt with a condominium board or homeowners association, which has well-defined obligations to the residents. As the overseer, it hires workers to cut the lawn, take out the trash, clean lobbies and common areas and maintain pools, tennis courts, golf courses and other amenities. If the elevator breaks or the roof leaks, the board gets it fixed.

But if it wants to do something cosmetic — renovate the lobby, add pickle ball courts or install a fitness center — the board needs to put its idea to a vote of the residents.

timslgo-300x46The article continues:

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A recent news report about excessive levels of radon gas in a Florida condominium raises some interesting questions about the proper response from a condominium association and its insurance carriers on this issue.

The report, which appeared in late November in the pages of the Venice Gondolier Sun, chronicled how the owners of a unit at the South Preserve II of Waterside Village Condominium were surprised to learn that tests conducted at the behest of their tenants found excessive levels of radon in their unit. The odorless and colorless gas, which comes from the radioactive breakdown of naturally occurring radium found in most Florida soils, rocks and groundwater, is the second leading cause of lung cancer overall and is the leading cause among non-smokers. In Florida, one in five homes tested has elevated radon levels above the limits set by the Environmental Protection Agency, and the gas can be found in homes, schools, offices and high-rise condominiums.

According to the newspaper’s article, the unit owners sent the test results to their association, which hired a different company to conduct its own tests that yielded similar results. The radon levels in the residence were more than five times the level considered safe by the EPA.

rn-300x196The owners obtained an estimate for $3,100 to mitigate their unit, but per EPA rules the company would be required to inform the neighbors of the mitigation process. It also requested that the owners sign an “inadvertent collateral mitigation form” stating the company would not be held responsible for any environmental impacts on adjoining units.

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A recent report by the Jacksonville, Fla., ABC network affiliate exemplifies the calamitous results that can ensue when condominium associations and HOAs are inadequately prepared to meet the long-term maintenance needs of their communities.  The station chronicled the battle that is taking place at the Fountain Gate Condominium, which is composed of a number of buildings that were originally built in the 1980s and now need their wood siding replaced.

According to the report, the association’s board of directors has approved the procurement of a bank loan for $1.5 million for the project.  It would be repaid by imposing a special assessment of approximately $20,000 per unit, to be paid monthly over seven years.

One of the directors on the association’s board, Jody Kilgore is against the special assessment proposal, which met with an immediate backlash by the unit owners.  She is quoted in the report saying that the owners, who are mainly retirees in their 70s and 80s on fixed incomes, “feel like we’re being railroaded.”

fgate-300x199She goes on to say that the unit owners are being left out of the decision-making process, explaining that Florida law requires the approval of 75 percent of the owners for material changes such as this repair project.  Instead, she notes that the board of directors alone voted to approve the changes.

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Michael-Hyman-srhl-lawThe 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 “Association Deficits Don’t Excuse Developer From Funding HOA Reserves,” focuses on a recent decision by the Florida Fifth District Court of Appeal that found a developer was not excused from funding reserves while it remained in control of the association and was funding deficits in the operating expenses.  Michael’s article reads:

For the developer of the Sullivan Ranch community in Mount Dora north of Orlando, it appears that its decision to stop funding reserves after it established the account and began funding it in 2007 has significantly backfired. The Fifth District Court of Appeal recently overturned a lower court’s summary judgment, which concluded that the developer was excused from funding reserves while it remained in control of the association and was funding deficits in its operating expenses.

The Fifth DCA’s decision in Sara R. Mackenzie and Ralph Mackenzie v. Centex Homes et al. illustrates the importance for developers of HOA communities to tread carefully whenever they attempt to avoid funding for association reserves. Condominium developers are provided with a statutory mechanism to avoid funding for reserves if they guarantee a set minimum level for the association’s entire annual budget during its first two years of existence, but the laws governing HOAs do not include this exemption.

dbr-logo-300x57Based on the circumstances in this case, it appears that the developer of the community was either unaware of its statutory requirements governing the funding of reserves or it failed to adequately think through its actions. After establishing the account for the association’s reserves and funding it in 2007, the developer opted to pay Sullivan Ranch’s operating expenses in lieu of making any contributions to the reserve account in the following years, claiming that it had made no guarantee to fund the reserves.

