Articles Posted in Community Association Law

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 other South Florida community association attorneys at our firm and I are often called upon by our clients with questions regarding how to more efficiently run their board meetings and control the conduct of members during those meetings.  Very often it seems that directors who are simply trying to be polite and respectful of owners by allowing them to express their opinions wind up losing control of the meeting and actually accomplish very little business.  This trend of owners seemingly “hijacking” board meetings is not a new one, but it does seem to be fueled in recent months by the political climate we find ourselves living in now where all people want to be heard.  Fortunately, the HOA and Condominium Acts provide board members with the tools they need to control their meetings while allowing all members to also have their “say.”

Association board meetings are defined as any gathering for the purpose of conducting association business by the members of the board of directors at which a quorum is present.  Unless the association’s by-laws or other governing documents provide for a longer period, notice of board meetings must generally be conspicuously posted within the community 48 hours in advance of the meeting.  However, in certain circumstances (such as the adoption of assessments or some types of rules), written notice must be posted and provided to the members at least 14 days in advance of a board meeting.

In accordance with Florida law, an item of business that is not noticed may only be addressed on an emergency basis, such as situations involving sudden damage to the building, natural disasters and similar events.  Emergency actions must be ratified or approved at the board’s next properly noticed board meeting at which a quorum of directors is attained.

meetThe notice of the board meeting should list specific business items on the agenda.  Boards and managers should make every effort to ensure that all reasonably anticipated topics of discussion are included.  The more specific the agenda, the easier it will be for the board to control the pace and flow of the meeting.  When agendas list broad topics without specific business items, boards leave themselves open to having to address issues brought up by members that would arguably “fit” under broad category headings.  As such, the agenda should be comprised of specific open items from the previous meeting requiring action; specific owner items that may require board action; building maintenance items, as required; project information, updates, requests and actions; and seasonal information, such as annual and budget meeting information as well as hurricane preparation matters.

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Community association board members are asked to do a great deal for the communities they serve.  They give up a great deal of their time and lend their varying expertise to help their communities run as smoothly and effectively as possible.  Given that so much is asked of the directors, it is important that they take appropriate steps to delegate responsibilities to committees comprised of association members.

For most community associations, the benefits of involving committees are extremely worthwhile.  Not only do they create a forum for the implementation and enforcement of vital policies and decisions, they also serve as ideal incubators for prospective future board members.

By their very nature, committees comprised of volunteer owners and residents should have a good understanding of the best policies and practices for their community.  They may be ideally suited to oversee matters that involve the collection of information from the owners as well as the subsequent assessing of the data in order to make strong recommendations for suggested solutions.

Association boards should take the time to closely consider the use of different types of committees and their intended roles and responsibilities.  Most association governing documents will include provisions governing the establishment of volunteer committees and how their decisions will be enacted.

Some of the most popular types of committees are:

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The residents of the Concord Station community north of Tampa in Land O’Lakes, Fla. recently shared their complaints and confusion with a reporter from one of their local television stations over their HOA’s use of a drone equipped with a camera in their community.

The residents indicate in the station’s report that they received an online notice from their HOA alerting them that it would be flying the drone, which the association confirmed that it operated over the community in addition to a vehicle equipped with a mounted camera.

The residents who expressed their opposition to the HOA’s use of a drone were concerned about the invasion of their privacy, especially if the drone is recording video of their backyards.  One of them indicates:  “If the drone is flying above my property, I’m going to consider that a trespass to our property and we’re going to take appropriate measures to make sure that we protect our privacy rights.”

d2-300x176The property management company for the association explains in the report that they are using the drone to chronicle all of the physical characteristics of the community in hopes of helping to avoid the possibility of homeowner hassles in the future.  The video from the drone is being used for documentation of the state of the community, which is now transitioning from a developer-controlled association to one that is controlled by the unit owners.  The company also noted that the aerial images and video could also be used for promotional and marketing purposes in the future.

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Each year, our elected state representatives and senators meet in Tallahassee for a legislative session where they review and debate an extensive amount of proposed bills, only to send a few of those bills to the governor to be signed into law.  For the third year in a row, our elected lawmakers will be discussing a bill that has once again resurfaced, and if passed, may have a significant impact on community associations’ wallets.

