Articles Posted in Community Association Law

Condominium association boards of directors are always considering measures to help maintain and enhance the quality of life of their community’s owners and residents.  Some associations grow concerned about too many occupants per unit and the burden that additional residents place on a community’s amenities and services, so they decide to implement occupancy restrictions in order to limit the number of people residing in each unit.

However, as a Palm Beach County condominium recently found out, overly aggressive occupancy restrictions have the potential to run afoul of the federal Fair Housing Act bans on discriminatory housing practices against couples with children, and nonprofit housing agencies are willing and able to take up the case of aggrieved residents or proposed residents.

A fair housing advocacy group called the Fair Housing Center of the Greater Palm Beaches filed suit in federal court recently against the condominium association for the Fontana Condominium in Palm Beach as well as its president and property manager.  The suit alleges that the defendants have discriminated against families, including those with minor children, by enacting and enforcing policies that limit the number of persons and children who may reside in the community’s units.  It is seeking preliminary and injunctive relief as well as damages for the alleged discrimination against familial status in housing that violates the Fair Housing Act and the Civil Rights Act of 1968.  The suit also seeks punitive damages, attorneys’ fees and a court order mandating that the defendants establish a victims’ fund for those were victimized by their discrimination.

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EvonneAndris-srhl-law-200x300Firm shareholder Evonne Andris authored an article that was featured as the “My View” guest commentary column in today’s edition of the Miami Herald’s Business Monday, the newspaper’s weekly business supplement.  The article focuses on the brouhaha that drew considerable media attention in Orlando earlier this year involving an HOA’s dispute with a homeowner family over a “Little Free Library” book-sharing box installed in the front yard of their home.  Evonne’s article reads:

The library in question is a red wood box that resembles a birdhouse and is mounted on a sturdy wood post. The box, which is 24 inches tall, 20 inches deep and 24 inches wide, is part of the “Little Free Library” (www.littlefreelibrary.org) nonprofit organization’s network of free book exchange boxes that encourage reading and enable people to share books with their community. While popular in the central part of the state, there are approximately 10 Little Free Libraries in the South Florida area and more than 60,000 Little Free Libraries across the country.

agarik-1024x576The news reports indicate that within a few days of homeowners Bob and Autumn Garick installing the library box in their front yard, the property manager for Bentley Woods wrote to thank them for their efforts and suggest that they move the box to a common area in the neighborhood. The Garicks declined the offer, noting that the suggested area was about a half-mile from their home and would make it impractical for them to maintain the library.  Pictured here are the Garicks with their Little Free Library (photo courtesy, Autumn Huff Garick).

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One of the key takeaways from Hurricane Irma was a reminder about the importance of keeping trees properly trimmed in order to avoid damage to power lines from downed foliage.  However, a recent report by Channel 7 News (Fox) in South Florida about a Hallandale Beach HOA’s troubles with the city over its allegedly exorbitant tree trimming serves as a cautionary tale for all Florida community associations.

According to the report, the insurance company for the Hallandale Village Homeowners Association asked association president Richard Masone to trim the trees around the property at the start of this year’s hurricane season.  Masone complied and asked the association’s regular landscape maintenance company to trim the trees.

hrack-tree-300x225The job pleased the community’s insurer, but Hallandale Beach Code Enforcement officers were not happy with the tree trimming.  City Manager Roger Carlton called the trimming unacceptable, noting that it “enormously exceeded any reasonable amount.”

The association was told by the city that the trees were “hatracked,” or over-trimmed, and they ordered the community to dig up and replace the trees, which entails hiring an arborist and pulling permits for each of the 10-15 trees that would need to be replaced.

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The recent news report by CBS4 Miami about a Miami Beach man who was charged with attempted murder and attempted arson for plotting to burn down his condo building should serve as a wake-up call for all condominium associations in Florida and across the country.  It appears to be a case in which the warning signs may have triggered a call to authorities that averted a horrific tragedy just in the nick of time.

The report states witnesses told police that Walter Stolper, 72, had shown aggression toward his fellow residents and the members of the association’s board of directors at their building at 56th Street and Collins Avenue.  As a result, he was facing an eviction action.

cbs4The breaking point for the initial call to authorities came when Stolper spoke with his friend Luis Diaz, who states in the station’s report:  “He told me he was tired of the association and the Jews in the building and he wanted to do something about it. He said he wanted to burn down the building. At first, I didn’t think he was serious, but then I heard him talk about blocking the fire department and their hoses, I realized he was serious and I had to do something.”

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MichaelHymanFirm shareholder Michael L. Hyman authored an article that appeared as a “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 “Circuit, Appellate Courts Issue Injunction Against HOA to Fix Flooding Problems,” focuses on recent decisions by circuit and appellate courts that illustrate how Florida’s courts will issue mandatory injunctions to force community associations to do their duty to maintain drainage systems.  The article reads:

The case of Coconut Key Homeowner’s Association v. Gonzalez pitted a homeowner against her HOA, which she alleged breached its governing documents by failing to properly maintain the surface water management system for the community. This caused chronic flooding problems in her own backyard whenever it rained and led to significant damage to her home.

