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Articles Posted in Condominium Association Law

berenice-m-mottin-berger-2021-300x300LTLehr-2018-Siegfried-Rivera-200x300An article authored by the firm’s Lindsey Thurswell Lehr and Berenice Mottin-Berger was featured as the guest commentary column in the online edition of today’s Daily Business Review, South Florida’s exclusive business daily and official court newspaper, and will soon appear in the print edition.  The article, which is titled “Funding Community Association Repairs and Renovations,” concentrates on how the funding of long-term condominium maintenance, repair and replacement projects has become a major focus at many communities across the country after the horrific tragedy of the collapse in Surfside, Fla.  It notes that many association board members who previously might have avoided increasing monthly assessments and implementing large special assessments are now looking to evaluate and address the inevitable deterioration of their buildings.  Lindsey and Berenice’s article reads:

. . . Rather than kicking the can down the road in hopes that future boards will address worsening maintenance concerns, association directors are coming to terms with the fact that delayed repairs and maintenance are likely to exacerbate structural problems and increase the eventual costs, in addition obviously to the potential life-safety risks, to be borne by the owners. dbr-logo-300x57As never before, association boards and unit owners have become keenly aware of the importance of maintaining adequate financial reserves to fund future construction projects.

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Eduardo-Valdes-srhl-lawAn article authored by firm partner Eduardo J. Valdes is featured in the op-ed “Opinions” page of today’s South Florida Sun Sentinel.  The article, which is titled “Post-Surfside, condo associations must be proactive with change | Opinion,” focuses on the impact that the horrific tragedy of the Champlain Towers South collapse has had on the condominium associations for similar towers nationwide and their boards of directors.  Eduardo notes that in addition to the shared grief and remorse with the families and friends of all the victims, many condo owners across the country are now raising questions about their own buildings’ structural safety and financial health, and some have also begun to feel more concerned about the funding of reserve accounts for major repairs and replacement projects.  His article reads:

 . . . All buildings deteriorate over time, so associations should always set aside funding on an ongoing basis to mitigate and remediate any structural elements that require attention.

As they begin reassessing their associations’ commitments, condominium boards of directors will generally try to avoid special assessments demanding additional funds from all the unit owners. They will need to consult with legal, financial, engineering and insurance professionals to strike a balance between the funding of reserves and the use of special assessments when they become necessary from a life-safety standpoint.

Sun_Sentinel_Logo-300x97Condominium association directors and unit-owner members would also be well advised to come to terms with the new reality that future buyers will now have many more questions and concerns than in the past about the financial health of the association and current state of the actual property from the ground up. Some will surely request that sellers provide them with the minutes from prior board meetings, information on any past or planned special assessments, the status of renovation and remediation projects, past changes to the monthly assessments over the years, the findings of past reserve studies, and the status of current reserve funding. They are also now more likely to conduct a thorough visual inspection of the entire property prior to making a written offer.

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Florida community associations typically have the right under their governing documents to regulate and approve leases and tenants. However, some association boards of directors are under the misconception that they can easily develop and implement new leasing restrictions via a board vote, and that they have the authority to approve or reject prospective tenants as they please without facing any scrutiny of their decisions.

As my colleague Laura Manning-Hudson wrote in this blog in her June 9 post titled “Suit Against Boca Condo Association Spotlights Importance of Governing Document Amendments, Filings,” a lawsuit filed earlier this year against Boca Pointe Condominium Association highlights the importance of properly adopting leasing restrictions to an association’s governing documents and recording them in the local court registry where the association is located.

Residential-lease-agreement-300x199According to the suit, the association’s new leasing restriction, which it apparently adopted via a simple vote of the board the directors, was never approved by all the unit-owner association members via a formal vote. The only leasing restriction in the association’s recorded declaration states that owners are only restricted from renting units for terms of less than thirty days, contradicting the new restriction that the board tried to implement. If the allegations in the lawsuit hold up in court, the association could be forced to pay the plaintiff unit-owners’ lost rental income and legal bills.

