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Articles Posted in Security

The contentious presidential election and political divisiveness of the months leading up to it caused the Community Associations Institute, the leading organization which represents the interests of communities with associations, to issue an important reminder. In its blogs and emails, CAI recently appealed to communities to promote civility and unity by adopting the organization’s Community Association Civility Pledge, which is a commitment to the following principles:

  • Each individual must be accountable for his or her own actions and words.
  • All interactions in the community should be civil despite any differences of opinion on a particular issue.
  • A vow to respect all points of view and strive to provide a reasonable opportunity for all to express their views openly.
  • Residents are engaged and informed.
  • Residents review CAI’s Rights and Responsibilities for Better Communities.

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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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“I’m putting my own life at risk!” That’s what an Ormond Beach, Fla. homeowners association director is reported to have said after he fired his gun into the ground in an effort to shoo away two teenagers from the community pool.

Thankfully, nobody was hurt in the incident, which resulted in the arrest of Richard S. Marcelle, 66 (pictured below), for three counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon without intent to kill and discharging a gun in public.

According to reports in the Daytona Beach News-Journal and local television stations, the encounter took place at approximately 9:15 on the evening of April 22 when Julian Johnson, an 18-year-old resident of The Village subdivision, and a younger friend visited the community pool. rmarcelle-280x300Marcelle, who is a member of the HOA’s board of directors, approached and informed them that the pool was closed.

When Johnson noticed a sign indicating the pool is open until 10 p.m. as he and his friend were exiting, they pointed it out to Marcelle. Apparently, residents had not yet been notified, and new signs had not been posted, announcing a recent change to the pool hours.

As they attempted to re-enter the pool area, the association director intercepted them and brandished a handgun, which he then fired into the ground. One of the teens then asked: “Did you really just shoot a gun?” Marcelle’s response: “Yes, I am putting my own life at risk!”

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The horrific murder of an 11-year-old Las Vegas girl stemming from a shooting into her home, which had been mistakenly targeted by local gang members, has led to a wrongful death lawsuit against the homeowners association and property management firm. The tragic case delivers a very clear and important message for community associations contending with problem residents who may pose a threat.

The shooting last November was caught on surveillance video, which shows multiple assailants firing indiscriminately into the home where Angelina Erives lived with her mother, step-father and two sisters. The shooters were confused as to the location of their intended target, which was a home two doors down the street, when they killed Angelina (pictured below in family photo provided to media).

ErivesAccording to statements of the attorney for Angelina’s mother and siblings in several news reports, the neighboring property had been occupied by as many as 20 different tenants and the police had been called to that property on numerous occasions. The homeowners association and property management company were aware of the problems and had been in communications with the owner of the home. However, the association’s apparent enforcement of the community’s covenants, conditions and restrictions fell short of evicting the problem residents.

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Home automation is a fast-growing segment of the tech industry, and the use of Internet-connected doorbell cameras has become particularly popular for those seeking an extra level of security at a reasonable price. These motion-activated cameras enable users to monitor everyone who passes by their front door, whether on a live or recorded video feed. While use of these devices may present less privacy issues for those residing in single-family homes, what about for those who reside within condominium buildings with shared hallways?

Proponents of doorbell cameras in condominium buildings may argue that the convenience and safety benefits they provide outweigh the privacy concerns and any issues of improper alterations to the common-element portions of the condominium building. dbelcam For example, a doorbell camera, which may also be capable of recording audio, may view and record within another dwelling that may be located across the hallway when its door is open.  The use of a doorbell camera in such a scenario may be considered an invasion of privacy.

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Residents of the Phillips Bay Condominium in Orlando, Fla. are finally breathing a sigh of relief after a years-long saga of a nightmare neighbor appears to be coming to an end with a conviction for aggravated stalking. Residents are now awaiting a final ruling from the court on the penalty for the third-degree felony, which under Florida law can be as high as five years in prison, five years of probation and $5,000 in fines.

According to an arbitration order from the state’s Division of Condominiums under the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, the complaints against unit owner Marianna Seachrist (pictured below) at the condominium association began in early 2014, shortly after she moved in to the community. Neighboring unit owners complained of constant pounding and rumbling noises at all hours of the day and night, and police were eventually called when Seachrist threatened to hire someone to kill one of the board members.

mariannaseachrist--240x300The loud and disruptive noises continued, and the threatening behavior escalated to the point that some residents lived in fear of walking around the community. After multiple incidents and calls to police, her downstairs neighbor was granted a temporary injunction for stalking protection in 2015.

