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.

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!

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.

It's Time to Purchase Flood Insurance

Earlier this week, Florida's Insurance Commissioner encouraged homeowners in our state to purchase flood insurance prior to May 1 in preparation for the upcoming hurricane season, which, as you may have read, has been predicted to be very active.

Purchasing or renewing a flood insurance policy prior to May 1 will also allow homeowners to avoid a significant  rate increase scheduled for October 1 of this year.

The Insurance Commissioner noted that Florida homeowners can purchase flood insurance from the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) for up to $250,000 for property damage and $100,000 for personal contents and that excess coverage can be purchased for homes valued at more than $250,000.

Many of our neighbors still don't understand that their homeowners' insurance policies do not cover damage caused by flooding.  Since flood insurance is readily available to all homeowners and is definitely affordable, the failure to have this coverage is inexcusable.

It would be a shame to incur substantial expenses as a result of damage that would have been covered by this easily obtainable insurance.

Let's hope none of us need flood insurance during the 2013 storm season--but it's always better to be safe rather than sorry!

February's ROC Seminar and the Community Association Festival

The first month of 2013 has been very busy and February promises more of the same:

As mentioned in one of my recent blog entries, we'll be presenting a seminar for board members of community associations on Friday morning, February 8th at Oakwood Manor in Sarasota.  If you're interested in attending and haven't already reserved your seat, please contact either Karen Midlam at kmidlam@lutzbobo.com or Kathy Sawdo at ksawdo@lutzbobo.com.

If you are a director or manager of a resident owned community in west central or southwest Florida, you will not want to miss the the 3rd Annual Community Association Festival.  This year's event is scheduled for Wednesday, February 20th, at the Venice Community Center.     Registration starts at 8:30 in the morning, with the presentations to begin at 9 a.m.   Continental Breakfast and a great barbecue lunch will be provided free of charge before the program ends at 1:30 p.m.  Everyone is encouraged to wear "wacky tacky" Hawaiian attire.  You'll have the opportunity to learn about insurance issues, get the perspective from the lender's side of the table, gain some insight about reserve studies, and spend some time with an attorney who will focus on topics that affect the particular type of community in which you reside, whether that's a condominium, cooperative, or subdivision. 

Again, there's no admission fee for this fun and informative event--and it's a great opportunity for managers and board members to network with their peers from neighboring communities.

If you're interested in attending the Festival, please call 941-809-2031 or email deanna@sleuthpt.com to register.

On a more sobering note, I've been following the stories about the residents of Paradise Park, a manufactured housing community in New Jersey that was devastated by Hurricane Sandy.   Let's keep the displaced residents of Paradise Park and all of the others affected by that storm in our thoughts as we thank our lucky stars for escaping the 2012 hurricane system with little or no damage.

I hope to see you in February!

A New ROC and Interesting Thoughts About Super Storm Sandy

Marty Pozgay, the President of Florida Community Services Group, recently emailed me with the exciting news that his company has helped another manufactured housing community join the ROC family.

On October 15, the residents of Orange Harbor in Fort Myers purchased their park.   Orange Harbor has 364 mobile home sites and 130 recreational vehicle sites and is located on the Intracoastal Waterway and the Orange River.  The purchase price was $36 million and the blanket mortgage financing was provided by Bank of America.

The unit owners' cooperative association that purchased the park is Orange Harbor Co-op, Inc. and the association's President is Sidney Toll.

Congratulations to the residents of Orange Harbor and welcome to the world of resident owned communities!

I just finished reading a blog entry by Bryan Norcross, who some of you may remember from his incredible reporting in Miami during Hurricane Andrew.   He's now one of the tropical weather experts with the Weather Channel and I hope you'll find this entry from his blog at The Weather Underground as entertaining and educational as I did--and that you'll pay close attention to his thoughts on hurricanes and insurance companies.

I'll be speaking at the Mid-Florida ROC meeting at Country Club Manor in Eustis on November 27 and then we'll get into our community association seminar schedule.  I promise to post information on our first set of seminars in the next week or so.  Please let me know if you have any topics you'd like us to cover during our seminar season.