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Without a doubt, the tragic disaster of the collapse in Surfside, Fla., has impacted condominium association boards of directors across the country. In addition to board members’ grief for the 98 victims who lost their lives and their loved ones, many condominium directors have also grown concerned over the news of numerous lawsuits against the association for the Champlain Towers South. They are wondering whether the association’s directors or their estates may now face legal consequences and liabilities, and if perhaps the lawsuits are an indicator that they themselves are potentially taking on serious liabilities with their voluntary board service.

In response to the misconceptions that are now circulating amongst board members and those who may be considering serving on associations’ boards, they should be aware that there are several reasons why they should not be so concerned about potential legal liabilities. On the contrary, the collapse of the tower should serve as a call to action for unit owners to become more involved and take on the responsibilities of becoming a director.

meet-300x166Board members are shielded from liability under a community’s Directors and Officers insurance, which defends and protects them from lawsuits, in addition to the indemnification provisions of the articles of incorporation of their association and the Florida laws governing not-for-profit corporations.

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The collapse of the Champlain Towers South condominium has been a human tragedy of unimaginable proportions, and the unspeakable grief and horror of its aftermath have been shared deeply by our law firm.

Our firm’s community association law attorneys have made helping condominium communities to contend with construction defects a particular focus of our work.  We believe reforms should be considered to require engineers to report certain serious conditions to local building departments wherever they find them.  This would take discretion out of equation and immediately involve building inspections, permits being issued and repairs being completed.  We also suggest there should be new federal/state government aid and/or low-interest federally backed loans for condominium associations that now engage in major structural repairs.

Our attorneys are also concerned by the great deal of misinformation that is currently circulating over the legal liabilities of association board members.  We note that lawsuits against a condo association are ultimately against the building’s insurer and possibly all the unit owners, as the owners can be held responsible for their association’s liabilities.  The firm’s attorneys have been reaching out to our clients to remind them of importance of prioritizing engineering findings in their turnovers to new board members and property managers, and to focus on structural issues over aesthetics and fund reserve accounts for any necessary repairs.

Stuart-Sobel-2013-200x300Our firm’s attorneys have also been sharing their insights on these and other issues with major media outlets as well as some of Florida’s lawmakers and policymakers, and we have scheduled a free live webinar on 40-year recertifications and structural maintenance for today at 1 p.m. (click here for information and online registrations).  The Sun Sentinel and Daily Business Review immediately turned to our board certified construction and condominium law experts for their input in the aftermath of the collapse.  A front-page article in the Sun Sentinel that appeared in the Friday, June 25, edition titled “How to Know if Your Condo Tower is Safe” includes insights from firm partners Stuart Sobel (pictured here) and Roberto C. Blanch.  The article reads:

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As we reported earlier this month, Senate Bill 56 was signed into law and will go into effect on July 1, 2021. The new law makes changes to the notice requirements of foreclosure actions for condominiums. Specifically, the changes require associations to send a notice to owners of unpaid assessments before an account is sent to a law firm for collections:

d) An association may not require payment of attorney fees related to a past due assessment without first delivering a written notice of late assessment to the parcel owner which specifies the amount owed the association and provides the parcel owner an opportunity to pay the amount owed without the assessment of attorney fees. The notice of late assessment must be sent by first-class United States mail to the owner at his or her last address as reflected in the association’s records and, if such address is not the parcel address, must also be sent by first-class United States mail to the parcel address. Notice is deemed to have been delivered upon mailing as required by this paragraph. A rebuttable presumption that an association mailed a notice in accordance with this paragraph is established if a board member, officer, or agent of the association, or a manager licensed under part VIII of chapter 468, provides a sworn affidavit attesting to such mailing. The notice must be in substantially the following form:

NOTICE OF LATE ASSESSMENT

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A lawsuit that was recently filed against the Promenade at Boca Pointe Condominium Association highlights the importance of properly adopting changes to an association’s governing documents and recording them in the local court registry where the association is located. If the allegations in the lawsuit hold up in court, the association for the Boca-area community could be forced to pay the plaintiff unit-owners’ lost rental income and legal bills.

