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Articles Posted in Community Amenities, Common Elements

Protecting the residents and management staff should be a priority for condominium association board members and property managers during the novel coronavirus outbreak. Most management companies have already implemented their business continuity plan to ensure there are no disruptions in services provided by associations and management.  While it is important for management to be prepared to deal with the possible impact of this pandemic, it is also imperative that board members stay involved and consider having a preparedness plan in place for the association at large.

The first step a board of directors should take — and one that is often overlooked — is to designate an individual to stay informed on governmental updates by consulting reliable resources and signing up to receive alerts.  Government and health department websites dedicated to providing COVID-19 updates, such as the Centers for Disease Control website, are typically the most reliable sources of information.  In this ever-changing environment, guidelines and orders issued by local and state governments are continually updated, and it is important to ensure that the information which is being relied upon for vital decisions is the latest and most accurate available.

The next order of business is to have a clear communications plan in place.  Effective communication allows both residents and management staff to stay informed about coronavirus updates, safety practices, amenity closures, and possible infections in the building.  Boards should ensure that rosters are updated with the most current contact information for residents and building staff. They should also consider contracting with a third-party platform that enables secure communication between owners and management via email, texts or an app, should these capabilities not already be in use.

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On March 2, 2020, York Condominium Corporation of Ontario, Canada, advised its residents that one of its security guards, who had traveled overseas, had been diagnosed with COVID-19.  For the residents of the community involved in this case and all those who reside or work in communities with associations, chatting and interacting with one’s fellow neighbors and association staff can be one of the greatest joys of condominium or community living.  However, being in proximity with others is the most typical pathway to contagion when infectious diseases such as the deadly COVID-19 coronavirus are circulating.  In response to the expected rise in COVID-19 cases, now is the time for associations to dust off and review their emergency plans and implement some important precautions.

To protect against catching and spreading COVID-19, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends washing hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom, before eating, and after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing.  If soap and water are unavailable, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol.  It is also recommended to avoid close contact with people who are sick, and stay home when you are sick.

Community associations should take a proactive approach toward preparing for the potential spread of COVID-19.  Associations should consider installing and using hand sanitizer dispensers in high traffic areas, including the lobby, management office, meeting rooms, social rooms, dining halls, package rooms, fitness center and elevator vestibules.  They should also focus on upgraded cleaning measures and protocols to help ensure that high-touch surfaces, including lobby reception desks, elevator buttons, handrails and door handles, are being cleaned and sanitized on a regular and frequent basis.  Common-area restrooms should be cleaned and inspected with frequency, and special attention should be given to refilling all essentials such as soap and towel dispensers.

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Plug-in electric vehicles are one of the fastest-growing segments of the automotive industry, and sources have claimed that sales of such vehicles are predicted to reach one out of every five vehicles sold during the next decade.  As a result of this growing trend, condominium communities nationwide are confronted with numerous concerns which must be addressed in order to accommodate the needs of an increasing percentage of unit owners hoping to find a solution to their electric vehicles’ charging needs.

Florida legislation adopted recently now requires condominium associations to accommodate owner requests to enable electric vehicle charging, with all the related costs being borne by the requesting owners.

carchrg2-300x155Condominium associations have generally adopted two distinctive approaches to address needs and requests related to their members’ electric vehicle charging needs.  Some associations with available space for a dedicated electric vehicle parking area have opted to install shared community charging stations.  Those communities opting for this approach may have pursued the installation of the charging stations on their own, while others may have availed themselves of third-party vendors interested in coordinating and funding the installation of such charging stations at the condominium.

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A recent report by Channel 7 News (WSVN-Fox) in South Florida shined a spotlight on a new trend that is beginning to cause noise disruptions at some of the area’s condominium communities. It is called pickleball, and the sport is becoming especially popular for 55-and-older retirement communities. While the decision of the association’s board to accommodate the sport seems innocent, it appears to have triggered some unintended consequences that other community associations should bear in mind.

First created in 1965, pickleball is a paddle sport for all ages and skill levels that combines many elements of tennis, badminton and ping-pong. It is played both as singles and doubles on a badminton-size court using a slightly modified tennis net, paddles and a plastic ball with holes.

pballThe station’s report, which states that the sport is becoming very popular, chronicles the issues that are arising from the noise that pickleball is creating at the Wynmoor in Coconut Creek retirement community in Broward County. Two of the community’s tennis courts were converted into eight pickleball courts, which allow for up to 32 people to play at the same time.