Thanks and I'll look forward to seeing you during the next few months.

 

All Eyes on Isaac!

As all Floridians know, our hurricane season doesn't really get under way until August and we're currently watching a very large system--Tropical Storm Isaac--slowly develop.  

At this point, it's anyone's guess whether and to what extent our communities will be impacted by this system.

ROC managers (and board members that remain in Florida during the "off season") should be familiar with the drill but nonetheless, here are a few reminders:

  • Pay attention to broadcast media and in particular the updates issued by the National Hurricane Center.   During these situations, rumors run rampant--particularly on the internet--but the NHC's website is an invaluable asset when the tropics begin to churn.
  • As I have preached in past years, unless the clubhouse in your community is a Red Cross certified shelter, your residents should not be congregating in that clubhouse when threatened by a hurricane.  Do not allow your residents to use the clubhouse to as a shelter or have a "hurricane party" when tropical systems threaten.
  • A mandatory evacuation order means just that--and if you are in a community in which a mandatory evacuation order has been issued, your refusal to evacuate is a violation of Florida law.   Residents that choose to remain in their communities after being ordered to evacuate do so at their own peril--and they should realize that if they require assistance during or after the storm, emergency personnel may not be able to assist them.
  •  Now is the time for residents with pets to locate "pet friendly" shelters.  Don't wait until the evacuation order is issued.
  • Make sure that any item on your property that could become a "missile" during a storm is brought inside.
  • Please let a relative or friend know where you are "riding out the storm" and let that friend or relative know how to contact the authorities if he or she is unable to locate you once the storm passes.
  • Be extremely careful when returning to your home after the storm.  Many injuries and deaths occur as a result of post-storm accidents.

One of the recent issues of the Florida Community Association Journal has some very good articles on preparing for and dealing with hurricanes and you can find other useful information at a number of other sites, such as the one for the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Hopefully, Isaac will be more "bark" than "bite" and the rest of our hurricane season will be safe and uneventful.   Better to be prepared for the storm that doesn't come our way than to be unprepared for the one that does!

Update on Debby for Florida ROCs

As a follow up to last night's blog entry about Tropical Storm Debby,  Governor Scott has declared a state of emergency for Florida .

Again, managers, board members and residents of ROCs should follow any and all directives issued  by state or local authorities, including mandatory evacuation orders.

The National Hurricane Center's most recent advisory has the storm almost stationary in the Gulf of Mexico for the next few days with landfall not occurring until Friday or Saturday.

Warnings for severe thunderstorms and tornadoes have been issued by the National Weather Service throughout the day and it is anticipated that additional warnings will be forthcoming.

 

Reminders for ROCs from Tropical Storm Debby

I've spent most of the past two days following The Weather Channel and watching the water level in the retention pond behind our home continue to rise with each passing hour.  

While full-time Floridians like to joke that hurricane season doesn't start in our neck of the woods until late July or August, Tropical Storm Debby has made it clear that there's an exception to every "rule."

If you've been following Debby, you know that this storm has confounded both weather experts and computer models.  As of this Sunday evening, Debby's center was located in the Gulf of Mexico about 270 miles from Sarasota.  Debby appears to be stationary at this hour and, although it's "only" a tropical storm with sustained winds of 60 miles per hour, Debby's caused at least one death (in Lake Placid in Highlands County) and substantial damage throughout the state.

