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Articles Posted in Condominium Association Law

A new rule by the Federal Housing Administration that went into effect Oct. 15th is making it easier for first-time condo buyers, even those with less than perfect credit scores, to get approved for FHA-backed mortgages.

The new rule allows individual condominium units to be eligible for FHA mortgage insurance even if the condominium development has not been FHA approved.  It introduces a single-unit approval process, which will make it much easier for many condominium residences throughout the country to become eligible for FHA-insured financing.

The rule changes also extend the recertification requirement for approved condominium communities from two to three years, and it allows more mixed-use projects to be eligible for FHA-insured mortgages. fha Condo developments will be eligible for FHA financing if their commercial/non-residential space does not exceed 35 percent of the total floor area (previously the maximum was 25 percent).

The FHA provides mortgage insurance on loans made by FHA-approved lenders, which benefit from the added protection against the risk of default.  According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the rule change is expected to make 20,000 to 60,000 condo units per year eligible for the FHA-insured financing.

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A recent article by the Marco Eagle newspaper reported that the Marco Island Code Enforcement Magistrate recently issued $1,000 fines to three condominium associations for violating sea turtle lighting restrictions.  For one of the properties, it was the second such violation in consecutive months.

The violations involved lighting in the pool areas that reflect on the oceanfront buildings.  These lights could potentially disorient turtle hatchlings, causing them to move away from the shore.

sturtle-300x200The newspaper report also noted that the city’s code enforcement office had recently issued $1,300 in fines against six condominium associations for violating sea turtle lighting restrictions.  To date, the municipality has issued 45 notices of violation during the 2019 sea turtle season, 25 more than in 2018.

The article also states that a local condominium resident recently posted in a Facebook group that she found a dead sea turtle hatchling inside of a Ziploc-type plastic bag in her building’s lobby accompanied by a note reading:  “This is what you get when you don’t close the blinds.  They crawl towards the light.”

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The Florida law mandating condominium association websites went into effect at the start of 2019.  By now, all condominium associations with 150 units or more (excluding timeshares) should have launched a website that complies with the new law.  Those that have not already created their website should do so immediately in order to avoid any potential repercussions.

Under the new law, password-protected condominium websites for the exclusive access by association members must include the recorded declaration of condominium and bylaws along with any amendments to each, the articles of incorporation filed with the state, and the association’s rules and regulations.  The website must also include a list of all executory contracts and transactions to which the association is a party or under which the association or unit owners have an obligation.

After bidding for related materials, equipment or services, the website must include a list of bids received by the association within the past year.  Summaries of bids in excess of $500 received from vendors during the past year for materials, equipment or services must be maintained on the website for one year.  In lieu of summaries, however, the association may post complete copies of those bids.

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Requests by unit owners to review official records of their community association should not present any difficulties for Florida condo associations and HOAs, yet records requests often become needlessly contentious.

Associations in the state are required to allow access to their official records within 10 working days after receiving a written request from a unit owner or their authorized representative.  They may establish reasonable rules specifying the frequency, time, location and manner of record inspection and copying, but they cannot deny access.  Those that fail to comply may be subject to compensate the requesting owner with a minimum of $50 per calendar day beginning on the 11th day after receiving the written request.

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Changes and shakeups on community association boards of directors are common in Florida, and since the legislature has imposed term limits for association directors, communities are likely to see an even greater level of transitions to new board members in the years to come.

While it is still common to see the same directors serve year after year on association boards – mainly due to lack of participation – this practice does not present an ideal scenario for change. In a perfect world, board transitions should take place incrementally over time, enabling new board members to get up to speed on all the matters that are currently pending before the association with the help and guidance of experienced incumbent directors.

meet-300x166Wholesale changes to replace entire boards with new directors are never the best approach, yet unfortunately such total transitions do occur from time to time. Whether it is a board recall after a questionable election or a total overhaul election following some tempestuous controversy implicating the prior board, the new norm is entirely new boards comprised of completely novice board members taking over control from one day to the next.

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Condominium associations and HOAs throughout South Florida as well as across the country are seeking effective responses to the problem of short-term rentals that are in violation of their rules and restrictions. These unauthorized rentals, which have become prevalent with the growth of Airbnb and other online home-sharing platforms, can create a revolving door for guests with none of the prior screening and background checks that are typically performed for new residents and tenants.

As many associations have already realized, enforcing rules and restrictions against short-term rentals can be very challenging. Savvy unit owners have been known to sneak their transient guests into properties by advising security that their visit is authorized.

