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Articles Posted in Community Association Law

As documented in a recent report in the Miami Herald, the property manager of two Sunny Isles Beach condominium towers has been arrested for stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from the associations for the properties.

Property manager Georgina Pineda (pictured below) was booked into a Miami-Dade County jail recently, and apparently it wasn’t her first brush with the law involving association theft and fraud.  This time, court documents allege she stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Eden Roc Condos, which she had managed since 2017.  The documents indicate that much of the money went to feed her gambling habit at the Miccosukee casino.

GPineda-300x169According to Sunny Isles police, Pineda had access to the condo association’s debit card. She was supposed to use it only for small expenditures for the community, but when the association board demanded a full audit she “continually made excuses as to why she was not providing accounting reports.”

The arrest report also states that when Pineda finally provided a spreadsheet, it was missing numerous transactions — including withdrawals at the Miccosukee casino in West Miami-Dade.  In addition, she was regularly transferring association funds into her own independent business account.

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If you live in a condominium, there is a reasonable chance that, at some point, you will experience one of the most frustrating events for homeowners:   water intrusion caused by plumbing problems and related losses.  The big difference between those who reside in a shared community, such as a condominium building, and those who reside in a single-family home is the added complication for condominium dwellers of determining responsibility and liability for any water damage and resulting remediation work.

In condominiums, the association is generally responsible for losses emanating from the property’s common elements.  Complications for assigning responsibility, however, typically arise from losses that may originate from inside an owner’s dwelling unit, and may cause damage to adjacent or below units, as well as to the common elements.

Such cases are often resolved through a negotiation between insurance carriers for unit owners and those for the association’s property, assuming the owners have adequate coverage. water-300x225 Insurers tend to find the most common sources of water loss from inside a dwelling unit to be sinks, showers, toilets, faucets, drains, supply lines, valves and pipes.  In addition, problems with appliances, such as dishwashers and refrigerators, are also likely culprits.

For shared walls and plumbing lines, insurers for multiple unit owners may be involved.  In those cases, carriers often work together to inspect the affected property, determine the cause of the water loss and assign responsibility where it lies.

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Readers of this blog may recall my recent article about a resident of the Ibis Golf and Country Club community in Palm Beach County who was creating an incredibly dangerous and destructive situation by feeding extraordinary amounts of food to vultures, alligators and other wildlife behind her home.  On Wednesday, Jan. 15, the homeowner agreed to pay $53,000 to settle a lawsuit brought by her community’s association.

In addition to the payment for the association’s fees and fines that is due by Feb. 14, Irma Acosta Arya was also permanently enjoined from any further feedings, meaning the court has issued an injunction against her prohibiting any future feedings under severe criminal and civil penalties.

According to a follow-up report on the case in the Palm Beach Post, the payment and injunction represent a great relief to the residents of the gated golf community, which borders a nature preserve in western Palm Beach County.

The suit alleged that Acosta Arya’s constant feedings of large quantities of food since 2016 attracted highly destructive flocks of vultures, which would vomit and defecate all over the community and neighboring properties (see video below from WPBF Channel 25 News), along with raccoons, alligators and a bobcat.  The judge initially issued a temporary injunction to prevent any further feedings, and he found Acosta Arya in contempt of court in December for violating the injunction after the association presented photos allegedly showing her feeding animals behind her house in recent months.

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George-Ketelhohn-Gort-photo-200x300Firm shareholder Georg Ketelhohn is quoted in an article in today’s Daily Business Review discussing the firm’s efforts on behalf of the condominium association for the 537-unit Midtown Doral in its construction defect lawsuit against the community’s developer, builders and design professionals.  The firm’s suit, which was filed in December, alleges defects including leaky plumbing with erratic water pressure, rooftop pools of rainwater on the roof, and exposed rebar in cracked concrete.

Located at Northwest 107th Avenue and 74th Street, Midtown Doral was completed in 2016 with four eight-story condo buildings and 70,000 square feet of retail space.

The firm’s lawsuit on behalf of the association is against general contractor Delant Construction Co. in Miami, architectural firm Pascual, Perez, Kiliddjian & Associates in Doral, and MD Residential II LLC, an affiliate used by the development partnership. dbr-logo-300x57 The suit alleges breach of implied warranties against the developer and general contractor as well as a professional negligence count against the architect.