Linda Waldman, the owner of a unit near the courts, states: “It’s a very noisy game, unfortunately . . . there is a ‘pong’ not also from the racket, but also when it hits the ground. Ponging and screaming. It’s a very enthusiastic game. The people love it.”

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Nick-Siegfried-2013-thumb-120x180-61267jmilesThe firm’s Joseph A. Miles and Nicholas D. Siegfried were featured in an article in today’s edition of the Daily Business Review, South Florida’s exclusive business daily and official court newspaper, about a major verdict that they recently secured for one of the firm’s clients.  The article, which is titled “South Florida Lawyers Win $4.1M for Cable Company Fired Over Service Delays,” focuses on their work in securing the verdict for an affiliate of Miami-based OpticalTel in a case involving the company’s wrongful termination by a Central Florida HOA.  The article reads:

Coral Gables lawyers Joseph A. Miles and Nicholas D. Siegfried landed a $4.1 million verdict for Miami-based company PC Services LLC, which claimed the Cascades of Groveland Homeowners’ Association Inc. in Lake County should never have terminated an agreement with the company because it wasn’t responsible for a flurry of delays and problems with services.

The 2012 lawsuit arose from years of bad blood between the parties over a deal that turned sour. On July 2007, the homeowner association terminated its contract with PC Services, claiming it had failed to properly do its job. But PC Services argued it had and lost the opportunity to make a profit on its $1.6 million investment.

The defense argued it was right to terminate the agreement because it didn’t get what PC Services promised.

dbrlogo-300x57Defense lawyers Aristides J. Diaz and Thomas R. Slaten Jr. of Larsen & Associates in Orlando did not respond to requests for comment before deadline.

Making the case was no small feat for the Siegfried Rivera lawyers, as it was laced with technical jargon that would likely stump the average juror.

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Hurricane Michael caused severe damage to condominiums and HOA communities in the Florida panhandle, and in the aftermath of the storm many of the area’s community associations will be filing property damage claims with their insurers.  Here are some tips that will help the boards of directors and property managers for these associations to make the process as smooth as possible:

 

Document the Damage

One of first steps for associations to take will be to document the damage.  Taking photos from a number of different angles and perspectives is a good start, and video recordings documenting all of the damage throughout the affected areas are also very helpful.  This should be done prior to any repairs or clean up, including the installation of tarps to prevent further water intrusion.

hurricane-damage-300x200For roof damage, associations should be very cautious and avoid walking on roofs that have been impacted.  Some insurers may attempt to demonstrate that the damage was exacerbated by individuals walking on the roof to take photos/videos and install tarps.  If the damage is not visible from the roof access door of condominium buildings, consider using a drone to take aerial videos.

 

Prevent any Further Damage

The only repairs that should be made immediately following all of the photo and video documentation should be those that are necessary to prevent further damage and ensure safety.  This includes emergency repairs such as covering damaged roofs and broken windows with tarps.

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For many Florida residents, the appeal of living in condominium and homeowners’ associations is partly due to the many types of shared amenities and recreational facilities that these communities provide and maintain for the enjoyment of all residents and their guests.  Swimming pools, tennis courts, playgrounds, fitness centers, and social rooms are only a few examples of the common elements or areas made available in community associations to enhance the residents’ quality of life.

While these amenities provide significant benefits, they also come with important responsibilities for the association with respect to maintenance and upkeep.  These maintenance responsibilities must be taken seriously, as severe injuries from a lack of proper maintenance can occur and may expose an association to considerable liability.

One of the most telling examples of the potential ramifications of improper maintenance of recreational amenities came in the $20 million verdict that a Las Vegas jury reached earlier this year after a teenager suffered severe brain injuries from a swing set collapsing on his head at the Lamplight Village gated community. playground1-300x181 In that case, stemming from an incident that occurred in 2013, a crossbar located on the association’s common-area swing set had corroded and worn badly at the connection points.  As a result, the 42-pound crossbar fell on a 15 year-old boy’s head while he was using the swing set, causing significant brain injuries.