According to the suit, the association is making up rules to prevent condo owners Gerardo and Ana Vizcaino from leasing their unit for a full year. The suit states that the association’s new rule, which it apparently adopted at an August 2020 board meeting after a simple vote of the board the directors, was never approved by the members by a formal vote.

Indeed, the suit alleges that the association president acknowledged in a notice to all of the unit owners that the board’s adoption of a rule restricting rentals to one tenant per 12-month period was invalid because it had not been approved by the unit owners via an amendment to the governing documents. The only restriction in the association’s recorded declaration pertaining to rentals states that owners are only restricted from renting units for terms of less than thirty days. No other restrictions are included in the recorded governing documents.

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The Covid-19 pandemic has expanded the parameters and elevated the importance of disaster preparedness in community associations. Prior to the start of the 2021 hurricane season, community association boards of directors and property managers should reassess their disaster preparedness plans to ensure they are ready for anything and everything.

Some of the elements of a comprehensive disaster preparedness plan include detailed site plans, especially for large communities, a communications plan with all current contact information for board members and key staff/vendors, and an evacuation plan with information on public shelters as well as local gas stations and grocery stores with backup generators. Insurance information is also a must, and it should always include copies of all policies and information on claim-filing protocols.

strm-300x240The uncertainty caused by the pandemic also spotlighted the importance of unit-owner communications. Comprehensive disaster preparedness plans should include all current contact information and any other preparations necessary for outreach to residents via calls, text, email, and hand-delivered notices to all dwellings.

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Senate Bill 630, a bill that has wide support from community association industry interests across the state, passed the Florida Senate with a unanimous vote of 40 to zero. It will now move to the Florida House of Representatives for consideration.

The bill represents sweeping changes for Florida communities. It allows condominium associations to use the same non-binding arbitration process used by HOAs; increases the amount that can be charged for a transfer fee from $100 to $150; addresses insurance subrogation; and clarifies that associations’ emergency powers extend to health emergencies.

The legislation also prohibits associations from requiring certain actions relating to the inspection of records; revises requirements relating to the posting of digital copies of certain documents by certain condominium associations; authorizes condominium associations and cooperatives to extinguish discriminatory restrictions; revises the calculation used in determining a board member’s term limit; and deletes a prohibition against employing or contracting with certain service providers.

Flalegislature-300x169The bill also features several changes pertaining to electric vehicle and natural gas charging/filling stations, including: revising the requirements for electric vehicle charging stations; providing requirements for natural gas fuel stations; authorizing boards to take certain actions relating to electric vehicle charging stations and natural gas fuel stations; providing that the installation, repair, or maintenance of electric vehicle charging stations or natural gas fuel stations do not constitute material alterations or substantial additions to the common elements or association property; and providing that labor and materials associated with the installation of a natural gas fuel station may not serve as the basis for filing a lien against an association but may serve as the basis for filing a lien against a unit owner.

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Community associations often struggle with securing a quorum, which is the minimum number of voting interests required to be present in order to conduct a meeting of the members, and this challenge has been exacerbated by the pandemic. One of the most effective ways for associations to secure enough votes from unit owners to achieve a quorum and conduct their business is through the use of proxies.

A proxy is a document that allows a designated individual to attend and participate in a meeting in place of a unit owner. Florida condominium laws provide that unit owners may not vote by “general proxy” but may vote by a “limited proxy” that substantially conforms with the form provided by the state’s Division of Condominiums, Timeshares and Mobile Homes.

meeting-vote-300x300Limited proxies for association votes must contain a specific statement of what the unit owner is voting on and how the unit owner is voting. A unit owner cannot vote on specific substantive questions by a general proxy, which can be used only for the purposes of establishing a quorum and non-substantive votes, e.g., the approval of minutes, adjournment or continuance of meetings, and other matters that do not specifically require a limited proxy.

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