Articles Posted in Condominium Association Law

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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GaryMars3For the second consecutive day, an article on important community association issues authored by one of our partners has served as the featured guest commentary column in the pages of the Daily Business Review, South Florida’s exclusive business daily and official court newspaper.  The article in today’s edition of the newspaper is by Gary M. Mars, and it is titled “Community Associations Should Make Effective Use of Social Media.”  Gary’s article reads:

There is no doubt that the use of social media can save community associations time and money with some of their communications and outreach efforts aimed at their owners and residents. Adding new posts with photos and videos to an association’s social media pages is simple and free, and millions of Americans are now visiting Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, LinkedIn and others on a daily basis.

Some associations are now including community calendars in their Facebook group site as well as meeting notices, agendas and notes. dbr-logo-300x57These group pages are also ideal for posting links to copies of annual reports, community bylaws, and other helpful items and forms.

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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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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 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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With their eco-friendly promise to Mother Nature, electric vehicles have gained popularity among U.S. consumers and policymakers alike, and auto industry giants are predicting even further growth for this high-tech and environmentally-friendly segment of the market in the future.  Notwithstanding the growth thus far, one of the challenges that has been potentially inhibiting the greater dispersion of electric vehicles throughout Florida has been the lack of clarity in the law with respect to the installation and use of electric-vehicle charging stations within condominium communities.  However, Florida’s Legislature recently passed a new law facilitating an owner’s capacity to install and use an electric-vehicle charging station within their condominium building that will surely ameliorate some of these challenges.

carchrg2-300x155Before adoption of the new law, and as a result of the potential legal, engineering and financial liabilities resulting from the installation of electric-vehicle charging stations on a large scale, many boards of directors raised questions regarding the proper method to facilitate owners’ requests to install electric-vehicle charging stations within condominium building parking garages.   The new addition to Florida’s condominium association laws provides clarity to some of these questions.

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MichaelChapnicksrhl-law-200x300Firm partner Michael E. Chapnick authored a guest commentary column that appeared in today’s Daily Business Review, South Florida’s exclusive business daily and official court newspaper.  The article, which is titled “Condo Associations Don’t Need to Record Lien to Collect From Tax Sale Proceeds,” focuses on a recent appellate court ruling which found that condominium associations do not absolutely need to record a lien in order to collect from the surplus funds after a tax sale.  Michael’s article reads:

In Calendar v. Stonebridge Gardens Section III Condominium Association, the Fourth District Court of Appeal concluded that the association was not required to actually file a lien in order to be entitled to priority over the unit owner in the distribution of surplus funds generated by the tax sale of her residence.

MC-article-5-18-300x220In upholding the trial court’s order that surplus funds from the tax sale of the owner’s residence be disbursed to the association based on its claim for unpaid assessments, the Fourth DCA found that Section 718.116 of the Florida Statutes implies that a claim of lien against a unit owner for assessments becomes necessary only in cases in which a mortgagee is also asserting a claim. Therefore, recording a claim of lien is not an absolute prerequisite to the enforcement of a lien for unpaid assessments.

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While most garden-variety disputes between unit owners and their condominium associations are mandated by law to go to nonbinding arbitration before going to court, certain types of more complex disagreements are specifically excluded from this requirement and can proceed straight to trial.

The latest ruling over whether a dispute between an owner and a condominium association involving an addition to a common element was required to first go to arbitration before trial came in the case of Palisades Owners’ Association v. Thomas F. Browning before Florida’s First District Court of Appeal.

Dan Phillips and Jamey Phillips, who each own a unit in the Palisades condominium in Panama City, Fla. and serve on the association’s board of directors, added a boat lift to the community’s dock in 2016 for their exclusive use without prior approval from the other unit owners.  As a result, unit owner Thomas F. Browning sued the association, which moved to dismiss the suit based on the contention that it must first be submitted to nonbinding arbitration in accordance with The Condominium Act.

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This year’s legislative session has come to an end, establishing new laws and amendments to a number of statutes regulating community associations in Florida. On March 23, 2018, Governor Rick Scott signed the following laws into effect:Florida-legislature-photo-thumb-300x198-300x198

Official Records of Condominiums and Cooperatives – § 718.111, § 719.104

  • The deadline for condominium and cooperative associations to fulfill official record requests has been extended from 5 working days to 10 working days. §718.111(12)(b), § 719.104(2)(b), Fla. Stat.
  • Electronic records relating to voting have been included in the list of official records that must be kept by condominium and cooperative associations. §718.111(12)(a)12., § 719.104(2)(a)10., Fla. Stat.
  • Condominium associations must now permanently maintain specific documents from the inception of the association, unlike the previous 7-year limitation. The following is a list of those documents: §718.111(12), Fla. Stat., §719.104(2), Fla. Stat.
  • A copy of the articles of incorporation, declaration, bylaws and rules of the association;
  • The minutes of all meetings;
  • A copy of the plans, permits, warranties, and other items provided by the developer;
  • Accounting records for the association.

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