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The Florida Legislature made Covid-19 civil liability protections for businesses, healthcare providers, non-profits, and other organizations a major priority for the 2021 session, and on Monday, March 29, it became the year’s first bill signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis. SB 72, the bill that provides several Covid-related liability protections for businesses, healthcare providers, educational institutions, government entities, religious institutions, and not-for-profit corporations such as community associations, is now the law in Florida.

Under the new law, covered entities will be shielded from civil liability for Covid-related lawsuits for monetary damages, injuries or deaths so long as the allegations do not involve gross negligence or intentional misconduct.

Flalegislature-300x169As of March 29, Florida community associations that have implemented measures to safeguard their residents and staff from the potential spread of Covid-19 in their communities and comply with local, state and federal guidelines are protected from liability for Covid-related lawsuits.

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EvonneAndris-srhl-law-200x300An article authored by firm partner Evonne Andris was 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 “Considerations for Community Associations Reopening Their Amenities,” notes that community associations have generally done an admirable job of implementing and maintaining measures aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19 among their residents and staff.  Evonne writes that with the new vaccines rolling out across the country and the entire world, associations are now reassessing their options regarding the use of their amenities.  Her article reads:

. . .While the vaccines hold the promise of moving toward herd immunity, that remains to be months away based on the expected supply and vaccination levels. Also, it remains unclear whether vaccinated individuals may be able to become carriers and spreaders, so masking and social distancing are likely to remain the generally accepted protocols for anywhere people congregate and interact.

Therefore, for the time being, community associations would be well advised to remember that most insurance policies do not cover virus-related claims, and there is currently no federal or state law that shields associations from litigation for alleged on-site virus infections.

dbr-logo-300x57While infection-based litigation is a greater concern for businesses in the health care sector, Florida lawmakers are now considering a bill that would create COVID-19 liability protections for the state’s businesses and nonprofit organizations, including community associations. The proposed bill (House Bill 7) provides several COVID-related liability protections for businesses, educational institutions, government entities, religious organizations and other entities.

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Steve-Siegfried-2013-srhl-lawIt is hard to believe that we are officially one year into the COVID-19 pandemic. As the entire world continues to battle the virus and adjusts to the daily changes in protocol and restrictions, our firm remains fully operational, staying up-to-date with the latest news and making decisions based on those developments.

With our staff’s, clients’, and families’ health and safety remaining of utmost importance, our firm continues to operate with a majority of our attorneys and support staff working remotely. We are happy to say that we have all remained safe during this time and the initial closures never caused any interruptions or delays in service. We have also pivoted in the way we serve our clients by upgrading our network’s infrastructure and making improvements to how we conduct business, such as enhancing our data security and offering digital document signature options as well as online notaries. Though we’ve all had to overcome our own set of challenges, we have conquered them together and have only become stronger.

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MichaelHymanThe firm’s Michael L. Hyman authored an article that 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 “Ruling: Community Associations Can Take Owners to Court Without Completing Arbitration,” discusses how Florida law calls for associations to file for nonbinding arbitration with the state agency that regulates condominiums prior to going to court.  Michael notes that the law, which is designed to relieve Florida’s courts from routine disputes between community associations and their unit owners, certainly does not mean such arbitration proceedings under the Department of Business and Professional Regulation’s Division of Condominiums must completely run their course prior to seeking emergency relief in local circuit court, as a recent ruling by the state’s Fourth District Court of Appeal reaffirmed.  His article reads:

. . . In Aquarius Condominium Association v. Boris Goldberg, the owners of a unit refused to grant the association’s contractor access to their residence for the purposes of initiating a balcony renovation project as part of a mandated 40-year recertification for the property. In response, the association filed a petition for arbitration with the Division of Condominiums, Timeshares and Mobile Homes as prescribed under Florida law. On the very same day, it also filed an “emergency motion to abate arbitration and temporarily relinquish jurisdiction” in Broward County circuit court against the unit owners to seek injunctive relief to secure immediate access to the residence.

dbr-logo-300x57Apparently in light of the emergency court proceedings over the injunction, the arbitrator with the state agency abated the matter for three months and noted that the association would need to file a status report or the arbitration petition would be dismissed.

