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With the Covid-19 vaccines now rolling out across the country, there is hope that in the coming months gatherings of individuals who have been inoculated could safely take place. In the meantime, many community associations are continuing to conduct virtual meetings with attendees participating online or via telephone conference.

However, various provisions of the laws governing Florida condominium and homeowner associations raise questions regarding whether such virtual meetings are being conducted in a manner that is in full compliance. For instance, applicable condominium laws stipulate that annual meetings of the unit owners for board member elections must be held at the location provided in an association’s governing documents or, if none is specified, within 45 miles of the condominium property. This leads to the question of whether purely virtual annual meetings comply with the law.

The unprecedented circumstances arising during the pandemic has therefore caused many community association managers and board members to become creative – seeking to achieve continuity of association business vis-a-vis director and member meetings while also seeking to balance the protections recommended by healthcare providers and health authorities. One example is that some associations, in an effort to ensure that a condominium’s virtual annual meeting complies with the law, have made arrangements for the board of directors’ meeting to convene physically on association property while allowing members to attend via Zoom or other platforms.

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GaryMars-200x300An article authored by the firm’s Gary M. Mars was featured as the “Board of Contributors” expert 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 “Questions Revealed by Ruling Over W Hotel Amenities Require Legislative Fix,” focuses on a recent ruling by the state’s Third District Court of Appeal that calls into question the legal framework for many Florida condo-hotels.  The appellate panel ruled in favor of an Icon Brickell condominium owner’s claim that the property’s declaration broke state law by giving ownership and control of shared facilities to the owner of the W Miami Hotel.  Gary writes that the decision signals the need for Florida’s lawmakers to consider legislative amendments to the state’s condominium laws specifically addressing the authority over common elements at condo-hotel properties.  His article reads:

. . . The 50-story Icon Brickell Tower 3 includes the 148-room W Miami, formerly the Viceroy Hotel, in addition to 372 condominium residences. New Media Consulting LLC, the owner of one of the units in the building, filed suit in Miami-Dade Circuit Court in 2018 against the building’s condo association alleging the property’s declaration of condominium gave the owner of the W Miami Hotel too much authority in violation of the Florida Condominium Act.

dbr-logo-300x57The plaintiff prevailed in the trial court via a summary judgment, which concurred that parts of the property’s declaration broke state law by giving ownership and control of the shared facilities to the hotel owner. The ruling essentially ordered the association to amend its declaration in accordance with state law, notwithstanding the fact that changing condominiums’ governing documents typically requires prior approval by a daunting super majority (usually 2/3 or more) of associations’ entire voting membership.

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One of the most important tasks for community association board members is the oversight of maintenance, cleaning, security, valet parking, construction/painting, landscaping and other vendor services. These essential services require the use of written contracts that should include vital protections for associations, which would be well advised to turn to highly experienced community association attorneys to help ensure such contracts include all of the appropriate stipulations.

One of the primary considerations for most of these contracts is insurance. Vendors must maintain proper and adequate insurance to protect associations, their staff and their residents from any potential legal and financial liabilities that may arise from the execution of the services being performed under the contract. At a minimum, vendors’ insurance should include worker’s compensation coverage for employees who may by injured while on association property as well as general liability coverage.

The association should also insist that it be named as an additional insured and certificate holder, which would require that it be notified of any changes in the contractor’s insurance.

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Consumer’s preferences for online shopping have grown to new records this year during the pandemic, and shipping and delivery volumes are also accordingly at all-time highs. Given the constant flow of deliveries to condominium communities and HOAs, many associations have chosen to change the way deliveries are handled to prevent the possibility of their leading any potential Covid-19 contagion.

A recent article on this topic in the HOA Resources magazine of the Community Associations Institute reports that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends contactless deliveries, meaning limited or no contact with package recipients or potentially contaminated surfaces such as doors and pens.

CAI-logo“To increase resident safety, some condominiums’ coronavirus protocols include spraying packages with disinfectant before bringing them inside. Small packages are being slipped to recipients through a plexiglass window, while some condo buildings are prohibiting the delivery of large pieces of furniture, like mattresses, that would require the help of a third-party service or the building staff,” the article reads.

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Recent TV news reports of wild hogs invading several Florida communities in Manatee County reveal a serious problem that requires a considered and measured response.

The reports, which aired in recent newscasts in the Tampa Bay area by WFLA and WTSP, chronicle daily sightings and incidents of packs of wild pigs at the River Club community and surrounding neighborhoods (see photo from homeowner below).

Community resident Phil Pape says that in October and November the problem became seriously out of control. He and several of his neighbors tell the stations’ reporters that the wild pigs are wreaking tens of thousands of dollars in damage to their properties. The hogs tear up lawns and landscaping in search of food underneath the turf, replacing pristine lawns with a muddy mess.

