Are You Ready for E-voting?

 Effective July 1, 2015, voting and the conduct of elections in resident owned communities in Florida may be done electronically.  There are numerous conditions that must be met before a unit owner can vote electronically--not the least of which is that the unit or parcel owner must consent to that electronic voting.

Earlier this year, Florida's legislators created three new statutes to provide for the use of an "Internet based online voting system":

  • Florida Statute Section 718.128 for condominium associations
  • Florida Statute Section 719.129 for cooperative associations 
  • Florida Statute Section 720.317 for mandatory homeowners' associations

In addition, existing statutes were revised to allow electronic transmission of notices of most board meetings, membership meetings, and committee meetings even if the association's bylaws don't expressly allow for electronic transmission of these notices.

Moreover, Chapter 617 of the Florida Statutes, which governs not-for-profit corporations, was amended to provide that a copy, facsimile transmission, or other "reliable reproduction" of an original proxy can be used instead of the original proxy as long as that copy, fax, or reproduction is a "complete reproduction" of the original proxy--even if the association's bylaws or articles of incorporation prohibit its use.

As you can imagine, there are more questions than answers raised by these new laws allowing for "online voting".   I have a feeling that community association attorneys (as well as managers and board members) are going to have a very interesting "election season".

Flags, Ducks and Purchase Offers

I wanted to share two recent news stories and discuss a question raised in an email sent to my blog over the weekend.

It's always nice to read good things about the members of our ROC family and the efforts of some of the residents at Country Club Estates in Venice to encourage the display of the "stars and stripes" in that community are detailed in last Saturday's Herald Tribune article, which was certainly a very timely recognition of Flag Day.

Several years ago, I posted an entry in my blog about the problems in ROC's  caused by wild animals, including Muscovy Ducks.  As you can see from this Tampa Bay Times report, that issue has clearly not been resolved.

Finally, I received an email from  members of a resident owned manufactured housing cooperative located in west central Florida.  A third party investor had made an offer to purchase this community and the residents were very concerned that their "slice of paradise" would be sold to this investor (or some other prospective purchaser) without the unit owners' approval.  

Over the years, we've helped residents throughout the state purchase and convert mobile home parks to resident owned manufactured housing cooperatives.  Our firm also assists private investors selling or buying manufactured housing or RV communities and we have occasionally helped investors purchase resident-owned cooperatives and return those communities to rental mobile home park status.

When a resident owned community receives an offer from a private investor, the members of the ROC should remember that the provisions of the documents that govern that community--such as the association's bylaws and the master form proprietary lease or occupancy agreement--and certain provisions of both Chapters 719 and 723 of the Florida Statutes--will control what's required in order for any such purchase to occur.  In most cases, a substantial majority of the members will have to approve any such sale at a properly noticed meeting of the unit owners.

When an offer to purchase is received by a ROC board and the board wishes to explore that offer, the board should consult with the association's attorney through every step of the process.

 

Florida Tightens Up its Service Animal Laws

A much needed update to Florida's laws governing service animals was signed into law yesterday (June 11, 2015).

Here's the link to the full text of House Bill 71 that shows the numerous revisions to Florida Statute Section 413.08.

It appears that Florida's lawmakers are taking some positive steps to combat what I've referred to as the "service dog scam":

  • The definition of "service animal" in F.S. 413(2)(d) is revised and now more in line with the definition found in the Americans with Disabilities Act.  In particular, a "service animal" in Florida is now limited to a dog or a miniature horse, and a "service animal" must perform a specific task--merely serving as a "crime-deterrent" or providing emotional support, well-being, comfort and support is not sufficient for a dog or miniature horse to qualify as a "service animal".
  • The service animal must be under control of its handler and in most cases must have a harness, leash, or other tether.
  • Newly created F.S. 413.08(9) provides that a person "who knowingly and willfully misrepresents herself or himself, through conduct or verbal or written notice, as using a service animal and being qualified to use a service animal or as a trainer of a service animal commits a misdemeanor of the second degree" and must perform thirty hours of community service for an organization that serves individuals with disabilities, or for another entity or organization chosen by the sentencing court.  The offender has six months to complete that community service.

ROC board members and managers should note that there is a new provision--F.S. Section 413.08(6)(c) that specifies that the rights and responsibilities of housing providers and individuals with disabilities in regards to "assistance animals" are not limited by the provisions of the laws regarding "service animals".

These revisions to Florida Statute Section 413.08 take effect on July 1, 2015 and represent a small but important first step in dealing with the "service dog scam".

I'll look forward to your comments and questions about these changes.
 