Gonzalez sought an injunction to require the association to cure the alleged surface water management violations and stop the flooding problem. A Broward circuit court jury ruled in her favor, concluding that the association breached its governing documents by failing to maintain and operate the surface water management system in the community. However, it concluded that this breach was not a legal cause of damage to Gonzalez, so it awarded no monetary damages.

dbrlogo-300x57The court then conducted a post-trial hearing on whether to issue an injunction against the association. It granted Gonzalez’s motion for a mandatory injunction in accord with the jury’s finding that the HOA’s violations of its own governing documents caused her irreparable harm without an adequate remedy under the law.

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MichaelHymanFirm partner Michael L. Hyman authored a guest commentary column that appeared in today’s edition of the Daily Business Review, South Florida’s exclusive business daily and official court newspaper.  The article, which is titled “Legislative Fix Needed in Condo Association Property Tax Assessment Appeals Ruling,” focuses on the ramifications of a recent ruling by the Third District Court of Appeal involving challenges to property tax appraisal assessments by community associations on behalf of their unit owners.  His article reads:

Condominium associations regularly represent all of their unit owners as a consolidated class of litigants in cases challenging their local county ad valorem property tax appraisal assessments.  However, a vital segment of the representation that associations provide their owners in such actions may soon be coming to an end as a result of a recent Florida appellate court ruling.

The ruling in March by the Third District Court of Appeal in Central Carillon Beach Condominium Association v. Garcia surprised many of the attorneys who focus on this highly specialized area involving condominium and real estate tax law. It found that unit owners cannot join together as a class to respond to a county appraiser’s appeal of an assessment reduction because the law requires that the defendant in such appeals must be the taxpayer. dbrlogo-300x57The result could be deleterious for Florida property owners and circuit courts, and it demands a legislative fix during next year’s session.

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One of the changes to the Florida condominium laws from this year’s legislative session that are set to take effect on July 1 is the mandate that the minutes of all condominium association board meetings must now be kept permanently as opposed to seven years, as the law previously held.  This new requirement should not present any difficulties for the state’s condo associations, as recording the meeting minutes and keeping them available for inspection as state law requires are basic functions of association administration.

The minutes of association board meetings must reflect all of the votes or abstentions of the directors in attendance.  They are extremely useful association records for those who wish to gain an understanding for all of their association’s undertakings and decisions over a period of time.

meet-300x166Associations should record their meeting minutes in a well organized and uniform format, and the information should be very brief and to the point.  The minutes should reflect the format and topics from the meeting agenda, and many associations break them down into standard sections for attendees, reports, old business, new business and others.

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susanodess-srhl-224x300Michael-Clark-Gort-photo-200x300Article authored by:  B. Michael Clark, Jr. and Susan C. Odess

After Hurricane Irma made landfall in Florida last year, many property owners were surprised at how unfamiliar they were with the property insurance claim process — mainly because of Florida’s remarkable hurricane-free streak. However, the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season marked the end of that winning stretch, catapulting many Floridians who experienced property damage into insurance claim purgatory.

By now, community associations, business owners and homeowners who filed a claim relating to Hurricane Irma damage should have heard back from their insurer as to whether their claim was denied, determined to be under the deductible or fully covered. For many policyholders, their insurer’s coverage decision came back as a disappointing slap in the face, leaving them as discouraged as they felt after receiving the pricey estimates for their repair costs.

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Some good news for community associations struggling with questionable requests for the approval of emotional support animals:  The Department of Housing and Urban Development is expected to issue revised guidelines later this year focusing on ESA requests and approvals.  According to The National Association of Realtors, the new guidelines should give landlords, property managers and community associations greater authority to verify that the need for such an animal is legitimate.

The NAR reports it has had separate conversations with HUD and disability rights groups. esupdog-300x234 Senior Policy Representative Megan Booth recently told attendees at a conference that the disability rights groups have expressed concerns over the widespread abuse of requests for companion animals, as they believe it is already making it more difficult for residents with legitimate needs to receive the approvals they require.

It appears that the new HUD guidance will be specifically aimed at curtailing the use of online ESA certification mills.

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For many condominium associations in Florida, the amount of board members serving on a board of directors is usually dictated by the association’s governing documents or bylaws. There are associations, however, whose documents are silent on the number of directors that can be elected. In the absence of such a provision, condominium associations would have to refer to Chapter 718, Florida Statutes, which provides that a board of administration of a condominium shall be composed of five members.  For those bylaws that do include language with specifications regarding a board’s size, the average number of board members serving typically ranges from three to five board members. But is there an ideal size?

While there is no “right” size for a board of directors, community associations that are considering decreasing or increasing their existing board’s size should always evaluate the pros and cons of doing so. It is possible for a board to be either too big or too small. Continue reading