“My neighbor next door, three-quarters of her property is all torn up,” states Pape, who notes that the hogs had been eating acorns in another neighbor’s property and he’s seen packs of as many as 30.

hogs1-300x200Homeowner Bob Lapp notes that he and other homeowners have been racking up damages around their homes, but they don’t want to fix everything until they know it won’t happen again. “The hard part is the fact that you could spend $1,000 today and wake up tomorrow morning and it would be all over again,” agrees Pape.

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Michael-Hyman-srhl-lawAn article authored by the firm’s Michael L. Hyman was featured as the “Board of Contributors” expert 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 “Injunction Petition Against Ornery Condo Resident Sends Important Message,” focuses on a recent petition for an injunction stemming from pre-pandemic confrontations between a current and a former community association board member.  Michael writes that the case illustrates how associations and their directors should proactively address bellicose residents.  His article reads:

. . . The initial incident that led to the petition for the injunction, which was granted by the circuit court but eventually overturned on appeal, took place at a Broward County condominium in December 2018. That was when Patrick Gagnon, a member of the community’s board of directors, was accosted by prior board member Joseph Cash. A second incident later in the same month involved Cash allegedly yelling at Gagnon, calling him a liar and cursing at him.

dbr-logo-300x57Two months later in February 2019, Gagnon alleged that Cash confronted him two times, 45 minutes apart, yelling and cursing about new trees installed by the association that blocked the view from his condominium.

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As new spikes in Covid-19 cases continue to unfold and communities seek to maintain their mitigation measures, the financial trials and tribulations created by the pandemic in condominium association and HOA communities throughout the country become ever more apparent. The continued proliferation of Covid-19 cases underscores that while many may be letting their guard down and growing fatigued as to the measures to protect against the spread of the virus, community association stakeholders should remain proactive and forward-thinking in order to best position their associations for the consequences that may arise due to the pandemic.

Some community associations have begun to experience the burdens resulting from lower collections rates caused by strains on the job market due to the pandemic.  While the exact impact on the many types of community associations may be unknown, it has been suggested that delinquency rates could exponentially increase. Bank-owned-2-300x257 In response to such expectations, we continue to suggest that community association boards and managers should continue considering the development of acceptable uniform payment plans that may be offered to those who have lost jobs and businesses.

Similarly, some have proposed that community associations should also think about postponing discretionary improvements to community amenities until late 2021 or even 2022.

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Jeffrey-Berlowitz-Siegfried-law-firm-200x300An article by firm shareholder Jeffrey S. Berlowitz was featured as the expert guest commentary column in the Business Monday section of today’s Miami Herald.  The article, which is titled “Community Associations Must Cope with a Coming Wave of Unit-Owner Bankruptcies,” focuses on how associations must be prepared to contend with an expected spike in bankruptcy filings by those who lost their jobs and businesses due to the pandemic.  His article reads:

. . . Even with the massive COVID-19 economic fallout, bankruptcy filings in 2020 so far trail those from last year, thanks in large part to the federal stimulus package and state moratoriums on foreclosures and evictions. The additional $600 per week in supplemental unemployment assistance, on top of the national average state unemployment benefit of $340/week ($275 per week maximum for up to 12 weeks in Florida), meant that many individuals who lost their jobs were suddenly receiving more money than when they were working.

MHerald2015-300x72This supplemental federal benefit expired in July and was replaced by an allocation from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for $300 or $400 per week, depending on states’ participation and contributions, which was paid retroactively from August 1 for up to six weeks. With no more federal aid apparently forthcoming, economists predict consumer bankruptcy filings are bound to rise.

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Nicole-Kurtz-2014-200x300An article authored by the firm’s Nicole R. Kurtz is featured as the “Board of Contributors” expert 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 “Recent Arrests for Community Association Theft Illustrate Laws Working, Associations Must Do Their Part,” focuses on several recent incidents of embezzlement at Florida community associations, and it discusses the impact of the 2017 changes to the Florida laws to add teeth to condominium fraud and enforcement measures.  Her article reads:

. . . In Kissimmee, Florida, the second arrest of a former HOA property manager was covered as part of a series of investigative reports by WFTV (Channel 9, ABC). The reports chronicle how Sherry Raposo, who had previously been arrested on charges related to having her ex-cop-turned-felon boyfriend patrol the Turnberry Reserve community and using the HOA’s funds to bail him out of jail in North Carolina, was arrested yet again on new charges of fraud involving the accounts she oversaw while serving as a property manager for the community. The station also uncovered similar allegations of embezzlement against her from a different community in Seminole County, leading to the possibility of another investigation into Raposo and thousands of dollars that were moved from that HOA’s bank account.

dbr-logo-300x57Theft by a former property manager at the tony Parkshore Plaza condominium tower in downtown St. Petersburg also made headlines recently in the pages of the Tampa Bay Times daily newspaper. The report indicated that Abby Elliott was found guilty and had been sentenced to two years in prison for using the condo association’s funds to pay for vacations, airfares, salon treatments and other personal expenses.

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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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