Hurricane Irma Approaches Florida

 I'm sure everyone reading this post is well aware that Florida is being threatened by a massive and powerful hurricane that has already caused numerous deaths and incredible destruction over the past few days.

I'm typing this on Thursday afternoon (September 7th) and Hurricane Irma remains a Category 5 system capable of causing additional catastrophic damage.  Winds are still in excess of 180 miles per hour and tropical storm force winds extend at least 150 miles from the center of the storm.

If you are reading this in Florida, you know that water, D batteries, bread and other supplies are very hard to find and lines at many gas stations are growing by the minute.  Courts and other state and county offices (if they have not already closed) will be closed tomorrow.  Sporting events have been rescheduled or canceled, schools are closing, and airports are chaotic (and many will be closing within the next twenty four to forty eight hours).

I've posted several times in the past about the importance of following mandatory evacuation orders and not using your community's clubhouse or other common area facility as a shelter to "ride out" the storm.  I cannot overly stress the importance to evacuating when you are ordered to do so and, unless your clubhouse/common area facility is a Red Cross certified hurricane shelter, you should not use it as such.  If you have pets, you should have long ago determined what shelters are "pet friendly" and should have taken all steps needed to reserve a space at that shelter.

If you are remaining in Florida, or in any other area threatened by this dangerous hurricane, please check out Bryan Norcross' Facebook page for a very good list to help you deal with the days ahead.  

As always, the National Hurricane Center's site can provide you with much needed information about the storm.

Our office will be closed tomorrow (September 8) and hopefully we will be back up and running on Monday, September 11.

I pray that all of you and your communities are spared the worst of Hurricane Irma.

A Change to the Financial Reporting Requirements

Lost in all of the controversy surrounding the recent amendments to Florida's laws governing community associations--and, in particular, the changes to condominium association laws enacted by House Bill 1237--were revisions to the financial reporting requirements for condominium and cooperative associations.

House Bill 6027 became effective on July 1 and amends provisions of Chapters 718 and 719 of the Florida Statutes.   House Bill 6027 is a "two edged sword":

  • On one hand, it removes the "fewer than 50 units" exception that allowed community associations to simply prepare a report of cash receipts and expenditures instead of either compiled, reviewed or audited financial statements regardless of the association's annual revenue.  House Bill 6027 also removes this exception from F.S. Section 720.303, which governs financial reporting for mandatory homeowners associations.
  • On the other hand, condominium and cooperative associations are no longer prohibited from waiving the statutorily provided financial reporting requirements for more than 3 consecutive years.   This prohibition against associations waiving these reporting requirements more than 3 years in a row was a fairly recent addition to Florida statutes.  House Bill 6027 effectively "turns back the clock" and allows associations to waive those financial reporting requirements on an annual basis for as long as the association's members see fit.

At least in regards to these financial reporting requirements, "what the legislature giveth, the legislature taketh away".

I hope all of you had a safe and restful 4th of July and that we'll have another uneventful hurricane season.

 

Estoppels, Estoppels, Estoppels!

Effective July 1, 2017, Florida's condominium, cooperative and mandatory homeowners' associations (and the management companies hired by those associations) will have some certainty and guidance when dealing with requests for estoppel certificates.

Florida Statute Sections 718.116, 719.108, and 720.30851 have all been amended.

Here are just a few highlights of those amendments:

As I said, these are just a few of the "highlights".

  • The estoppel certificate must now be issued within 10 business days after the association receives the request (rather than 15 days as previously provided)
  • Each of the amended statutes now specifically provides that the estoppel certificate contain certain information and each further provides that the information is to be "substantially" in a form provided in each of these statutes
  • A thirty or thirty-five day effective period (depending on how the estoppel certificate is sent to the requesting party) is provided for in each of these amended statutes
  • The association or its authorized agent (such as its management company) may charge a "reasonable fee" for the preparation and delivery of an estoppel certificate. Where there are no delinquent amounts owed on the date the certificate is issued, that fee cannot exceed $250. If the certificate is requested on an "expedited basis" and delivered within three business days after the request, an additional $100 may be charged, and, if a delinquent amount is owed to the association for the unit or parcel in question, an additional amount not to exceed $150 can be charged
  • There are provisions governing calculating the amounts that can be charged for estoppel certificates for multiple units or parcels owned by the owner

If you are interested in reading the full text of Senate Bill 398, you can link to it here.

Please feel free to contact me through this blog if you have any questions.

A Busy Off Season in the Fair Housing World

 In the past few months, while many of the residents in our communities have escaped Florida's heat and humidity, our friends at the U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development have been busy expanding the reach of Fair Housing protections.  

Here are a few of HUD's more notable recent actions on the Fair Housing front:

  • In April, HUD's Office of General Counsel published "guidance" making it more difficult for housing providers to justify denying a prospective owner or renter on the basis of that applicant's criminal record.
  • On September 14, HUD issued its final rule on "Quid Pro Quo and Hostile Environment Harassment"--apparently creating new liabilities for a housing provider in certain situations for allowing a "hostile environment" to exist in the community to the detriment of a person who falls within one of the Fair Housing Act's "protected classifications".
  • Just a few days after that final rule was issued, HUD apparently issued yet another decree--this time providing that persons who speak no or limited English are entitled to Fair Housing Act protections.

