Articles Posted in New Legislation

hands-and-breaking-handcuffs_shutterstock_58240561-300x184In the pursuit of association fraud and embezzlement, one of the most important aspects of the major legislation that was adopted earlier this year is the law’s effort to curb conflicts of interest by association board members and officers.

The new law provides that presumptions of conflicts of interest exist in the following circumstances:

  • A director, officer or one of their relatives enters into a contract for goods or services with the association.
  • A director or officer . . . holds an interest in a corporation, LLC, LLP or other business entity that conducts business with the association or proposes to enter into a contract or other transaction with the association.

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Florida condominium assWebsite-300x157ociations with 150 or more units, which do not manage timeshare units, must have an independent website or web portal by July 1, 2018, according to Section 718.111, Florida Statutes. These websites or web portals can either be wholly owned and operated by the association, or operated by a third-party provider.  It is important that associations that meet the 150+ unit prerequisite begin to take the necessary steps to ensure that they are in compliance with the new law by the July 1st deadline.

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Changes in condominium association laws that were recently enacted with an aim to curb fraud in associations seem to have had a strong impact in increasing the general awareness of the problems facing Florida condo communities.  A few major media outlets have followed up on the news of the law with reports about arrests involving South Florida associations.

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Several months ago the Miami Herald reported that the administrator of an Aventura condominium named Admirals Port had been arrested on charges of accepting thousands of dollars in bribes and stealing cash from the building’s laundry machines.  Donovan Staley was charged with organized fraud, grand theft and the use of a phone to plan a crime, and he could face up to five years in prison.

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The new Florida law that establishes criminal penalties for association fraudsters should help many associations to contend with suspicious and irregular activities by unscrupulous board members.

Association boards of directors control the purse strings for their condo communities, and as such they have always made for extremely appealing targets for fraudsters who conspire to assume control via their annual elections.  In a Las Vegas case, a U.S. Justice Department investigation revealed that 11 associations were defrauded of tens of millions of dollars in a board of directors takeover scheme from 2003 to 2009.  Forty-one defendants were convicted of rigging board elections through such tactics as traveling to Mexico to print phony ballots, using the master key at a condominium complex in order to remove ballots from mailboxes, and retrieving discarded ballots from condo dumpsters.

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After several years of failed attempts, the estoppel bill has become law in Florida and mandates major changes to the way community associations in the state prepare estoppel letters (also called estoppel certificates), which are legal documents detailing the amounts owed by a unit owner prior to the sale of their residence.

Below are the changes required by the new law:

  • Reduces the time associations have to respond to written or electronic requests for estoppel certificates from 15 days to 10 business days.
  • Requires each association to provide on its website the identity of a person or entity (and their street or e-mail address) to which requests for estoppel certificates may be sent.
  • Provides that estoppel certificates must be submitted by hand delivery, regular mail, or e-mail to the requestor on the date of issuance of the certificate.
  • Changes authorized association signatories for estoppel certificates from officer or agent of association to any board member, authorized agent, or authorized representative of the association, including authorized employees of the association’s management company. Continue reading

Firm partner Gary M. Mars authored an article that appeared as a “My View” guest column in today’s “Business Monday” section of the Miami Herald.  The article, which is titled “Condo Fraud Legislation Adds Teeth to Florida’s Laws,” focuses on the ramifications of the newly minted Florida law that established criminal penalties for some of the most common maneuvers of association fraudsters.  Gary’s article reads:

The new legislation, which will add teeth to the Florida laws governing the administration of condominiums by establishing criminal penalties for fraudsters, has been signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott and took effect July 1.

The El Nuevo and Channel 23 reports revealed many cases of electoral fraud and forgery, conflicts of interest, mismanagement, and rigged bidding systems at a number of condo associations in South Florida. The Miami-Dade circuit court grand jury investigation focused on some of the cases from the news reports and several others, and its findings illustrated in detail that the state’s laws and enforcement measures are inadequate. Continue reading

Firm partner Laura M. Manning-Hudson is quoted in an article that appears in today’s edition of the Daily Business Review, South Florida’s exclusive business daily and official court newspaper, on Gov. Rick Scott’s veto of a bill that would have relaxed fire-protection requirements for older Florida condominium towers.  The article, which is titled “Scott Cites London High-Rise Fire in Vetoing Condominium Bill,” focuses on the Governor’s stance that the recent horrific tragedy of the deadly London apartment tower blaze has spotlighted the need for strong fire safety in residential buildings.  The article reads:

Pointing to a high-rise fire in London that killed dozens of residents, Gov. Rick Scott vetoed a bill that would have eased fire-protection requirements for older condominium buildings in Florida.

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House Bill 6027 was signed by Governor Rick Scott. The Bill makes changes to the financial reporting requirements of Florida condominiums, homeowners’ associations, and cooperatives, and will be effective as of July 1, 2017.  The Bill may be summarized as follows:

  • Sections 718.111(13)(b) and 719.104(c)2, Florida Statutes, are amended to remove the requirement that an association that operates fewer than 50 units, regardless of the association’s annual revenues, shall prepare a report of cash receipts and expenditures in lieu of financial statements, and instead bases financial reporting requirements strictly on annual revenues.
  • Sections 718.111(13)(d) and 719.104(b), Florida Statutes, are amended to remove the restriction which limit the ability of a condominium and cooperative association, respectively, to waive the financial reporting requirements of such Sections for more than three consecutive years.
  • Section 720.303(7), Florida Statutes is amended to remove the requirement that a homeowners’ association that operates fewer than 50 parcels, regardless of the association’s annual revenues, may prepare a report of cash receipts and expenditures in lieu of financial statements, and instead bases financial reporting requirements strictly on annual revenues. Continue reading