 

Florida's Legislators Update ROC Fining Committees

 Florida's lawmakers "tweaked" the provisions relating to ROC "fining committees" during the recent legislative session in Tallahassee.  In summary, condominium associations, cooperative associations, and mandatory homeowners' associations now follow a similar process:

  • The revisions now clarify that it is the "board of administration" (which most ROC's refer to as the Board of Directors) that imposes the fine or suspension
  • However, the fine or suspension levied by the Board may not be imposed unless the Board first provides at least 14 days' written notice and an opportunity for a hearing to the unit or parcel owner (and, if applicable, the occupant, licensee or invitee of the unit or parcel)
  • This hearing must be held before a "fining committee"  of unit owners (or association members in mandatory HOA's).  The legislative revisions to the cooperative laws added a provision that prohibits board members and persons residing in the home of a board member from serving on this fining committee.  This restriction has existed for "fining committees" in condominium associations for a number of years.  The restrictions on persons who can comprise the fining committee in a mandatory homeowners' association are somewhat more expansive.
  • Finally, there is a new statement in the provisions governing fining committees in all three types of associations that the role of the fining committee "is limited to determining whether to confirm or reject the fine or suspension levied by the board".

I'm posting a link to HB 791 for those of my blog followers who wish to review these changes and well as others that I will be discussing in future entries.  

All of these revisions become effective in just a few weeks--on July 1, 2015.

I hope all of you are enjoying the "off season" whether you are up North or remaining in the Sunshine State for the summer.

 

 

Resolution for 2015

 Welcome to 2015 and my best wishes to all of my blog's followers for a very happy and healthy new year.

2014 was an extremely busy year and I was unable to post entries here as often as in previous years.  I'm hereby resolving to do better in 2015. 

We'll start 2015 with a reminder that all community associations are not created alike.  A board member in one of the cooperatives we work with asked me last week whether a husband and wife (who together own only one unit in the community) could both run for the board of directors.   Chapter 718 of the Florida Statutes, which governs condominium associations, prohibits co-owners of a unit from serving on the board of directors at the same time unless:

  • the condominium association has less than ten units,
  • the condominium association includes timeshare units or timeshare interests, or
  • there are not enough eligible candidates to fill the vacancies on the board at the time of the vacancy

Those provisions in Chapter 718 are not found in either Chapter 719 or Chapter 720, which governs mandatory homeowners associations.  This means that, in a cooperative association or mandatory homeowners association, if there are five named owners of the unit or parcel, assuming that each of those five named owners would otherwise be eligible to serve on the board, all five of them could run and all five could serve if they were elected--even if they only owned that one unit or parcel in the community.

This is just one example of why community association board members, managers (and their attorneys) cannot simply assume that "one size fits all".  At least for the time being. when it comes to condominiums, cooperatives, and subdivisions in Florida, nothing could be further from the truth!

I'm looking forward to speaking at the EPROC meeting this Friday at Emerald Pointe in Zephyrhills and hope to see many of our East Pasco County friends at this event!

 

Cooperative and HOA Boards Will Soon Have Emergency Powers

Florida's Governor has signed into law Senate Bill 807 which contains very important changes to the laws governing resident owned communities. I'll discuss many of those in future entries to this blog but since we're now into hurricane season, I thought I'd first highlight the creation of Florida Statute Sections 719.128 and 720.316, both of which are entitled "Association emergency powers".

These new sections allow the boards of directors in cooperative associations and mandatory homeowners associations to exercise certain powers and take certain actions in response to damage caused by an event for which a "state of emergency"is declared under Florida law in the area where the community is located, unless specifically prohibited by the association's governing documents.

These powers and actions include the following:

  • Conducting, canceling, or rescheduling board or membership meetings after notice of the meetings and board decisions is provided in "as practicable a manner as possible," which may be by numerous methods, including "any other means the board deems appropriate under the circumstances."
  • Designating assistant officers who are not directors
  • Relocating the association's principal office or designating an alternative principal office
  • Entering into agreements with counties or municipalities to assist with debris removal
  • Implementing a disaster plan which may include turning on or shutting off electricity, water, sewer, or security systems and air conditioners for association buildings

There are other important emergency powers that I'll discuss in my next entry.

I want to close with a few additional points:

  • These new sections extend to boards of directors in cooperatives and mandatory homeowners associations similar powers that were granted to condominium association boards several years ago.
  • The powers must be exercised so as to be consistent with Florida Statute 617.0830.
  • Included in the emergency powers for the board of directors of a cooperative association is the power to require the evacuation of the cooperative property in the event of a mandatory evacuation order in the area where the community is located. If a unit owner or other occupant of a cooperative fails to evacuate the cooperative property after the board has required that evacuation, the association is immune from liability for injury to persons or property arising from such failure. In other words, a unit owner or occupant remains in the home at his or her own risk--not the cooperative association's.  

These two new statutes become effective July 1, 2014 and I'll discuss some additional powers and limitations in my next blog entry.

Retrofitting and Mobile Home ROC's

 Now that Memorial Day is behind us, and many of our "snowbirds" have returned to their northern homes, my blog followers who are managers or board members in resident owned manufactured housing cooperatives can turn their attention to subsections (5) and (6) Florida Statute Section 719.1055.

When I last checked, none of the manufactured housing communities in our state qualify as "high-rise" buildings and. other than certain common area amenities (such as the clubhouse), it would appear that the provisions of these two subsections, which require the members of a cooperative to "opt out" of retrofitting requirements for fire sprinkler systems and handrail and guardrails, simply are not relevant to manufactured housing communities.

