Articles Posted in Condominium Association Law

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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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, are creating significant security and liability concerns for associations.

One response by a San Diego homeowners association recently drew the attention of its local ABC affiliate, which chronicled how the community had retained a private investigator to gather and document incontrovertible proof that specific owners were conducting the restricted rentals.  The licensed private detective and his associates were hired by the HOA and other local associations to investigate homeowners and tenants who are violating association bylaws and CC&Rs that prohibit turning units into short-term vacation rentals.

sout-300x200While the hiring of private detectives may initially seem as an extreme measure for an association, it makes sense when one considers the risks and concerns that are brought on by these rentals for HOAs and condominiums.  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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RobertoBlanch2013As leaders in the field, our firm’s community association attorneys are often contacted by journalists for their insights into timely issues involving condominium associations and HOAs.  The latest example of one of our partners serving as an industry source on association topics comes in an article featuring quotes and analysis from Roberto C. Blanch that appears on the front page of today’s Daily Business Review, South Florida’s only business daily and official court newspaper.

The article focuses on a complaint to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development against a Florida condo that is accused of religious discrimination for prohibiting prayers and religious meetings in its social rooms.  The association for the Cambridge House condominium in Port Charlotte is alleged to have violated the Fair Housing Act when its board voted to forbid religious meetings in the common rooms.

Dunbar_Piano_ImageThe complaint, which was filed earlier this week, is on behalf of resident Donna Dunbar against both the association as well as its management company.  It states that as a lay minister in the Seventh Day Adventist Church, Dunbar led a women’s Bible study group with about 10 women, including Cambridge House residents and guests, in a common room for two hours on Monday mornings, but the board of directors voted Feb. 6 to prohibit prayers, religious services and religious meetings in the common areas.  It then posted a sign on an organ in the lobby reading “ANY AND ALL CHRISTIAN MUSIC IS BANNED!”.

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A recent newspaper report about squatters in condominium units illustrates the level of vigilance that associations and their property management must employ to prevent any unauthorized uses of their residences.

The article in January by the Citrus County Chronicle documented the case that took place at The Islands condominiums in Crystal River, Fla. (pictured below).  Work on the residences in the community became necessary due to extensive damage caused by Hurricane Hermine in September 2016, and it had been progressing well until several unit owners discovered workers were staying in the units without permission.

ilndscndo-1024x668It began when one of the owners noticed wet floors near the shower and other indicators that the construction workers were not just replacing cabinets or working on the carpets.  He and a neighbor later found workers sleeping overnight in the condo unit of another owner who did not know they were there, so they called the police. Continue reading

Just as with the “sunshine” laws mandating public access to the decision-making processes within the state government of Florida, community associations have their own sunshine laws to ensure that unit owners are able to monitor and participate in their governance.  These laws, which include the owners’ right to attend and record board of directors’ meetings as well as to speak on agenda items at the meetings, are brought into play in the association context when a quorum of the board of directors meets to discuss association business.  As such, directors must always remain mindful of the fact that they should avoid discussing association business, or making decisions on behalf of an association, outside of properly noticed meetings. Continue reading

MichaelHymanThe firm’s Michael L. Hyman authored an article that appeared as a “Board of Contributors” guest 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 “Associations Must Strictly Comply With Notice Requirements to Impose Fines, Liens,”  focuses on a recent ruling by the state’s Fourth District Court of Appeal that illustrates how Florida’s courts are going to demand very strict adherence to the statutory notice requirements in order for associations to impose fines and liens against unit owners.  Michael’s article reads:

A ruling last year by the Florida Fourth District Court of Appeal illustrates the severity of the consequences for community associations that do not follow the law to a tee in their notices to unit owners. In Dwork v. Executive Estates of Boynton Beach Homeowners Association, the appellate panel reversed the lower court’s award of fines because the HOA only provided 13 days’ notice of the fining committee hearing to the homeowner as opposed to the statutorily required 14 days.

dbr-logo-300x57The case arose over a dispute involving the stipulations in the HOA’s governing documents requiring all homeowners to keep their roofs and driveways clean and their fences in good condition. The association notified Jonathan Mitchell Dwork of violations of these requirements multiple times over several years, but he took no action.

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