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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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The issue of fraudulent emotional support animal requests is drawing significant attention at both the state and federal levels with the Florida Legislature and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

As this year’s legislative session gets underway in Tallahassee, HB 209 seeks to protect individuals with legitimate disability-related needs for emotional support animals from discrimination or having to pay extra fees.  However, if passed, it would also authorize landlords to request certain written documentation and prohibit the falsification of written documentation or other misrepresentations.

esupdog-300x234The bill, which is currently undergoing committee review, would make it a second-degree misdemeanor for the falsification of written documentation for an emotional support animal or the willful misrepresentation of qualifications for an ESA.  It addresses the criteria for the written documentation that must be submitted from healthcare providers in support of ESA requests, and would also require the state’s Department of Health to adopt rules regarding the format of the required written documentation.  Significantly, the bill would also mandate that the treatment provided must go beyond merely writing a letter.

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Michael-Hyman-srhl-lawThe firm’s Michael L. Hyman authored an article that 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 “Owner Who Sells During Foreclosure Litigation Still Entitled to Legal Fees,” focuses on a recent case illustrating how associations can become liable for the attorney fees and costs of unit owners who prevail in foreclosure actions for past-due assessments even if the owners sell their unit during the pendency of the litigation.  His article reads:

. . . In Victor Tison v. Clairmont Condominium F Association, the Fourth District Court of Appeal reversed the lower court’s final order denying Tison’s motion for attorney fees and costs. The appellate panel found that as the prevailing party in a lawsuit brought against him by his condominium association for unpaid assessments, Tison was indeed entitled to recover prevailing party attorney fees even though he sold his interest in the condominium unit during the pendency of the foreclosure action.

dbr-logo-300x57The case began in December 2015 when the association filed a lawsuit against Tison and another defendant seeking to foreclose on an assessment lien against their residence and recover damages for unpaid assessments. The defendants responded by filing an answer with affirmative defenses, which they later amended, and they alleged that they would be entitled to recover attorney fees and costs.

More than a year later in March 2017, the trial court denied the association’s motion for summary judgment, and the defendants sold the residence. Another entire year after that, the trial court entered a final order dismissing the action for lack of prosecution.

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The topic of parking within community associations is oftentimes a source of much consternation.  The limitation of parking spaces in HOA and condominium association communities – whether real or perceived – may result in volatile and contentious situations for community association stakeholders.  Homeowners, property managers and directors alike are confronted with concerns about the manner by which vehicles are parked; the number of vehicles residents choose to park within communities; the number of guests an owner may have at one time parking their vehicles within a community; the duration which vehicles may be parked; the types, appearance and size of vehicles parked within a community, and the locations in which residents or guests choose to park vehicles within a community.

npark-227x300In order to address these concerns, community association directors typically adopt rules and restrictions governing how, when, where, how many and what types of vehicles may be parked in the community.  However, unit owners can become very frustrated by such rules and restrictions, especially if they are perceived to be overzealous or ill-intended.

Board members and property managers should take every precaution to strike a balance between the rules and restrictions they impose upon parking within the community and the legitimate concerns they intend to address by the imposition of such rules.

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Community associations in Florida are required to provide owners with access to the association’s official records within 10 working days after receiving a written request from a unit owner or the owner’s authorized representative.  Given such a statutory mandate, it is not so uncommon for associations to receive requests to inspect financial and accounting records, contracts, certified copies of plans, permits and warranties provided by the developer or any other contractor, as well as copies of the declaration, articles of incorporation, bylaws, rules and regulations, and insurance policies.

Associations should be prepared to respond to requests to inspect official records by utilizing strong document management and retention policies.  For large associations, records should be cataloged and preserved using third-party cloud services for offsite storage and backup.  These systems can be set to automatically backup and store association records at regular intervals.

One of the simplest ways for associations to keep a thorough and searchable archive of important email communications with property management, attorneys, insurance brokers and others is to utilize a single association board email address as the sender and/or copied recipient of all such messages.

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The Community Associations Institute, the largest organization representing the interests of communities with associations, recently issued a new public policy titled “Assistance Animals and Pets in Community Associations.”  The new policy recommendations, which were adopted by the organization’s Board of Trustees, serve as excellent guiding principles for associations and lawmakers on pet restrictions and assistance animal policies.

The policy recognizes the rights of residential community associations to regulate and adopt rules pertaining to pets and assistance animals, but it notes that such rules must guarantee the rights of individuals with disabilities to receive the assistance they need as mandated by state and federal laws.  It will be used by the organization and its legislative action committees around the country to support legislation allowing associations to request documentation that verifies the need to accommodate for an assistance animal, and which imposes penalties for fraudulent requests for service or emotional support animals.

esupdog-300x234Assistance animals are recognized as deserving of reasonable accommodations for the qualified disabled under the federal Fair Housing Act.  Assistance animals are not considered pets, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which oversees the Fair Housing Act and investigates claims of housing discrimination. Continue reading

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