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Articles Posted in Official Records

Gary-Mars-2021-2-200x300The firm’s latest Miami Herald “Real Estate Counselor” column authored by Gary M. Mars appears in today’s Neighbors section and is titled “What’s Next for Condo-Safety Reforms After Legislature Fails to Act?”.  The article focuses on the very poor marks that the state legislature has received in newspaper editorials from the Herald and across the state for its failure to pass any condominium-safety reforms after the horrific Champlain Towers tragedy.  It notes the editorials lament that the two chambers ultimately could not reach bicameral agreement on whether to require condominium associations to maintain financial reserves for major structural maintenance and repairs, and they are certainly correct to bemoan the legislative shortfall.  Gary’s article continues:

. . . However, from the point of view of someone who has kept a finger on the pulse of the state’s condominium laws for the past 30 years, the failure of the legislators to pass reforms during the session that began just over six months after the collapse was not surprising. Lawmakers in Florida as well as other states have been grappling with the issues of high-rise structural inspections and condominium association financial reserves for decades, not-to-mention fire sprinkler and suppression systems that can be very difficult and expensive to retrofit into older buildings.

It was perhaps overly auspicious of lawmakers to propose sweeping reforms without having first ironed out many of the important aspects of the proposals in the pre-session legislative meetings. They put forth many of the recommendations from task forces from engineering/construction trade groups and The Florida Bar, but they ultimately could not agree on the details of inspection dates and reserve funding levels.

Miami-Herald-3-27-22-print-page-342x1024Even with no changes to the state’s laws, significant condo-safety reforms are being implemented by lenders after major changes in underwriting requirements from government-sponsored Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. In fact, many associations have already been struggling to comply with the new requirement from these quasi government agencies for lenders to have the condominium associations for mortgage applicants complete an eight-page form. For towers in their teen years that have never conducted any kind of major engineering inspections, association directors are completely unequipped to attest to their buildings’ current structural integrity in these questionnaires, and the potential legal liabilities would preclude them from making such representations.

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Gary-Mars-2021-2-200x300An article featuring insights from firm shareholder Gary M. Mars appears on the front page of today’s Sun Sentinel.  The article, which is headlined “Failed Condo Safety Bill Leaves Residents, Buyers in Limbo,” focuses on what is in store for condominium safety reforms from lenders and insurers after the measures before the Florida Legislature failed to pass during the 2022 session that ended last week.  The article reads:

. . . Some condo lawyers argue that it was too ambitious to expect that a sweeping safety bill could be passed in a short three-month legislative session.

“I know it was very, very ambitious legislation,” said Gary Mars, a condo lawyer at Siegfried Rivera in Coral Gables.  “It would have taken a lot of effort to get it through all of the machinations developing legislation of this type.”

He noted that not every building is in dire structural straits, or even old enough to be required to follow inspection rules such as the ones in Broward and Miami-Dade counties, which mandate deep-dive studies after 40 years.

Sun-Sentinel-3-21-22-print-page-1-1-100x300“I represent a lot of associations in buildings in their teenaged years,” he said.

“They’re getting sophisticated reports” from their engineers about deferred maintenance issues such as waterproofing, balcony restorations and painting, Mars said.  But the reports don’t cover structural issues.

“They may have wonderful reports, but those reports don’t give the association the ability to check the box” about the building’s overall condition, he said. “There’s not a perfect solution to this problem.”. . .

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The demands for increased access to condominium financial records and structural reports in Florida after the horrific Champlain Towers tragedy are leading to possible changes at the state and local levels, and they just led to a new local ordinance in Miami-Dade County.

On March 1st, the Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners unanimously approved an ordinance establishing a searchable database for financial statements and structural reports, among other information and documentation, for residential community associations located in Miami-Dade County. The new ordinance requires community associations in Miami-Dade County, including all condominium, cooperative, and homeowners’ associations, to upload certain documents and information to the county’s database, along with a written registration with the Miami-Dade County Department of Regulatory and Economic Resources, by Feb. 1st of each year, beginning on February 1, 2023.

MCboard-300x169The ordinance provides that the documents uploaded to the database will be publicly accessible on the county’s website, and will also be searchable. Some of the documents to be attached to the annual registration submitted to the county include the following: the name of the community association; the name and contact information for the association’s property manager or other designated agent; a list of all officers and directors of the association, including their contact information; a link to the association’s website, if any; a legible copy of the association’s governing documents; a list containing the association’s planned capital projects from the date of registration through February 1st of the following year; a copy of the association’s current budget and financial statements, including any applicable current or approved special assessments; and all reports issued within the last 10 years on the structural status of the property governed by the association, including recertification reports, if applicable.

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The new condominium safety financing requirements from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have drawn a great deal of attention, but the Florida Legislature appears to be poised to go one step further in its response to the horrific Champlain Towers tragedy.

The Florida House and Senate are both moving forward with bills that would add new inspection requirements on condominium buildings. A bill that is now ready to go before the full Senate, SB 1702 would require condominiums that are three stories or taller and located within three miles of the coast to undergo initial inspections 20 years after completion and every seven years thereafter. Buildings in other areas would be required to be inspected after 30 years and every 10 years thereafter.

Flalegislature-300x169The Florida House has taken up its own version of the bill (HB 7069). Its proposal would require initial inspections to occur 25 years after completion, and buildings further inland would have their first inspection at 30 years. Additional inspections would be required every 10 years.