House Bill 483 — also known as Senate Bill 398 or “the home tax” bill — proposes to place a considerable amount of requirements relating to the issuance of estoppel certificates on the condominium, cooperative or homeowners association responsible for preparing them. If signed into law, community associations will need to be both financially and operationally prepared to abide by the stringent changes set forth in the bill.

An estoppel is a legally binding document prepared by a community association or its agent that discloses any liens, overdue assessments or any other money owed to the association, such as late fees and attorney’s fees.  Estoppels are required by title companies in standard real estate transactions in order to inform the seller and buyer of any outstanding financial obligation(s) on the unit or parcel.  If prepared incorrectly, the community association could be liable for miscalculated or incomplete balances, resulting in a loss for the association.

Contrary to some people’s beliefs, estoppels aren’t generated by the push of a button. They take time and precision to prepare, which is why a bill that shifts even more of the burden on the association could be detrimental.

Florida-legislature2-300x169One of the main components of this proposed bill is to mandate more rigorous deadlines for the preparation of estoppels.  Currently, associations have 15 days to prepare and deliver an estoppel once it is requested.  The bill would shorten this period to 10 business-days, which could be difficult for associations of varying sizes and levels of sophistication, as some will be anchored by antiquated bookkeeping or a lack of resources.

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GaryMars-200x300Firm partner Gary M. Mars 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 “Airbnb Gone Wild? Ruling Clarifies Rules on Short-Term Condo Rentals,” focuses on a recent decision by the Second District Court of Appeal that found that the fairly standard language present in the declarations of condominium and accompanying rules and regulations for many properties does not grant unit owners with the unrestricted right to lease their residences.  Gary’s article reads:

The ruling came from the Florida Second District Court of Appeal in the case of Le Scampi Condominium Association v. Hall. Le Scampi had petitioned the lower court for injunctive relief against the unit owners to prevent them from leasing their residence for less than one month without prior approval by the association in violation of its rules.

The Halls did not dispute to the trial court that they had rented their unit for periods of less than one month without prior approval, which constituted violations of the association’s rules. Their defense was based on arguments that those rules were unenforceable because they conflicted with their right to lease their unit under the community’s controlling documents.

The lower court issued a final summary judgment in favor of the Halls based on its finding that the conflict indeed existed and the language in the original declarations of condominium for the property supersedes any lease restrictions in the rules and regulations.

dbr-logo-300x57The appellate panel found that the trial court’s interpretation of the declaration was inconsistent with its plain language. It ruled that the section in question does not provide that the right to sell, lease or transfer a condominium unit is unrestricted with the exception of a notice requirement. Instead, the declaration merely imposes a prior-notice requirement and specifies the contents of the notice, but it does not otherwise address a unit owner’s right to sell, lease or transfer their unit to persons other than family members.

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Michael-Hyman-srhl-lawFirm partner Michael L. Hyman was featured in a “Profiles in Law” article by the Daily Business Review, South Florida’s exclusive business daily and official court newspaper.  The article, which appears in today’s edition of the newspaper, chronicles his career as one of the founders of community association law as a legal specialty in Florida.

The profile, which is written by DBR reporter Samantha Joseph, reads:

Michael Hyman’s journey into law reads like a series of fortunate coincidences.

It starts with a friend on his way to take the law school admission test stopping by and inviting Hyman to join him. It was the mid-1960s—decades before Hyman would contribute to shaping Florida real estate law, battle developers and help free condominium buyers in a then-emerging market from clauses buried in 99-year ground leases to escalate rents for shared amenities.

Back then, before he was shareholder at Siegfried Rivera Hyman Lerner De La Torre Mars & Sobel in Coral Gables, Hyman taught English and journalism to students five years his junior at a Hialeah high school, earning a $4,700 salary. His soon-to-be-wife, Iris, was completing her senior year of college, and he’d started considering career moves to support a young family. He knew little about law school, even less about being an attorney and had never considered taking the entrance test.

dbr-logo-300x57“I loved teaching, but it was a very different story to think about getting married and having kids,” Hyman said. “A friend of mine said he was going the next morning to take the law school admission exam. He picked me up. Without going to any type of tutelage or anything, I walked in, took an academic exam and did well enough to get admitted to University of Miami and UF.”