Tropical Storm Debby highlights some very important reminders for ROC managers, board members, and homeowners:

  •   It's imperative that we not let our guard down.   Last night at this time, the National Hurricane Center's official storm track had Debby headed west toward Texas.   Predicting both track and intensity of tropical storm systems is extremely difficult and complex and conditions (and a storm's path and intensity) can change drastically in a few hours.   There are numerous sites, including the National Hurricane Center's Tropical Prediction Center and Weather Underground, that can provide current information.
  •   While Tropical Storms are not as "powerful" as hurricanes, they can still pack quite a punch.  We've had numerous tornadoes in Florida today, at least one older bridge has been partially washed away, the Sunshine Skyway Bridge was closed for part of the day, and many coastal areas have suffered substantial beach erosion--all of this from a tropical storm well offshore in the Gulf of Mexico. 
  •  It's also important not to focus solely on a tropical system's path, or the National Hurricane Center's "cone".  Debby has spun off storms and tornadoes as well as pounding wave action throughout the day which have severely impacted communities throughout Florida--many of which are hundreds of miles away from Debby's projected track.
  •   Finally, tropical storms and hurricanes are deadly serious events--not opportunities to appear on television (for example, the "surfers" that choose to take their boards into waters when riptide warnings are issued or the "thrill seekers" that feel the need to drive through flooded streets).   When a ROC is threatened by a tropical storm or hurricane, every resident must be prepared to follow the directives of state and local authorities--including a mandatory evacuation order.   As I've mentioned in other entries, "mandatory" means just that.  The failure or refusal to obey a mandatory evacuation order violates state law, and, unless the community's clubhouse is a certified shelter, a resident cannot and should not simply "camp out" in that clubhouse when the evacuation order is issued.

This is the earliest date that we've had a fourth named tropical system in the Atlantic.  Whether or not this signals an extremely active hurricane season this year is unclear.  What is clear is that knowledge, preparation, and common sense in dealing with tropical storms and hurricanes can help spell the difference for ROC managers, board members, and homeowners.

Let's hope that Debby is our only tropical "visitor" this season--but let's be ready just in case!!

FEMA's Flood Insurance Decision Hurts ROCs

Yesterday's edition of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel featured a column by Donna DiMaggio Berger, the executive director of the Community Advocacy Network and a partner in the Katzman, Garfinkel and Berger law firm.

In what Ms. Berger calls an "unprecedented move,"  The Federal Emergency Management Agency  recently announced that it would end a six year old program that allowed agents writing national flood insurance policies to rebate a portion of their commission to their customers.

Ms. Berger notes that these rebates have been allowed by statute in Florida since 1996 and correctly questions why, in the midst of difficult economic times, FEMA has chosen to "effectively take millions of dollars in flood-insurance savings" out of the pockets of Florida homeowners and the communities in which they reside.

According to Ms. Berger, over two million flood insurance policies are written in Florida.  Most of those policies cover homes in flood prone areas such as our coastline and the counties south of Lake Okeechobee, where more than eight million of us live.

The column includes a link to a petition urging FEMA to reconsider and reverse its decision before October 1 of this year, which is the date that the rebate program is scheduled to end.

With our hurricane season just beginning to brew, I'd suggest that NOW would be a very good time to sign this petition.

Please forward this entry and the link to the petition to your neighbors and other homeowners in your communities.

Fido, Foreclosures, and Florida versus the Feds

I'm posting the links to three recent articles for my blog readers:

  • The first story involves the efforts of a condominium association in Jupiter, Florida to use a dog's individual DNA to help identify canine offenders (and their owners) of the community's "pooper scooper" rules.
  •  The aggressive approach taken by a  homeowners' association in Pembroke Pines to collect delinquent maintenance and other fees--brought about in no small part by the foreclosure crisis--is the focus of the second article.
  • Finally, a very sobering report from the Palm Beach Post on the battle brewing between Florida's emergency managers and the Federal Emergency Management Agency as to whether every emergency shelter in the state is required to be in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.   According to this article, the cost to bring each of the hundreds of emergency shelters in Florida into compliance with the ADA may exceed One Billion Dollars--and the last time I checked, our state doesn't have that kind of money in its cookie jar.

I hope you enjoy reading these three stories and look forward to your comments.

 

 

"Emergency" Board Meetings Require Real Emergencies

Those of you that have attended our seminars for resident owned communities know that I stress the importance of all board meetings being properly noticed and open to all association members.