In other words, the rules of the Fair Housing game have changed over the summer.   We're digesting HUD's activities and plan on focusing our next community association seminars on the challenges of keeping ROC's compliant with Fair Housing laws.  In the meantime, board members and managers in resident owned communities would be well advised to consult with their legal counsel about any Fair Housing questions they may have.

 

 

Time for Board Certification!

 ROC board members can meet their board certification requirement by attending the 6th Annual Community Association Festival at the Venice Community Center on February 17, 2016.   Registration with a free continental breakfast starts at 8:30 a.m.  There will be several informative and entertaining speakers featured from 9 a.m. until 11:45 a.m.  We'll break for a free barbecue lunch at 11:45 and then separate after lunch (and prize drawings) into three groups for specific board certification training that will start at 1:30 p.m..  I'll be doing the training for board members of cooperative associations and two other community association attorneys will be training board members of condominium associations and mandatory homeowners associations.  

The entire event is free and even if you don't need to meet the certification requirement, the opportunities to learn from our speakers--including one of analysts with the Department of Business and Professional Regulation's Division of Florida Condominiums, Timeshares and Mobile Homes--and network with ROC members from the area should not be missed.  Who knows, you may even win one of the door prizes!

Here's the link to register for the event.  Seating is limited and RSVP's are thus needed by no later than February 12.

I hope to see you in your "Mardi Gras" attire at the Venice Community Center on February 17!

Welcome to a Busy 2016!

 ROC board members and managers have several opportunities to network and learn over the next few weeks:

  • I'll be speaking to our friends at EPROC (East Pasco Resident Owned Communities) at their monthly meeting at 9:00 a.m. on Friday, January 8 at the Emerald Pointe community in Zephyrhills.  
  • On Monday, January 11, I'll be presenting one of our community association seminars with another member of our firm,  Jonathan Whitney.  We'll be starting at 1:30 at Imperial Bonita Estates in Bonita Springs.   We'll be discussing recent changes to the laws affecting resident owned communities and the procedures involved in collecting unpaid maintenance fees.   
  • I'll be covering the same topics at another community association seminar at  Sunset Shores  in Frostproof on Wednesday, January 17, beginning at 10:00 a.m.  

Our community association seminars usually last 2 hours or so and include time for attendees to ask us general questions about other issues affecting ROCs.   There's no charge to attend these seminars, refreshments are served and you'll have a chance to meet and mingle with friends and neighbors from other communities.

If you are interested in attending either of these two community association seminars and have not already made your reservation, please RSVP to either Karen Midlam (kmidlam@lutzbobo.com) or Kathy Sawdo (ksawdo@lutzbobo.com) or call either of them at 941-951-1800.

We'll be participating in two separate certification courses for board members in resident owned cooperatives in February and I'll post more about those two events in the near future.

Until then, I hope 2016 brings us all health, happiness, and no hurricanes!

All Eyes on Erika

 Most Floridians know that our real "hurricane season" begins around the time that thoughts turn to football and our students returning to school.   This year is no different as we have been following the progress of Tropical Storm Erika.

Earlier today, Florida's governor declared a state of emergency.  While the path and intensity of Erika remains very uncertain, this is a very good opportunity for a few reminders:

  • Florida statutes grant certain emergency powers to the board of directors of condominium, cooperative, and mandatory homeowners associations in response to damage caused by an event for which a state of emergency is declared.  Managers and board members should review both the appropriate statute and the association's governing documents for guidance in the event that any emergency actions need to be taken.
  • Residents with pets should have already determined what shelters in their area will accept pets as many shelters will not do so.
  • Finally, as I have written before, if and when a mandatory evacuation order is entered for your locale, residents and their guests should leave the community.   Unless the community's clubhouse is a certified hurricane shelter, no one should be using the clubhouse to "ride out" the storm.

The National Hurricane Center is currently posting full updates on Erika every six hours and interim updates approximately three hours after a full update.  If and when Erika approaches Florida's coastline, these updates will probably occur more frequently.

Now is the time to make preparations and to be alert and aware.   Stay safe!

CAMs and the Unauthorized Practice of Law (2015 Version)

Several managers of resident owned communities have asked me to discuss the recent Florida Supreme Court opinion concerning certain activities performed by non-lawyer CAMs.   

The Court was asked whether these activities, if performed by a non-lawyer community association manager, would constitute the "unlicensed practice of law".   On May 14, 2015, the Court issued its decision, which confirmed an earlier advisory opinion (from 1996) and addressed 14 other activities using the 1996 advisory opinion as a guideline.

You'll note that I've included a link to the full text of the decision in the above paragraph for those who wish to read and review it.   

This decision applies to any non-lawyer, not just to community association managers.

In brief, activities that require the interpretation of statutes, administrative rules, community association governing documents or rules of civil procedure constitute the practice of law, as does the drafting of documents (even form documents) which require a legal description of the property or which determine or establish legal rights.

While the both the 1996 and 2015 decisions provide a good deal of clarification, there are still numerous activities that may or may not constitute the unlicensed practice of law.  When faced with those uncertain situations, ROC board members and managers should contact the association attorney.

I'm beginning to put together the schedule for our 2015-2016 ROC seminars--if you have topics you'd like us to cover, please forward them to me.

I hope you're enjoying your summer!
 

 

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.