The recent report by Local 10 News (WPLG-ABC) in South Florida about a Hollywood, Fla. condominium association that is considering filing a lawsuit against the maker of the Pokémon Go game app came as no surprise to our firm’s community association attorneys. We are now starting to hear from many of our condominium and homeowners association clients about their distress regarding the nuisances and potential security and liability issues that are arising as a result of the game and its players.
The firm’s Michael L. Hyman wrote an article that appeared in today’s edition of the Daily Business Review, South Florida’s exclusive business daily and official court newspaper. The article, which was titled “Wrongful Death Suit Against Association Illustrates Perils of Negligent Security, Screening,” focuses on a lawsuit spurred by a double murder in the exclusive Yacht and Country Club of Stuart gated community. Michael’s article reads:
The suit was filed in Martin Circuit Court on behalf of the estate of a mother and son who were shot and killed in one of the residences inside the Yacht and Country Club of Stuart. Robert Gulick, who turned the gun on himself and committed suicide, had an extensive criminal record that included at least nine arrests for 19 different crimes, despite which he was allowed to become a resident in the gated community due to its alleged lapses in its security and screening procedures.
Gulick had been employed by his father’s company, Gulick Construction, which is also named as a defendant in the suit along with homeowner Judith Matthews, who retained the company to conduct renovations and repairs on her home while she was away. He apparently formed a relationship with the front gate security guards and some of the neighbors, as he was able to take up residence in Matthews’s home where the owner also kept her rifle and ammunition.
According to the complaint, Gulick was known by the association and its security guards to be residing at the Matthews home, as he was waved through the security gates, parked his vehicle directly outside of the residence and was consistently treated as a lawful tenant. He allegedly began dealing drugs from the property. On Nov. 9, 2014, he contacted the front gate security staff to instruct them to grant access to the mother-and-son victims.
Even though the community association’s rules and regulations prohibited Gulick from giving access to nonresidents, the guards waved the mother and son through, and shortly thereafter they were both shot and killed.
Firm partner Roberto C. Blanch was quoted by reporter Carla Vianna of the Daily Business Review, South Florida’s only business daily and official court newspaper, in an article that appeared in today’s edition about the issues facing community associations involving short-term rentals via Airbnb. The article reads:
Guests hoping to stay at a condo during the Miami Open tennis tournament found themselves stuck in a lobby with no access to the unit they rented on Airbnb, the online home-sharing service.
The family was denied keys to the property by the condominium’s management company.
. . . Miami-Dade County’s sunny beaches and high-rise condos make it a top destination for home-sharing networks like Airbnb and its users. The influx of visitors opting for alternatives to Miami’s pricey hotel rooms, like the family visiting for the Miami Open, is pushing demand for short-term rental options.
An estimated $2.4 billion was spent on lodging via Airbnb during the year ended in September 2015, commercial real estate firm CBRE Inc. reported. More than 55 percent was captured by five U.S. cities: New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami and Boston.
The rise of a sharing economy is creating a rift between condo owners looking to make extra cash and association boards whose members don’t want to share an elevator with strangers.
. . . “It has become a problem in a lot of condos,” said Roberto Blanch, a Miami attorney with Siegfried Rivera.
Associations at Mint and Ivy, two high-rise towers in downtown Miami’s Riverfront complex on the Miami River, are cracking down by restricting elevator and garage access to residents with a specific key fob or vehicle barcode, said Ari Tenzer, founder of the Tenzer law firm. Tenzer, who sits on his condo association board, said property managers are logging onto the Airbnb site themselves to catch violators.
Suspected violators receive written notice as a warning. They could also be called before a grievance committee.
A recent article in The Boston Globe chronicled the case of a condo owner who earned rave reviews as a host on the vacation rental website Airbnb. He went to great lengths to accommodate the needs and whims of his guests, but apparently his willingness to oblige did not extend to his condominium association and fellow neighbors.
Holidays are time for out of town visitors, lots of parties with family and friends, and the inevitable traffic that all of the festivities bring with them. Unfortunately, not all neighbors and communities welcome the season and all that it brings with open arms. Typical complaints that many boards deal with during the holiday season revolve around high traffic, high noise levels and violations of parking rules. However, by taking certain precautions ahead of time, residents can hopefully avoid being scrooged by their neighbors and having their holiday spirit deflated.
Last year I participated in a discussion with an Associated Press reporter and wrote about a central Florida community association’s apparent endorsement of George Zimmerman as its neighborhood watch captain and his involvement in a tragic incident that took the life of the 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. I addressed the possibility that the victim’s family may file a wrongful death civil suit against the association. Last month, news broke about the purported settlement reached between the parents of the victim and the association for an undisclosed amount reported by several news outlets to be in excess of $1 million.
Community associations are constantly striving to implement new, more effective and more convenient security systems for their owners. One new trend that is starting to replace the magnetic cards, key fobs and code-key number pads controlling resident access is biometrics. These biometrics systems are predominantly fingerprint recognition scanners. While there is a significant legal concern that comes with the use of these systems that community associations should be aware of, there are also contractual measures that may be used in order to address and mitigate these concerns.
In the wake of the tragic death of Trayvon Martin, associations throughout the country are now reassessing their involvement in neighborhood watch programs in their communities. My comments to a reporter with the Associated Press on the matter were published in a recent article that appeared in news outlets nationwide (click here to read the report), and it now appears likely that Martin’s parents will be filing a wrongful death lawsuit against the community association.