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susanodess-srhl-thumb-200x267-94402The firm’s Susan C. Odess authored an article that appeared as the featured 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 “Court Opens Citizens Property Insurance to Claims for Consequential Damages,” focuses on a recent precedent-setting ruling with a certified question to the Florida Supreme Court by the state’s Fifth District Court of Appeal.  Her article reads:

. . . The appellate panel overturned the trial court’s decision and remanded the case back to the lower court for hearings on whether the claimant is entitled to consequential damages for lost rental income caused by the insurer’s delays and denials.

The case began with an insurance claim by Manor House with Citizens Property Insurance Corp., which accepted responsibility for the loss and paid $1.93 million. The property owner later reopened the claim seeking $10 million, and the insurer subsequently made additional payments for approximately $345,000. However, Citizens’ adjuster estimated the actual cash value and replacement cost value of the policyholder’s loss to be in the $5.5 to $6.5 million range.

dbr-logo-300x57The property owner eventually sued in 2007 seeking prompt payment of the allegedly undisputed amount of $6.4 million and asking the court to compel Citizens to engage in the appraisal procedures called for under the policy.

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Changes and shakeups on community association boards of directors are common in Florida, and since the legislature has imposed term limits for association directors, communities are likely to see an even greater level of transitions to new board members in the years to come.

While it is still common to see the same directors serve year after year on association boards – mainly due to lack of participation – this practice does not present an ideal scenario for change. In a perfect world, board transitions should take place incrementally over time, enabling new board members to get up to speed on all the matters that are currently pending before the association with the help and guidance of experienced incumbent directors.

meet-300x166Wholesale changes to replace entire boards with new directors are never the best approach, yet unfortunately such total transitions do occur from time to time. Whether it is a board recall after a questionable election or a total overhaul election following some tempestuous controversy implicating the prior board, the new norm is entirely new boards comprised of completely novice board members taking over control from one day to the next.

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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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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, can create a revolving door for guests with none of the prior screening and background checks that are typically performed for new residents and tenants.

As many associations have already realized, enforcing rules and restrictions against short-term rentals can be very challenging. Savvy unit owners have been known to sneak their transient guests into properties by advising security that their visit is authorized.

As such, enhanced vigilance and guest-screening measures have become necessary, and many associations have developed and implemented new registration forms for use with guests and tenants along with written assurances and noncompensation statements indicating they are not paying for their stays.

sout-300x200That may not go far enough for some associations with owners who are highly determined to rent their units. For some, it has become necessary to retain a private investigator to gather and document incontrovertible proof that restricted rentals are taking place. Licensed private detectives can effectively investigate homeowners and tenants in violation of association bylaws and CC&Rs that prohibit turning units into short-term vacation rentals. 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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ElizabethBowen-srhl-law-2-200x300Firm shareholder Elizabeth A. Bowen appeared recently as the featured guest on the popular and award winning Legal News & Reviews radio show, which is heard in Florida every Monday at 3:30 p.m. on 96.9 FM, 103.9 FM and 740 AM-WSBR.

Elizabeth discussed a number of community association issues with hosts Philip Bell, Gary Singer and Eric Yankwittis.  Her segment, which was titled “The Complexities of Condo and HOA Association Law,” focused on hurricane preparedness for associations, board member term limits and other timely association topics.

Our firm salutes Elizabeth for sharing her insights on a number of important topics for community association directors, members and property managers with the show’s listeners.  Click here to listen to the program.

susanodess-srhl-224x300An article authored by shareholder Susan C. Odess was 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 “Florida Legislature Passes Assignment of Benefits Insurance Claim Reform,” discusses the ramifications of the new state law to reform the insurance industry practice known as assignment of benefits, or AOB.  Her article reads:

. . . The AOB process, which has been in place for decades, has become controversial in recent years because of an increase in residential water-damage claims, primarily for broken water pipes and leaks. Property owners sign over their claim benefits to contractors, which are then able to pursue payments directly from the insurers.