I'm asked at least several times every year whether a ROC board can meet in "emergency" session and thus dispense with the requirements to post a notice of the board meeting at least 48 hours before the meeting (or, in certain situations, to provide the notice to the members at least 14 days before the meeting).  

Sometimes, the question involves an item that was not included in the agenda for an otherwise properly noticed board meeting but was considered or attempted to be considered by the board on an "emergency" basis.

The Florida Statutes governing condominium associations, cooperative associations, and mandatory homeowners' associations provide for the board to act in an emergency without first providing notice to the membership.   In fact, several years ago, the legislature added Florida Statute Section 718.1265 to the statutes governing condominium associations to specifically provide for a condominium association's emergency powers in response to "damage caused by an event for which a state of emergency is declared" under Florida law.

Neither cooperative associations nor mandatory homeowners' associations were granted the specific powers set forth in F.S. Section 718.1265 and an emergency situation could exist in a community even if a state of emergency has not been declared.

So exactly what constitutes an "emergency? 

Here's my simple rule of thumb:  Can the situation wait until proper notice is given?  In other words, will the community suffer severe damage that will be cost a substantial amount to repair or be impossible to repair if the board waits 48 hours before it acts?  

Here are a few examples of what I consider an "emergency":
 

  • The need for immediate response either before, during, or after a hurricane
  • The clubhouse is destroyed or severely damaged by fire or weather related event
  • A water main that serves the community breaks and sewage is running down the streets of the community

And, regardless of what board members may think, I don't believe any of the following constitute an "emergency":

  • An important issue must be voted on before the next scheduled board meeting and was not placed on the agenda for the board meeting that is scheduled for today
  • The association has an opportunity to buy a truck at a great price but has been told it must act today
  • A crack has developed in one of the shuffleboard courts and the contractor says he'll give the association a "bargain" price if the board can commit to him immediately

Board members should use a common sense approach when considering whether "emergency" action is permitted.   The members of community associations have the right to know when the board is meeting and what issues the board is considering--and unless a situation truly demands immediate action in order to protect the community, its residents, and its property, the board should simply schedule a "special" board meeting to deal with the situation and post the notice and agenda as required by Florida law.  

Better to wait that short period of time than deal with angry residents or have to explain to our Department of Business and Professional Regulation why the board violated Florida law.

 

 

 

Golf Carts, Storm Surge, and a Divided Mobile Home Community

I'm posting links for my blog readers to two articles from last Sunday's Sarasota Herald -Tribune and a story that was summarized in a recent edition of the Florida Manufactured Housing Association's newsletter.

  • The first article from the Herald-Tribune focuses on the tragic consequences of an accident involving a golf cart.  I've covered this topic in the past but I remain very concerned that many residents in the communities we work with still do not understand that golf carts are vehicles and not toys
  • With one hurricane (and the third named storm) spinning in the Eastern Pacific and several systems having already been investigated in the Atlantic, the second article in Sunday's Herald-Tribune is extremely timely.   It details the devastating effects of storm surge, which causes more deaths than any other feature of a hurricane.
  • The battle being fought between neighbors at the Americana Cove manufactured housing community in Pinellas County is the subject of the third article from the St. Petersburg Times.   We've spoken at our seminars on many occasions about the issues facing the residents at Americana and there are no easy answers in this situation.

We'll get back to discussing how Senate Bill 1196 will impact resident-owned communities in my next entry.    In the meantime, I hope you find these articles interesting and informative.

ROCs Should Prepare for an Active Hurricane Season

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) just issued its predictions for the upcoming hurricane season, which begins June 1.