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While maintaining an adequate level of reserve funds for deferred maintenance, capital improvements and other major expenses is always recommended, community associations that find their reserves do not cover all of their needs have a worthwhile option other than special assessments that they should explore and consider.

Bank loans and lines of credit for associations were very difficult to obtain during the height of the foreclosure crisis, but happily for many Florida communities those days are long gone.  Now, there are a number of lenders that focus on loans for associations and offer highly competitive rates and terms.

Special assessments are typically the first option that associations consider to cover shortfalls in their reserves and take on important renovations or other unforeseen expenses.  However, it may not be the preferred choice for many communities.  Millions of U.S. homeowners are still recovering from the crash of the housing market and do not have the ability to secure a home equity line of credit in order to pay a special assessment.  In addition, the implementation of a special assessment is viewed as a sign of financial distress in an association by lenders considering FHA-backed home loans for buyers ipool-deck-renovation-300x224n a community, and this can ultimately take a significant toll on sales and property values.

Most associations will begin their research into their financing options by first turning to the bank that maintains their operating and/or reserve accounts.  While this is the obvious place to start, in the majority of cases they are also going to need to shop around.

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GaryMars3

Gary M. Mars

The firm’s Gary M. Mars authored an article that appeared in today’s edition of the Daily Business Review, South Florida’s exclusive business daily and official court newspaper.  Gary’s article, which was titled “Ruling Reminds New Associations to Watch for Developers Waiving Reserves,” focuses on a recent appellate ruling regarding the issue of developers waiving their funding of reserves prior to the turnover of an association for a new community from the developer to the unit owners.  His article reads:

A recent appellate ruling shined a spotlight on the all-too-common issue of developers improperly waiving their funding of reserve accounts while they retain control of an association for a new community before its turnover to the unit owners.

The ruling served as an important reminder for the owners at new developments of the careful vigilance that they need to exercise for any questions involving the funding and use of reserves by developers.

The ruling was filed by the Fifth District Court of Appeal in the case of Meritage Homes of Florida v. Lake Roberts Landing Homeowner Association. Meritage, the developer of the subdivision located in Winter Garden, appealed the trial court’s final judgment in favor of the homeowner association, which found that the requirement for HOA reserve accounts in the city code of Winter Garden cannot be waived as Meritage had attempted.

Meritage based its appeal on its contention that the lower court’s ruling created an impermissible conflict with section 720.303(6)(f), Florida Statutes, which expressly grants homeowner associations the right to waive reserves. The developer’s initial annual budget planned for the HOA’s operating expenses as well as an $11,000 deferred maintenance reserve account, but it later approved a budget that completely waived its funding of the reserves.

dbr logo-thumb-400x76-51605Meritage asserted that it issued written notice to all of the association members, which included several homeowners at that point, but none of the members other than Meritage attended the budget meeting in which the board members approved the budget sans reserves.

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The start of a new year represents a slew of new beginnings for most community associations. From holding annual elections to the preparation of annual budgets, the first quarter of the year marks a pivotal time for many associations. With that comes a great deal of confusion, particularly with regard to the proper way to fund reserves.

Running any type of business is no easy feat, and that is especially true for businesses that are operated by volunteer leadership. Nonetheless, community association officers and board members should engage in certain businesslike approaches to help ensure that they are running their association successfully.

For community associations, preserving the property and its common areas is one of the foremost duties of the association directors. Beyond the day-to-day maintenance responsibilities, association directors and managers are responsible to develop funding plans for the upkeep and replacement of common facilities such as elevators, roofs, heating/cooling systems, swimming pools, decks and balconies. These funding plans generally take the form of accumulated budgetary reserves to help spread the anticipated costs of deferred maintenance or capital expenditures for the associations’ common facilities or building components over the estimated remaining useful lives of the components. Maintaining well-funded reserves enables associations to avoid large annual assessment increases or special assessments that can create financial hardship for the unit owners at those times when raising funds is required to perform the necessary deferred maintenance or replacement.