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GaryMars-200x300An article authored by the firm’s Gary M. Mars was 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 “Questions Revealed by Ruling Over W Hotel Amenities Require Legislative Fix,” focuses on a recent ruling by the state’s Third District Court of Appeal that calls into question the legal framework for many Florida condo-hotels.  The appellate panel ruled in favor of an Icon Brickell condominium owner’s claim that the property’s declaration broke state law by giving ownership and control of shared facilities to the owner of the W Miami Hotel.  Gary writes that the decision signals the need for Florida’s lawmakers to consider legislative amendments to the state’s condominium laws specifically addressing the authority over common elements at condo-hotel properties.  His article reads:

. . . The 50-story Icon Brickell Tower 3 includes the 148-room W Miami, formerly the Viceroy Hotel, in addition to 372 condominium residences. New Media Consulting LLC, the owner of one of the units in the building, filed suit in Miami-Dade Circuit Court in 2018 against the building’s condo association alleging the property’s declaration of condominium gave the owner of the W Miami Hotel too much authority in violation of the Florida Condominium Act.

dbr-logo-300x57The plaintiff prevailed in the trial court via a summary judgment, which concurred that parts of the property’s declaration broke state law by giving ownership and control of the shared facilities to the hotel owner. The ruling essentially ordered the association to amend its declaration in accordance with state law, notwithstanding the fact that changing condominiums’ governing documents typically requires prior approval by a daunting super majority (usually 2/3 or more) of associations’ entire voting membership.

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Michael-Hyman-srhl-lawAn article authored by the firm’s Michael L. Hyman was 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 “Injunction Petition Against Ornery Condo Resident Sends Important Message,” focuses on a recent petition for an injunction stemming from pre-pandemic confrontations between a current and a former community association board member.  Michael writes that the case illustrates how associations and their directors should proactively address bellicose residents.  His article reads:

. . . The initial incident that led to the petition for the injunction, which was granted by the circuit court but eventually overturned on appeal, took place at a Broward County condominium in December 2018. That was when Patrick Gagnon, a member of the community’s board of directors, was accosted by prior board member Joseph Cash. A second incident later in the same month involved Cash allegedly yelling at Gagnon, calling him a liar and cursing at him.

dbr-logo-300x57Two months later in February 2019, Gagnon alleged that Cash confronted him two times, 45 minutes apart, yelling and cursing about new trees installed by the association that blocked the view from his condominium.

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Jeffrey-Berlowitz-Siegfried-law-firm-200x300An article by firm shareholder Jeffrey S. Berlowitz was featured as the expert guest commentary column in the Business Monday section of today’s Miami Herald.  The article, which is titled “Community Associations Must Cope with a Coming Wave of Unit-Owner Bankruptcies,” focuses on how associations must be prepared to contend with an expected spike in bankruptcy filings by those who lost their jobs and businesses due to the pandemic.  His article reads:

. . . Even with the massive COVID-19 economic fallout, bankruptcy filings in 2020 so far trail those from last year, thanks in large part to the federal stimulus package and state moratoriums on foreclosures and evictions. The additional $600 per week in supplemental unemployment assistance, on top of the national average state unemployment benefit of $340/week ($275 per week maximum for up to 12 weeks in Florida), meant that many individuals who lost their jobs were suddenly receiving more money than when they were working.

MHerald2015-300x72This supplemental federal benefit expired in July and was replaced by an allocation from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for $300 or $400 per week, depending on states’ participation and contributions, which was paid retroactively from August 1 for up to six weeks. With no more federal aid apparently forthcoming, economists predict consumer bankruptcy filings are bound to rise.

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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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