The House and Senate bills also include differences over reserve studies, which are used to determine the level of funds a condominium community needs to maintain in reserve for future renovations and repairs. The differences between the two bills are likely to soon be consolidated into a final bill for bicameral consideration.

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The market for homes and condominiums throughout the South Florida region is now thriving, and many of the area’s community associations are seeing more document requests from prospective buyers than ever before. Florida law mandates associations provide certain documents to prospective buyers, and several bills are now being considered by the state’s lawmakers to increase access to association financial and engineering records.

Florida law dictates that associations must provide prospective buyers with the community’s declaration, articles of incorporation, bylaws and any related amendments, as well as the rules of the association. They must also provide them with a Q&A/fact sheet covering voting rights, use and leasing restrictions, fees and assessments, and outstanding litigation with liabilities in excess of $100,000.

Flalegislature-300x169These documents may be provided in hardcopy or digital forms, but digital records are preferred and can be prepared for easy access via a shareable weblink. The records must also be made available for scanning, copying or photographing, so hardcopies should also be available for use as needed. Only the “actual cost” involved in preparing and providing the documents may be passed on to prospective buyers, so there should not be any costs for cases in which only digital access is requested and provided.

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Gary-Mars-2021-2-200x300When the editors of the Miami Herald decided they would like to feature a new column to provide timely legal knowledge on real estate topics for the readers of its Neighbors community news section that appears on Sundays, they turned to the attorneys of Siegfried Rivera as the exclusive contributors for the newspaper’s new Real Estate Counselor.  The inaugural edition of the new monthly column authored by the firm’s Gary M. Mars appears in today’s edition and as is titled “All Eyes on Florida Legislature for High-Rise Condo Safety Reforms.”  It focuses on the status of reforms after the horrific tragedy of the Champlain Towers South collapse.  Gary’s article reads:

. . . So far, the most significant changes have come at the federal level from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, two government-sponsored companies that acquire residential loans to offer mortgage-backed securities for investors in the secondary market. They both have a massive influence over the terms for mortgages offered by lenders, and they recently released new requirements for loans for residences in high-rise buildings with five or more attached units to meet their standards for acquisition. The changes, which are now being adopted and implemented by major residential lenders, place a heavy focus on structural and financial stability, and they reinforce the importance of meticulous documentation of all appraisals, meeting minutes, financial statements, engineering reports, inspection reports and reserve studies.

Miami-Herald-1-23-22-1006x1024Fannie’s new requirements are already in effect, while Freddie’s will take effect for all mortgages with settlement dates on or after Feb. 28. Its new standards will exclude from eligibility any condo loans for units in communities with what it considers to be critical repair needs, which are defined as those that significantly impact a community’s safety, soundness, structural integrity or habitability, and/or that impact unit values, financial viability or marketability. These include all life-safety hazards, violations of any laws or ordinances, building code violations, fire-safety deficiencies and others.

Subsequently, properties that have already identified elements requiring attention and begun their remediation efforts may become ineligible until such work is completed.

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Community associations in Florida are required to provide owners with access to the association’s official records within 10 working days after receiving a written request from a unit owner or the owner’s authorized representative.  Given such a statutory mandate, it is not so uncommon for associations to receive requests to inspect financial and accounting records, contracts, certified copies of plans, permits and warranties provided by the developer or any other contractor, as well as copies of the declaration, articles of incorporation, bylaws, rules and regulations, and insurance policies.

Associations should be prepared to respond to requests to inspect official records by utilizing strong document management and retention policies.  For large associations, records should be cataloged and preserved using third-party cloud services for offsite storage and backup.  These systems can be set to automatically backup and store association records at regular intervals.

One of the simplest ways for associations to keep a thorough and searchable archive of important email communications with property management, attorneys, insurance brokers and others is to utilize a single association board email address as the sender and/or copied recipient of all such messages.

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The Florida law mandating condominium association websites went into effect at the start of 2019.  By now, all condominium associations with 150 units or more (excluding timeshares) should have launched a website that complies with the new law.  Those that have not already created their website should do so immediately in order to avoid any potential repercussions.

Under the new law, password-protected condominium websites for the exclusive access by association members must include the recorded declaration of condominium and bylaws along with any amendments to each, the articles of incorporation filed with the state, and the association’s rules and regulations.  The website must also include a list of all executory contracts and transactions to which the association is a party or under which the association or unit owners have an obligation.

After bidding for related materials, equipment or services, the website must include a list of bids received by the association within the past year.  Summaries of bids in excess of $500 received from vendors during the past year for materials, equipment or services must be maintained on the website for one year.  In lieu of summaries, however, the association may post complete copies of those bids.

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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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Nicole-Kurtz-2014-200x300The firm’s Nicole R. Kurtz authored an article that 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.  The article, which is titled “New Laws Spurring Florida Community Associations to Implement E-Voting, Websites,” focuses on the recent changes in state law allowing community associations to implement electronic voting and requiring condominium associations with 150 units or more to have a website containing digital copies of certain official records.  Her article reads:

. . . The condominium association website laws mandate that compliant websites should have been operational as of Jan. 1 of this year. The laws call for association websites that are accessible only to unit owners and employees where certain notices, records and documents are posted. These must include the declaration of condominium, bylaws, articles of incorporation, rules and regulations of the association, as well as all executory contracts or documents to which the association is a party, or under which the association or unit owners have an obligation or responsibility.

dbr-logo-300x57Condominium association websites must also feature the association’s annual budget and proposed annual budget; financial reports; monthly income or expense statements; copies of bids, or summaries of bids, exceeding $500; association meeting notices, and board member certification forms.

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