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Nicole-Kurtz-2014-200x300An article authored by the firm’s Nicole R. Kurtz is featured as the “Board of Contributors” expert 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 “Recent Arrests for Community Association Theft Illustrate Laws Working, Associations Must Do Their Part,” focuses on several recent incidents of embezzlement at Florida community associations, and it discusses the impact of the 2017 changes to the Florida laws to add teeth to condominium fraud and enforcement measures.  Her article reads:

. . . In Kissimmee, Florida, the second arrest of a former HOA property manager was covered as part of a series of investigative reports by WFTV (Channel 9, ABC). The reports chronicle how Sherry Raposo, who had previously been arrested on charges related to having her ex-cop-turned-felon boyfriend patrol the Turnberry Reserve community and using the HOA’s funds to bail him out of jail in North Carolina, was arrested yet again on new charges of fraud involving the accounts she oversaw while serving as a property manager for the community. The station also uncovered similar allegations of embezzlement against her from a different community in Seminole County, leading to the possibility of another investigation into Raposo and thousands of dollars that were moved from that HOA’s bank account.

dbr-logo-300x57Theft by a former property manager at the tony Parkshore Plaza condominium tower in downtown St. Petersburg also made headlines recently in the pages of the Tampa Bay Times daily newspaper. The report indicated that Abby Elliott was found guilty and had been sentenced to two years in prison for using the condo association’s funds to pay for vacations, airfares, salon treatments and other personal expenses.

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Laura-Manning-Hudson-Gort-photo-200x300An article by firm partner Laura Manning-Hudson is featured as the “Board of Contributors” expert 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 “Signs, Signs Everywhere: It’s Time for Community Associations to Address Sign Policies,” discusses recent news reports from around the country that are indicative of an uptick in disputes within HOA communities involving homeowners’ yard signs.  Laura writes that today’s polarized political environment and social movements combined with widespread societal cabin fever caused by the pandemic have seemingly created a perfect storm for tempers to ignite over political and solidarity signs, and she offers helpful suggestions for how HOAs should respond.  Her article reads:

. . . In Macomb Township, Michigan, a couple has been quoted in a local TV report alleging they were singled out by their HOA to remove their Black Lives Matter signs while the association seemingly permitted their neighbors to post other similar signs supporting politicians and local schools.

psignsReports involving HOA disputes over BLM signs also made local TV and newspaper headlines in late July in the San Francisco bay area and New Albany, Ohio, where an HOA issued an apology to its residents after it posted a deadline for the specific removal of BLM yard signs on its social media pages.

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CSantisteban-200x300An article authored by the firm’s Christyne D. Santisteban is featured as the “Board of Contributors” expert 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 “Tennis Court Argument Snowballs Into $7M Federal Discrimination Suit Against HOA,” discusses how associations must be prepared to address and resolve disputes among unit owners over shared amenities and other matters by using a set process that typically includes letters from the association’s attorney, impartial board/committee meetings and hearings, and possibly also reasonable fines and suspensions.  Otherwise, these skirmishes could snowball into potentially dangerous confrontations that may expose associations to severe legal and financial liabilities, as a recent federal lawsuit with shocking allegations of discriminatory conduct illustrates.  Her article reads:

. . . The recent suit involves allegations of horrid discriminatory conduct and statements against homeowners Jeffrey and Deborah LaGrasso at the Seven Bridges community in Delray Beach, Florida. It seeks $7 million in compensatory and punitive damages from the community’s HOA and Rachel Aboud Tannenholz, who allegedly engaged in harassing behavior that included phone calls, text messages, personal visits to the plaintiffs’ home, and discriminatory posts on Facebook. dbrlogo-300x57The suit alleges the HOA and Tannenholz violated the federal Fair Housing Act by inflicting discriminatory behavior based on the LaGrasso’s religion and intentionally causing them emotional distress.

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Michael-Hyman-srhl-lawFirm shareholder Michael L. Hyman authored an article that is 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 “Ruling Exposes Perils of Overzealous Buyer Screenings by Community Associations,” focuses on a recent ruling illustrating how associations that go too far in their screenings of prospective new buyers and tenants could face legal consequences.  His article reads:

. . . The recent ruling ordered a Marco Island condominium association to stop its unreasonable screening practices, and the case made local headlines in the pages of the Naples Daily News.

David Mech, a prospective buyer at the Crescent Beach Condominium, sued the condominium association in December and represented himself in the case without the benefit of legal counsel. He alleged that he walked away from his $425,000 all-cash offer to purchase his dream condominium unit because he refused to comply with the associations’ request to provide his last two annual tax returns for himself and Katarina Palijusevic, who planned to invest in the unit with him.

“There’s no reason for them to know the total income for people,” he states in the newspaper article. He believed the financial screening requirement was unjustified and just “plain nosy,” so he walked away from his opportunity to acquire the Marco Island condo. “Do I really want to live in a building that has that type of board? That’s really an issue to me,” he stated.

dbr-logo-300x57The Collier County court judge ruled that the board’s blanket policy requiring new buyers to produce personal tax returns was “patently unreasonable.” The judge awarded Mech his legal costs and is yet to determine the final award. Mech claims that he lost approximately $4,000 just from his early withdrawal from his apartment lease in Irvine, California, prior to being informed of the tax return requirement.