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With the approval of Amendment 2 last November to legalize the use of medical marijuana in Florida, the state legislature and Department of Health are now developing the rules and regulations that will govern the use of cannabis by those who suffer from a number of ailments listed in the new constitutional amendment.  Likewise, now is also the time for associations to begin discussing and considering the implementation of their own rules and restrictions regarding the use of the drug by unit owners in their communities.

For most communities, the question of whether the use of medical marijuana should be allowed in the common areas will likely cause the most unease.  Other concerns include the use of cannabis inside of the residences, especially in condominiums where the odor could permeate into the common elements or other residences, and some properties may wish to ban the drug from the community in its entirety.

It remains unclear whether the state’s lawmakers will attempt to ban the smoking of medical marijuana.  If smoking marijuana is allowed under the laws that will be adopted in order to comply with the amendment, community associations will need to address whether they must make exceptions to their rules in order to allow residents with a doctor’s prescription to smoke medical marijuana.

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When the Condominium Act was amended several years ago to allow associations to demand and collect rent directly from the tenants of unit owners who were delinquent in the payment of their monthly fees, community associations thought it was an answer to their prayers.  Associations were struggling to recover from the foreclosure crisis, and many homeowners made the decision to rent their units to make some money but, unfortunately, they also chose not to pay their associations.

However, utilization of this amendment has proven to be difficult and sometimes costly to enforce in cases in which de facto tenants and their landlords are able to demonstrate to the court that a tenancy under the letter of the law is not actually in place.  How many times have we heard that the tenant is “family,” that the tenant does not pay the landlord, and that there’s no lease in place?

A noteworthy example is found in a ruling last year by the Miami-Dade County Circuit Court Appellate Division in the case of Cecil Tavares v. Villa Doral Master Associationvdoral-300x226 Tavares had conveyed his condominium unit via quit claim deed to a new owner, but he and his wife continued to live there.  When the new owner went into arrears with the association, it attempted to collect the rent directly from Tavares and eventually filed for an eviction.

The county court granted default judgment in favor of the association and issued a writ of possession to enable it to move forward with the eviction, but Tavares appealed on the question of whether the court erred by defining him as a tenant based on the quit claim deed.

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MTobacksrhl-law2-thumb-120x179-96777The firm’s Michael Toback 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 was titled “Rulings Clarify Application of Safe Harbor Caps on Association Dues,” focused on a couple of recent Florida appellate court rulings that brought additional clarity to the application of the criteria for foreclosing lenders and servicers to qualify for the caps that limit their liabilities for association dues.  Michael’s article reads:

In Brittany’s Place Condominium Association v. U.S. Bank, the Second District Court of Appeal settled some lingering questions as to whether a lender or servicer that takes title to a residence via a mortgage foreclosure must also be the current owner of the first mortgage when the final judgment of foreclosure is issued.

The case stems from a 2009 mortgage foreclosure action filed by U.S. Bank against the unit owner and all interested parties, including the association. The bank alleged that it was both the holder and servicer of the note and mortgage, acting on behalf of and with the authority of the owner. It was in possession of the note endorsed in blank, but the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp., better known as Freddie Mac, owned the note and mortgage.

After securing a final judgment of foreclosure and acquiring title to the property via the foreclosure sale, U.S. Bank requested an estoppel letter from the association to determine the amount of past-due assessments. The parties could not agree on the extent of the lender’s liability, and the association eventually filed a lien foreclosure complaint against the lender, which then filed a counterclaim to seek compliance with the safe harbor caps.

dbr-logo-300x57The trial court found that there were no genuine issues of material fact and U.S. Bank met the statutory requirements entitling it to the limited liability provisions provided by the safe harbor caps, so the court granted the bank’s motion for summary judgment.

In the subsequent appeal, the association contended that U.S. Bank did not satisfy the safe harbor statute, which requires the entity acquiring title to have also been the first mortgagee or its successor or assignee. The association interpreted “first mortgagee or its successor or assignees” as necessitating ownership of the loan.

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