After Seachrist was served with the injunction, deputies had to return to her condo three successive days because of noise disturbances. In subsequent visits they heard low-bass rumbling and knocking noises, and after obtaining a search warrant they rammed the front door and discovered an elaborate sound system, including three low-frequency speakers mounted to a board and placed face-down on the floor in the living room, hallway and closet. The speakers were also weighed down by dumbbells and cinder blocks, and they were wired to an amplifier using a tablet to play a recording on a loop of bass-clicking noises that would vibrate the room. The setup allowed for the remote operation of the system using a smartphone.

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The recent news about an accident inside G.L. Homes’ Seven Bridges community in Delray Beach involving four children on a golf cart highlights the potential legal liabilities for Florida associations concerning kids driving golf carts.

According to a report by BocaNewsNow.com, four children were riding a 2014 EZ Go “Freedom” Golf Cart on the community’s main street when the unlicensed 15-year-old girl driving the cart darted in front of an oncoming car.  The car, which was driven by Sunny Isles resident Eduard Hiutin, crashed into the golf cart, causing its driver and passengers, ages 11, 13, 14 and 15, to be ejected onto the street.  The children were transported by ambulance to the trauma unit at Delray Medical Center, where one was treated for a catastrophic injury.

The golf cart driver, who lives in the community along with two of the other children, was charged with operating a motor vehicle in a careless or negligent manner as well as failure to yield to the right of way.

gcart-300x158While the parent of the golf cart driver can be sued for negligence in such a case, the association can also be named as a defendant.  In fact, according to the Seven Bridges community’s governing documents filed with the clerk of courts, Seven Bridges requires a golf cart driver to be at least 16 years old and carry a valid driver’s license.  If enforcement of this rule was lax, potential liability could be alleged.

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The recent news report by CBS4 Miami about a Miami Beach man who was charged with attempted murder and attempted arson for plotting to burn down his condo building should serve as a wake-up call for all condominium associations in Florida and across the country.  It appears to be a case in which the warning signs may have triggered a call to authorities that averted a horrific tragedy just in the nick of time.

The report states witnesses told police that Walter Stolper, 72, had shown aggression toward his fellow residents and the members of the association’s board of directors at their building at 56th Street and Collins Avenue.  As a result, he was facing an eviction action.

cbs4The breaking point for the initial call to authorities came when Stolper spoke with his friend Luis Diaz, who states in the station’s report:  “He told me he was tired of the association and the Jews in the building and he wanted to do something about it. He said he wanted to burn down the building. At first, I didn’t think he was serious, but then I heard him talk about blocking the fire department and their hoses, I realized he was serious and I had to do something.”

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Condominium associations and HOAs throughout South Florida as well as across the country are seeking effective responses to the problem of short-term rentals that are in violation of their rules and restrictions. These unauthorized rentals, which have become prevalent with the growth of Airbnb and other online home-sharing platforms, are creating significant security and liability concerns for associations.

One response by a San Diego homeowners association recently drew the attention of its local ABC affiliate, which chronicled how the community had retained a private investigator to gather and document incontrovertible proof that specific owners were conducting the restricted rentals.  The licensed private detective and his associates were hired by the HOA and other local associations to investigate homeowners and tenants who are violating association bylaws and CC&Rs that prohibit turning units into short-term vacation rentals.

sout-300x200While the hiring of private detectives may initially seem as an extreme measure for an association, it makes sense when one considers the risks and concerns that are brought on by these rentals for HOAs and condominiums.  Also, court actions may become necessary against some unit owners who flout the rules, and the evidence obtained by these investigators as well as their testimony can be very helpful in these proceedings.

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A recent newspaper report about squatters in condominium units illustrates the level of vigilance that associations and their property management must employ to prevent any unauthorized uses of their residences.

The article in January by the Citrus County Chronicle documented the case that took place at The Islands condominiums in Crystal River, Fla. (pictured below).  Work on the residences in the community became necessary due to extensive damage caused by Hurricane Hermine in September 2016, and it had been progressing well until several unit owners discovered workers were staying in the units without permission.

ilndscndo-1024x668It began when one of the owners noticed wet floors near the shower and other indicators that the construction workers were not just replacing cabinets or working on the carpets.  He and a neighbor later found workers sleeping overnight in the condo unit of another owner who did not know they were there, so they called the police. Continue reading

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