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Florida community associations are always seeking to implement the most cost-effective options at their disposal to collect unpaid dues and compel unit owners/residents to comply with their rules and restrictions.  CPool-300x227ondominium associations used to have very few practical remedies at their disposal to address delinquencies and violations.  They could file lawsuits or arbitration actions, but the costs of pursuing these cases can be a significant expense, and the imposition of fines requires the use of a fining committee and can be difficult to collect.

As a result of legislative changes to the state’s Condominium Act a number of years ago, associations are now able to suspend the rights of an owner, tenant or guest to use common elements and facilities if the owner of the unit is delinquent more than 90 days in paying a monetary obligation to the association.  Condominium associations may also suspend, for a reasonable period of time, the right of an owner and/or resident to use common elements and amenities for the failure to comply with any provisions of the association’s declaration, bylaws or rules. Continue reading

At the start of summer, associations should evaluate their pool rules and procedures in addition to conducting all of the necessary inspections of their pools, spas and related equipment.

With the help of qualified professionals, the inspections should include all pools and pool equipment as well as the surrounding amenities, including gates, fences, signs, locker rooms, etc.

Association pool rules should focus on health and safety, and should avoid focusing on classes of protected persons, particularly families with children.  Making the activities of children the focus of prohibitory rules can substantially increase the potential that an association will receive a complaint alleging discriminatory conduct under federal, state and local fair housing laws.  Even prohibiting something as seemingly innocuous as “pool toys” could be deemed discriminatory, if directed specifically at children, rather than at all persons.

Likewise, unless your community avails itself of the Housing for Older Persons exemption to the anti-discrimination provisions of the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988, designating “adults only” pools or use times may give rise to FHA violations.  Furthermore, some courts have found that not permitting children access to pools and other amenities unless accompanied by parents could also give rise to FHA violations.

pool-rulesSome of the most common safety-related rules include:

  • No running.
  • No glass containers.
  • No diving in shallow areas.
  • No pushing, horseplay, roughhousing, or dunking.
  • No smoking and/or tobacco products in the pool area.

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The recent report by Local 10 News (WPLG-ABC) in South Florida about a Hollywood, Fla. condominium association that is considering filing a lawsuit against the maker of the Pokémon Go game app came as no surprise to our firm’s community association attorneys.  We are now starting to hear from many of our condominium and homeowners association clients about their distress regarding the nuisances and potential security and liability issues that are arising as a result of the game and its players.

The station reports that the condominium association for the Villas of Positano is considering legal action to combat the throngs of Pokémon Go players who flock to the beachside building in the early morning hours.

The issue for the property is that it is a “PokeStop” for the popular game, meaning that the virtual monsters which the players are trying to find can be found at the entrance to the property that adjoins the public boardwalk along the beach.  Rare Pokémon monsters are released at midnight Pacific Time, so at 3 a.m. EST hundreds of players make their way to the condominium’s doorstep.

The property manager is quoted in the report indicating that the players urinate in the bushes in the property, litter and make a great deal of noise, which disturbs many of the residents.

The report indicates that Hollywood police are aware of the problem, but they have said that those who remain on the boardwalk and do not cause a disturbance are not breaking the law.  However, unfortunately for the association, many of the players are infiltrating its property in their search for the virtual characters.

The association is considering joining a class-action lawsuit or filing one of its own because the game’s maker has yet to remove its location as a PokeStop.

In addition to the problems arising from nonresidents, our firm’s other attorneys and I have been made aware that there are also issues arising caused by residents and their guests who are gallivanting through the hallways and common areas at all hours while playing.  The game features “lure modules” and virtual gyms to encourage players to meet and wage battles with their Pokémon, so players are interrupting their searches to congregate and play it together in the common areas.

Boards of directors are now beginning to address these issues.  Many are starting by issuing a bulletin to all of the owners, residents and staff reminding them that excessive noise in any of the common areas – including from Pokémon Go players – creates nuisances that are in violation of association rules, and building management/security should be contacted if any such nuisances arise so that immediate action may be taken.

Management, security and valet staff are also being tasked to maintain a high level of vigilance for nonresident players attempting to infiltrate the property as well as for residents and their guests creating disturbances while they are playing.  Other considerations include restricting access to lobbies and common areas during nighttime, checking to make sure the association has sufficient insurance coverage, and even adopting rules governing the times of day that the game (and others like it which are sure to come) can be played in the common areas.

Click here to watch the report in the station’s website.

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