The proponents of AOBs say they help to ensure claims are properly paid, but the legislators supporting the bill have said it is aimed at curbing abuses of the AOB process. Insurance carriers have contended for many years that AOB fraud and the excessive litigation it generates have led to higher property-insurance rates.

dbr-logo-300x57The new law limits attorney fees in AOB lawsuits filed by contractors against insurers. The legal fees will be calculated using a set formula, but the caps would not apply to lawsuits filed by policyholders.

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Jeffrey-Respler-high-res-200x300Shareholder Jeffrey S. Respler 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 “Association Construction Contracts Require Deft Negotiation by Legal Counsel,” focuses on the nuances of construction contracts that community associations execute with general contractors for major renovation and remodeling projects.  It reads:

. . . Construction contracts often represent some of the costliest expenses that condominium associations will ever approve, yet many associations fail to utilize the necessary legal resources and expertise to craft and execute the most effective terms and agreements. Instead, they focus merely on obtaining competitive bids, as most associations are required to do for projects exceeding 5% of their total annual budget (10% for HOAs), and often neglect to consult with highly qualified and experienced legal counsel to negotiate and finalize every aspect of their agreement with a general contractor.

Without a lawyer involved, a poorly negotiated and written construction contract can have serious consequences. Having a qualified and experienced attorney draft or review an association’s contract can help avoid risks and expensive disputes. Dealing with the aftereffects of a poorly negotiated or poorly written contract can be far more expensive than paying a lawyer to do it correctly in the first place. An experienced attorney can draft and negotiate a contract that will protect an association’s interests and be legally sound.

dbr-logo-300x57Attorneys write contracts in ways that favor their clients. Attorneys with experience in the construction industry will know the customary contract terms, and they will draft a contract in their client’s favor. If the contractor is drafting the contract, its lawyer will be doing exactly that.

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Those who reside in communities with associations should view board membership in the same vein as a civic duty. An effective board is essential for the financial and administrative wellbeing of associations, so all eligible unit owners should consider running for the board of directors as their contribution back to their community.

In no way are the responsibilities of serving as a director too complex and demanding for the capabilities and skillsets of most association unit owners. What it requires is their time and dedication, but not to the point where it becomes too daunting for the average owner.

To be a successful board member, it is essential to make effective use of the professional and educational resources that are available. This begins with relying on highly qualified and experienced professionals such as attorneys, property managers, accountants, insurance brokers, etc.

RBlanch-seminar-1-17-11-photo-1-300x225At the start of one’s board service, Florida law requires that new board members become certified within 90 days of taking office. The best way to do so is by attending an educational course that has been certified by the Florida Department of Business & Professional Regulation, such as the board member certification seminars offered by our firm on a regular basis. These seminars enable board members to gain a keen understanding for everything that the position entails. They cover all the basics of community association governance and the laws which are involved, and they also touch on some of the most common problem areas that boards regularly encounter.

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All too often, the other community association attorneys at our firm and I are asked for help on how to prevent unruly behavior from disrupting board and owner meetings. Since items addressed at these meetings generally have a significant impact on the welfare of an association and the financial responsibilities of its owners, conversations dealing with topics such as special assessments and annual elections can quickly become contentious. The following are helpful tips on how to try to keep your meetings on track and in order:

  1. Use Robert’s Rule of Order – This common form of parliamentary procedure for meeting protocol allows meeting facilitators to manage time effectively, all while ensuring that everyone stays on topic. Many people are already familiar with this method, making it easy for participants to follow and respect the meeting procedures that are in place.

meet-300x1662. Be specific about who can attend – The association should establish rules determining who can participate in advance of the meeting. Generally, owners, or owners and residents are the only people allowed to participate in such meetings. Counsel for an owner is likewise permitted to attend.

3. Make the purpose of the meeting clear – Prepare an agenda that outlines the specific items that will be discussed. Be sure to be transparent about the topics, providing participants with any supplemental documents they may need to make educated decisions.

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