As such, enhanced vigilance and guest-screening measures have become necessary, and many associations have developed and implemented new registration forms for use with guests and tenants along with written assurances and noncompensation statements indicating they are not paying for their stays.

sout-300x200That may not go far enough for some associations with owners who are highly determined to rent their units. For some, it has become necessary to retain a private investigator to gather and document incontrovertible proof that restricted rentals are taking place. Licensed private detectives can effectively investigate homeowners and tenants in violation of association bylaws and CC&Rs that prohibit turning units into short-term vacation rentals. Also, court actions may become necessary against some unit owners who flout the rules, and the evidence obtained by these investigators as well as their testimony can be very helpful in these proceedings.

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susanodess-srhl-224x300An article authored by shareholder Susan C. Odess 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 “Florida Legislature Passes Assignment of Benefits Insurance Claim Reform,” discusses the ramifications of the new state law to reform the insurance industry practice known as assignment of benefits, or AOB.  Her article reads:

. . . The AOB process, which has been in place for decades, has become controversial in recent years because of an increase in residential water-damage claims, primarily for broken water pipes and leaks. Property owners sign over their claim benefits to contractors, which are then able to pursue payments directly from the insurers.

The proponents of AOBs say they help to ensure claims are properly paid, but the legislators supporting the bill have said it is aimed at curbing abuses of the AOB process. Insurance carriers have contended for many years that AOB fraud and the excessive litigation it generates have led to higher property-insurance rates.

dbr-logo-300x57The new law limits attorney fees in AOB lawsuits filed by contractors against insurers. The legal fees will be calculated using a set formula, but the caps would not apply to lawsuits filed by policyholders.

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All too often, the other community association attorneys at our firm and I are asked for help on how to prevent unruly behavior from disrupting board and owner meetings. Since items addressed at these meetings generally have a significant impact on the welfare of an association and the financial responsibilities of its owners, conversations dealing with topics such as special assessments and annual elections can quickly become contentious. The following are helpful tips on how to try to keep your meetings on track and in order:

  1. Use Robert’s Rule of Order – This common form of parliamentary procedure for meeting protocol allows meeting facilitators to manage time effectively, all while ensuring that everyone stays on topic. Many people are already familiar with this method, making it easy for participants to follow and respect the meeting procedures that are in place.

meet-300x1662. Be specific about who can attend – The association should establish rules determining who can participate in advance of the meeting. Generally, owners, or owners and residents are the only people allowed to participate in such meetings. Counsel for an owner is likewise permitted to attend.

3. Make the purpose of the meeting clear – Prepare an agenda that outlines the specific items that will be discussed. Be sure to be transparent about the topics, providing participants with any supplemental documents they may need to make educated decisions.

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susanodess-srhl-thumb-200x267-94402Stuart-Sobel-2013-200x300Firm partners Stuart Sobel and Susan C. Odess won a $3.67 million jury verdict in federal court in Miami for the St. Louis Condominium Association, which sued its insurer Rockhill Insurance Co. over a denied claim for extensive damage to the Brickell Key tower caused by Hurricane Irma.  The verdict was filed last Wednesday, June 5, and it is chronicled in an article in today’s edition of the Daily Business Review, South Florida’s exclusive business daily and official court newspaper.  The article reads:

. . . the judgment is good news for the association since it stood to get nothing from its insurer, said Stuart Sobel, who was part of the Siegfried Rivera team representing the association.

“I believe in juries, and I am pretty pleased with the results. In light of the alternative where the insurance company basically said, ‘We are not paying any money.’ They said we suffered no damage form Hurricane Irma,” Sobel said.

He said the hurricane churned in the condominium’s vicinity for 24 hours. The building sits on Biscayne Bay east of downtown Miami.
Sobel worked on the case with Siegfried Rivera’s Susan Odess . . .

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Hurricane preparedness is a significant undertaking for every community association in Florida. Being well prepared — and well informed — can determine whether association boards and their managers will sink or swim in the aftermath of a storm. Here are some helpful tips to enable associations to stay ahead of the 2019 hurricane season, which officially began on June 1 and will end on November 30:

Maintain an up-to-date paper roster of the current residents, and store it at an accessible off-site location. Hurricane-2-300x169A separate list of residents who are remaining in the building should also be kept. Accounting for the whereabouts of all residents can be vital for emergency response teams who might have to provide medical assistance to any residents in need.

Keep important documents at a safe alternate location. This includes a copy of the association’s governing documents, a certified copy of the insurance policy, bank account information, service provider contracts, and contact information for all residents, staff and vendors of the association.

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