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Maryvel-De-Castro-Valdes-002-200x300An article authored by firm shareholder Maryvel De Castro Valdes is 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 “Ruling Proves Community Associations Need to Revise Own Governing Documents,” focuses on a recent ruling by Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal that added to the growing string of decisions in recent years illustrating how an old and outdated provision in HOA and condominium association declarations is preventing some communities from collecting what they would be owed under the current state law from purchasers in foreclosure actions.  Her article reads:

. . . The ruling came in the case of Old Cutler Lakes by the Bay Community Association v. SRP SUB, LLC. The LLC took title to a unit within the community via a mortgage foreclosure auction and subsequently filed an action for declaratory relief seeking to determine its liability for the association assessments that accrued prior to acquiring title.

dbr-logo-300x57While Florida law holds that a parcel owner is jointly and severally liable with the previous owner for all unpaid assessments that came due up to the time of transfer of title, including by purchase at a foreclosure sale, the LLC was apparently well aware that the association’s declaration contained a provision that essentially extinguished its liability for the past-due assessments owed by the previous owner.

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RobertoBlanch_8016-200x300An article authored by firm shareholder Roberto C. Blanch was featured as the HOA View expert guest commentary column in the Business Monday section of today’s Miami Herald.  The article, which is titled “HOAs, Condo Boards Should Brace for a Slowdown in Dues and Tread Carefully,” focuses on the strategies that community associations should deploy in response to the financial strains created by unit owners who become unable to pay their monthly dues.  His article reads:

. . . As they begin to consider their options, some associations are now giving thought to relaxing their collections by waiving late fees and interest on delinquencies, and perhaps also foregoing entire monthly payments for those who become unable to pay due to the economic standstill. While this may appear to be a reasonable response, association directors must not lose sight of the fact that they are fiduciarily obligated to pursue the uniform collection of all payments and delinquencies, so they may be limited in their ability to offer any special considerations or concessions for those experiencing financial difficulties.

Payment waivers for the economic casualties of the COVID-19 pandemic could also open the door to future requests by unit owners for similar concessions related to other financial setbacks.

MHerald2015-300x72Instead, associations could borrow a page from the playbook of previous economic downturns and consider sanctioning a uniform payment plan to assist owners who become delinquent. With the help of qualified legal counsel and financial professionals, they could create a payment plan that is uniformly available to assist all the unit owners who suddenly become unemployed.

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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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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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Marc-Smiley-SRHL-law-200x300Firm shareholder Marc A. Smiley 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 “Association Protected by Business Judgment Rule Against Disgruntled, Litigious Homeowner,” discusses how the enforcement of restrictions against property improvements that are in violation of association covenants can become very contentious in single-family home communities.  It notes most of these disputes are between a homeowner seeking approval for alterations and their association’s architectural review committee, but some of the cases stem from third-party unit owners who become dissatisfied with their association’s decisions.  His article reads:

A recent ruling by Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeal involved just such a dispute brought by a homeowner who was disappointed with his association’s approval of a neighbor’s new garage. In Miller v. Homeland Property Owners Association, the appellate panel affirmed the lower court’s partial final summary judgment in favor of a homeowner that had secured the association’s prior approval and built the garage on his property.

dbr-logo-300x57The Fourth DCA only addressed whether disputed issues of material fact precluded the entry of summary judgment and the proper application of the business judgment rule. Owners in the community of Homeland Property Owners Association are required to obtain approval of their plans by the association’s architectural review board prior to commencing any work. Restrictions that are in place in the community include a maximum building height of 32 feet and a prohibition against flat roofs.

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Firm shareholders Helio De La Torre and Lindsey Thurswell Lehr, together with associate Berenice M. Mottin-Berger, have worked for more than four years in representing the BrickellHouse Condominium Association in litigation over the property’s failed robotic parking garage.  Their work yielded a truly exceptional result last week when a Miami-Dade Circuit Court jury awarded the association $40,590,990 in damages against BrickellHouse Holding LLC, the developer of the 46-story tower in Miami’s Brickell area, and many of South Florida’s most respected media organizations took notice.  The verdict yielded major articles this week in the Miami Herald, Daily Business Review, South Florida Business Journal, The Real Deal and Law 360 about the trial team’s success in demonstrating to the jury that the developer, a subsidiary of Newgard Development Group, breached statutory warranties owed to the association and its unit owners.

Helio-De-La-Torre-2013“The association has been left without parking for its residents in the promised 480 vehicle garage since November 2015,” explained De La Torre to reporters after the verdict.  “Since that date, residents have been parking offsite and incurring increased costs due to the failed robotic parking system sold by the developer. The board of directors and a team of consultants have worked very hard to find a solution for the garage and bring the owners the justice they deserve.”

 

LTLehr-2018-Siegfried-Rivera-200x300Thurswell Lehr concluded:
“As a result of the verdict, the condominium association will now be able to move forward with the replacement of the garage in order to restore the parking for the building that the owners and residents deserve.”

BrickellHouse is located at 1300 Brickell Bay Drive and features 374 residences.  The 46-story tower was one of the first post-recession condo buildings constructed in the Brickell area.  After its completion in October 2014, the problems with the 480-space robotic parking system were immediately apparent.  The developer retained control of the condominium association through September 2015, and the robotic parking system was completely shut down in November 2015.

Below is a video depicting how the garage was designed to use a fleet of autonomous robots that move beneath the vehicles to lift and move them throughout the building and elevators.  Click here to read the Miami Herald article in the newspaper’s website, click here for the Daily Business Review article (registration required) and click here for The Real Deal.

 

 

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