Senate Bill 1520 was signed by Governor Rick Scott on June 16, 2017. The following is a summary of the bill, which will take effect on July 1, 2017:

SB 1520 amends 718.117, Florida Statutes, regarding the optional termination of condominiums, making it more difficult for a Plan of Termination to be passed without full consent of the unit owners.  The changes to the law reduce the amount of unit owners required to reject a plan, postpone the time until another plan can be voted on, and requires that the plan be approved by the Division of Florida Condominiums, Timeshares, and Mobile Homes of the Department of Business and Professional Regulation (“Division”) based on factual and public policy reasons. Further, it guarantees that an optional termination will not result in a unit owner receiving less than his or her purchase price of the unit.

Changes to 718.117(1), (3) and addition of (21):

Applicability

  • The statute contains language indicating it is controlling over language in a condominium’s declaration and applies to all condominiums in the state in existence on or after July 1, 2007. The phrase: “Unless the declaration provides for a lower percentage” has been stricken indicating that the threshold established in the statute is the minimum vote required for optional termination.

Optional Termination

  • Prior to the effective date of the amendment, in order to approve a plan of termination, 80% of unit owners must approve the plan, and no more than 10% of unit owners can object. The changes to the statute now require an 80% unit owner vote approving a plan of termination; with less than 5% objecting. Additionally, the changes to the statute now provide that once the plan of termination passes a unit owner vote, it would then need to be approved by the Division.
  • The Division will have 45 days to review the Plan of Termination and notify the association of any deficiencies, or if it is rejected. If the Division does not respond within 45 days, the plan is deemed accepted.  Under the new law, plans of termination will now need to include factual circumstances that show that the plan complies with Section 718.117, Florida Statutes, and supports the public policies of the section, which are listed below.
  • If a plan of termination is rejected by 5% or more of the total voting interests of the condominium, then a new plan may not be considered for 24 months, as opposed to the current period of 18 months.
  • Under the current law, a condominium owner who purchased a unit from the developer must be made “whole” upon termination. In other words, the plan of termination could not provide for paying the unit owner less than the original purchase price. SB 1520 removes the language that restricts this requirement only to the original unit owner, meaning that an owner who purchased a resale condominium would also be entitled to receive a minimum of the purchase price upon optional termination. The bill applies this section to all unit owners, not just the ones who object to the plan.

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When a bill passes the Florida Legislature and is sent to the Governor for consideration, the Governor has 15 days from which to sign the bill into law, veto it, or do neither (in which case the bill will automatically become law if unsigned within such 15 days). Senate Bill 398 and House Bill 377 have been signed by Governor Rick Scott. The following are summaries of the bills, which will take effect on July 1, 2017:

Senate Bill 398 amends the provisions of Florida Statutes 718.116, 719.108, and 720.3085 to establish new requirements for condominium, co-operative, and homeowners’ associations regarding the issuance of estoppel certificates.

  • Reduces the time for associations to respond to written or electronic requests for estoppel certificates from fifteen (15) days to ten (10) business days.
  • Requires each association to provide on its website the identity of a person or entity (and their street or e-mail address) to which requests for estoppel certificates may be sent.
  • Provides that estoppel certificates must be submitted by hand delivery, regular mail, or e-mail to the requestor on date of issuance of estoppel certificate.
  • Changes authorized association signatories for estoppel certificates from officer or agent of association to any board member, authorized agent, or authorized representative of the association, including authorized employees of the association’s management company.
  • Establishes the information to be contained in, and the substantial form of, an estoppel certificate. The following information must now be included in the estoppel certificate: the date of issuance, name of unit owner pursuant to association records,  unit designation and address, parking space or garage number pursuant to association records, name and contact information for association counsel if the account is delinquent, fee for the preparation and delivery of the estoppel certificate, the name of the requestor, and assessment and other information, including whether the board of directors has the authority to approve of unit transfers and if there is a right of first refusal.
  • Establishes a 30-day effective period for estoppel certificates sent via e-mail or hand delivery, and a 35-day effective period if delivered by regular mail. Requires issuance of an amended certificate at no charge if the association learns of new information or a mistake made in the certificate prior to the sale or refinance of the unit.
  • Caps the fees which may be charged for preparation of an estoppel certificate at $250.00, unless such certificate is requested on an expedited basis, in which case an additional $100 may be charged; if there are delinquent amounts due to the association from the applicable parcel, the association may charge an additional fee not to exceed $150.00.
  • Provides that no fee may be charged if the estoppel isn’t provided within the 10 business-day deadline; and establishes an aggregate fee limit for requests for multiple units owned by the same owner if there are no past due monetary obligations owed by such owner.
  • Provides that the association waives the right to collect any amounts not included in the estoppel certificate from any person who relies on the information in good faith and his or her successors.
  • Requires that the board of directors pass a resolution to establish the authority to charge a fee for the preparation and delivery of estoppel certificates.
  • Provides that reimbursement for estoppel certificate fees for sales that did not occur may not be waived by agreement if the estoppel certificate fee was paid by someone other than the unit owner. Also provides for prevailing-party attorney fees related to actions for such reimbursements.
  • Provides that the statutory fees authorized shall be adjusted every 5 years in keeping with the Consumer Price Index, and the adjusted amounts shall be published on the DBPR’s web site.

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