Nonetheless, the requirements of these two subsections do seem to apply to all residential cooperatives, including manufactured housing cooperatives.

I'd thus suggest that managers and board members in manufactured housing communities governed by Florida's laws governing cooperatives take the steps needed to allow their members to waive these retrofitting requirements.  

Please note that, while the vote to forego fire sprinkler retrofitting can be obtained by limited proxy or by ballot personally cast at a membership meeting,  neither limited nor general proxies can be used for a vote to waive the retrofitting requirements for handrails and guardrails--that vote must be obtained at a duly called membership meeting or by the member signing a written consent. 

There are additional requirements in these two subsections, including reporting to the Division of Florida Condominiums, Timeshares, and Mobile Homes.  From what I've read so far, none of the bills passed in Tallahassee during the recent legislative session eliminate these provisions.

This summer might be a very good time for managers and board members in our manufactured housing cooperatives to work on giving the unit owners in their communities the opportunity to vote by the end of this year or in early 2015  to forego both of these retrofitting requirements.  

Let's all have a safe and restful summer--one with no hurricanes or tropical storms on the horizon! 

4th Annual CA Festival This Month in Venice

There's a great opportunity for managers and board members of resident owned communities scheduled for Wednesday, April 16, at the Venice Community Center.   It's the 4th Annual Community Association Festival, complete with free breakfast and lunch, prizes, food, steel drums, lots of Hawaiian shirts (wear one if you're attending) and informative and interesting presentations from experts on topics like banking, insurance, plumbing problems, and engineering issues.

We'll also be breaking into three separate groups (one each for board members and managers in condominiums, cooperatives, and deeded subdivisions) for legal updates specifically geared for each group.  I'm pleased to once again be presenting the legal update for the cooperative association board members and managers.

Again, this is a free event.   Registration starts at 8:30, the presentations will run until 12:30 or so, and a free barbecue lunch will follow. 

If you want to attend, all you need to do is email Deanna Mixon at DeannaM@SPTPlumbing.com.

Free food, prizes, steel drums, and information:  sounds like a great way to spend the first part of the day!

If you are a newly elected or appointed board member in a cooperative and are looking to fulfill the educational requirement for board certification (or if you just want to become better informed about the laws governing cooperative associations) , I'll be presenting my Cooperative Board Member Certification course on Tuesday, April 8, 2014, at Molokai, which is at 1 Hawaiian Way in Leesburg. Registration starts at 9:15 a.m. and the course begins at 10 a.m. and should conclude by no later than 1 p.m.  Please rsvp by email to Frank@mid-fl-roc.com if you wish to attend.

I hope to see many of you later this month at Molokai or at the Venice Community Center!

CA Day, Community Matters, and Board Training

I'm posting a link for tomorrow's Community Association Day scheduled at the Bradenton Area Convention Center.   CA Day is always a very well attended event with tremendous opportunities for ROC Board Members to learn, network, and have fun.   Admission is free but if you have a chance to rsvp for the event please do so.   We anticipate a record-breaking turnout this year.

I'll also be taping this Saturday's edition of  "Community Matters" at CA Day after participating in the attorneys' panel discussion and look forward to a very busy morning tomorrow.

My first three certification training presentations for board members in cooperative associations have been completed and I am very pleased with the attendance and the questions and comments I've received.   I have co-op board member certification training courses scheduled for March 26 at Imperial Bonita Estates in Bonita Springs and April 8 at Molokai in Leesburg.

I hope to see many of our ROC friends at CA Day tomorrow, later this month at Imperial Bonita Estates, or in April at Molokai.

Enjoy this first day of Spring!

One More Date for Co-op Board Member Training

Our first certification training course for board members of resident owned cooperative associations was a great success with over 80 attendees earlier this week at Westwinds Village in Bradenton.  Thanks to everyone that attended and to Westwinds for its great hospitality.

We've added one more date to those we've already scheduled:

  • Wednesday, March 26th at Imperial Bonita Estates in Bonita Springs.   We'll start at 10 a.m. and should end by no later than 1:00 p.m.   There's no charge and light refreshments will be served.

Please keep in mind that my board certification course has only been approved for board members in cooperative associations but all board members and candidates board positions are invited to attend.

Please email Karen Midlam (kmidlam@lutzbobo.com) or Kathy Sawdo (ksawdo@lutzbobo.com) to rsvp for this or any of the other training courses I am offering during the next few months.

All of my blog readers will find this week's episode of "Community Matters" very interesting and entertaining.  My guest will be a wildlife trapper and we'll be spending the hour talking about feral cats, hogs, coyotes, bears, bobcats, and other uninvited visitors to our resident owned communities.  "Community Matters" can be heard Saturday morning at 11 on WSRQ Radio (1220 AM and 106.9 FM in Sarasota and Manatee Counties) or online at sarasotatalkradio.com.  You can also listen to our podcasts that are usually posted on the Monday after the show.

Have a great weekend and hope you enjoy the weather!