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Articles Posted in Homeowners association law

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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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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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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HB 153 – Landlords and Tenants – § 83.51, Fla. Stat.:

  • Requiring landlords to provide their tenants with a physical copy of any restrictive covenants governing the premises and occupancy of the premises at the time the landlord and tenants execute a rental agreement.
  • Requiring landlords to provide their tenants with written notice by certified mail of any changes to the covenants or the enforcement of the covenants within 10 business days.
  • If passed, this law would become effective July 1, 2019.

HB 155 – Homeowners’ Association Recalls – § 720.303, Fla. Stat.:

  • Adding a qualification for recalls, whereby directors may be recalled and removed from office by a majority of the total voting interests who physically reside in the community. Previously, the requirement to physically reside in the community was not in place.
  • If an association’s declaration, articles of incorporation or bylaws specifically provide that members may also recall and remove directors by a vote taken at a meeting, such special meeting of the members may be called by 10 percent (10%) of the voting interests who physically reside in the community. Previously, the requirement to physically reside in the community was not in place.
  • If passed, this law would become effective July 1, 2019.

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A recent report by Channel 7 News (WSVN-Fox) in South Florida shined a spotlight on a new trend that is beginning to cause noise disruptions at some of the area’s condominium communities. It is called pickleball, and the sport is becoming especially popular for 55-and-older retirement communities. While the decision of the association’s board to accommodate the sport seems innocent, it appears to have triggered some unintended consequences that other community associations should bear in mind.

First created in 1965, pickleball is a paddle sport for all ages and skill levels that combines many elements of tennis, badminton and ping-pong. It is played both as singles and doubles on a badminton-size court using a slightly modified tennis net, paddles and a plastic ball with holes.

pballThe station’s report, which states that the sport is becoming very popular, chronicles the issues that are arising from the noise that pickleball is creating at the Wynmoor in Coconut Creek retirement community in Broward County. Two of the community’s tennis courts were converted into eight pickleball courts, which allow for up to 32 people to play at the same time.

Linda Waldman, the owner of a unit near the courts, states: “It’s a very noisy game, unfortunately . . . there is a ‘pong’ not also from the racket, but also when it hits the ground. Ponging and screaming. It’s a very enthusiastic game. The people love it.”

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A couple of years ago we saw the Florida state legislature add teeth to Florida’s condo and HOA laws governing theft, fraud, abuse and conflicts of interest. Recently, the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, the state agency that governs community associations, followed suit by implementing harsher civil disciplinary guidelines for condominium association infractions.

The new guidelines detail the civil penalties and disciplinary procedures for violations of the Condominium Act and the Florida Rules of Administrative Procedure involving accounting records, assessments, boards, budgets, common expenses, conflicts of interest, debit cards, elections, estoppel certificates, final orders, fiduciary duty, investigations, records requests, financial reporting, reserves, special assessments and websites.

dbprlogo-300x170For minor violations, the disciplinary guidelines call for the agency’s Division of Condominiums, Timeshares and Mobile Homes to issue the association with a written Notice of Noncompliance “due to the violation’s lower potential for public harm.” If the association fails to comply with the stipulations called for in the Notice, it could result in sanctions and enforcement with monetary penalties being imposed in amounts between $5 and $10 per unit for each violation. The maximum penalty for minor violations is $2,500, for a single minor violation.
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Nicole-Kurtz-2014-200x300An article authored by the firm’s Nicole R. Kurtz was featured as the guest commentary column in today’s edition of the Daily Business Review, South Florida’s exclusive business daily and official court newspaper.  Her article, which is titled “Association Election ‘Shenanigans’ Lead to Contentious, Costly Litigation,” focuses on the takeaways for Florida community associations from the case involving the strange and suspicious circumstances surrounding an Orlando-area HOA’s last annual election.  It reads:

A case in which a trial court concluded may have involved some association election “shenanigans” is going back to the trial court for further proceedings after the Fifth District Court of Appeal reversed the lower court’s order mandating binding arbitration.

“What should have been a rather routine meeting of the Association was cloaked with mystery, intrigue, and confusion,” begins the Fifth DCA’s unanimous opinion in the case of Winter Green at Winter Park HOA v. Richard Ware et al. Indeed, mystery, intrigue and confusion seem to be very apropos for describing the set of circumstances that unfolded during the Orlando suburb’s annual meeting and election.

It all began when somehow two nearly identical notices were sent out to announce the upcoming annual meeting and election to the homeowners. Both notices included the necessary agenda and accompanying documents, however the notice prepared by the association’s property manager set the annual meeting date for November 15, 2017, while the other notice announced the annual meeting was to be held on November 12, 2017.

dbr-logo-300x57Fifty-five members of the association attended the Nov. 12 meeting, which was sufficient to establish a quorum, but the owners were surprised to find that neither the property manager nor any of the current board members were present. An owner was even dispatched to the property manager’s office to seek clarification on the manager and directors’ absence, but he found no one there.

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Drones have become extremely popular for those who yearn for the latest gadgets and gizmos.  Many associations have already adopted rules to address the use of drones in their communities, and those that have not done so should give it serious thought and consideration.

When equipped with cameras, drones can be used to violate the privacy of association residents, not to mention their ability to cause major property damage, so associations should take a proactive approach toward developing and implementing rules and restrictions to protect the interests of those residing within their community.  Specifically, some examples of the rules and policies that associations are implementing include:

d2-300x176Restricting the space within which drones may be flown, such as over their operator’s personal lot, or those lots of adjoining neighbors (with their prior permission).

Limiting drone use to association common areas that are away from roads, buildings, playgrounds and other amenities.

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As the 2019 Florida legislative session gets underway, all indications are that this will be a very busy year for new legislation affecting the more than 48,000 community associations in the state. Here are some of the bills that my fellow community association attorneys at our firm and I will be monitoring very closely:

HB 153 – Requires landlord to provide physical copy of any restrictive covenants that govern premises to tenant at specified time; requires written notice be provided to tenant of any changes to covenants within specified time.

HB 155, known as the Community Recall Act – Amend Section 720.303, F.S. to require owners living in an HOA to physically reside in the community in order to vote to recall a member of the board of directors.

HB 565 – Removes housing discrimination as cause of action for relief & damages stemming from violations of Florida Civil Rights Act of 1992; revises timeframe & conditions under which aggrieved person may commence civil action to enforce specified rights; authorizes, rather than requires, civil action after alleged discriminatory housing practice; authorizes civil action regardless of whether aggrieved person filed complaint with commission; prohibits aggrieved person from filing specified action in certain circumstances; provides exception.

Florida-legislature2HB 647 – Requires certain associations to post certain signs or symbols on buildings; requires State Fire Marshal to adopt rules governing such signs & symbols; provides for enforcement; revises provisions relating to evidence of association compliance with fire & life safety code; revises provisions related to retrofitting.

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