If NOAA's forecast is correct, we'll have a very busy summer tracking storms in the Gulf and the Atlantic:

According to NOAA, there is a seventy per cent chance of the following:

  • 14 to 23 named storms (either tropical storms with top winds of at least 39 miles per hour or hurricanes)
  • 8 to 14 of those storms will reach hurricane status (with top winds of at least 74 miles per hour)
  • Of those 8 to 14 hurricanes, 3 to 7 will become major hurricanes (with top winds of at least 111 miles per hour)

I've posted on hurricane preparedness before but this is certainly a good time for ROC managers and board members to review their existing hurricane preparedness plans and to remind their residents (snowbirds and full-timers alike) of a few important points:

  • Residents should not wait until the last minute to evacuate their communities--especially those in need of special care or with pets
  • Do not leave lawn chairs, tables, etc. outside when a storm is on the way.  Anything that can become a projectile should be brought inside or be otherwise safely secured.
  • A mandatory evacuation order means just that: evacuate your community.  Unless your clubhouse is a Red Cross certified storm shelter, it should not in any event be used to "ride out" the storm.
  • Make sure all contact information for residents is readily available
  • Appoint one or two "full time"residents (not the manager) to serve as the "information centers" in the event that a storm hits the community.  All residents should be advised to contact these residents rather than the manager or other board members for updates on conditions at the community.   The manager and the other board members will have their hands full in dealing with the challenges facing any community in the aftermath of a storm.

We all hope that this hurricane season will be as quiet and uneventful as last year's but, as always, taking the proper steps to prepare for the worst is the best course of action for managers, board members and residents in our communities. 

 

 

 

Continue Reading...

ROC Board Members and Managers Cannot (and Should Not) Do Everything

The managers and board members in the communities we work with have been faced with some rather interesting situations during the past few months.   Here's a sampling--see if you can guess what they have in common:

  • A ROC manager receives a frantic call from one of the residents in her community about  another resident who wandering up and down one of the streets in the community waving a machete.   
  • A board member wants to stop cars that she feels are speeding in her community and tell the drivers that they are violating the rules and regulations in her community.
  • Another community is about to begin a substantial renovation of its clubhouse and one of its board members would like to be appointed as the "project supervisor" to oversee the general contractor and all of the work.
  • Several board members in another community are convinced that a resident requesting to have a pet reside with her as a "reasonable accommodation" for her disability is not disabled and have stated that they will vote against granting the resident's request even if she provides the board with a statement from her treating physician verifying the disability and the need for the accommodation.

In each of these situations, ROC managers or Board members are being asked to or are volunteering to step well outside the scope of their  "job descriptions".   Neither  managers nor board members have the training nor should they attempt to disarm someone waving a machete, as that situation clearly calls for the local law enforcement authorities.   Likewise, even if a board member can be certain that someone is exceeding the speed limit in the community, the  appropriate action is to positively identify the vehicle and report the incident to the manager or, in certain circumstances, the police or sheriff's department.

While it's common for the community manager and one or more residents that have been appointed by the board to serve in an advisory capacity or as a "go between" with the general contractor and other professionals involved in a major community project, even if a board member has the qualifications (including any required licenses) to supervise the project, why would the association want to put itself in the position of being a defendant in a lawsuit filed as a result of damage or injury that occurs as a result of defective workmanship?    I have no doubt that the association would be sued on the grounds that one of its board members was supervising the project but I do have doubts that the association's insurance would protect the association in this situation--precisely because the association allowed its board member to act outside of a board member's "job description".  Also, what if the association is unhappy with the board member's performance as the supervisor--how comfortable will be other board members and the other residents in the community be if the board has to terminate their fellow board member's employment?

Finally, numerous court decisions involving Fair Housing Laws make it very clear that allowing board members to "play doctor" and substitute their judgment for that of trained health care professionals is a prescription for disaster.  While the association's board is entitled to request documentation to establish the basis for a resident's request for a "reasonable accommodation," once that documentation has been presented, a failure to make that "reasonable accommodation" may have serious and adverse financial implications for the community. 

ROC managers and board members have more than enough work within their "job descriptions" to keep them busy.   The community that allows or encourages its manager or board members to step outside of those "job descriptions" does so at its own peril.

 

Hurricane Charley--August 13, 2004

Today's edition of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune has a  very interesting article on how Charlotte County has recovered from Hurricane Charley, which made landfall in the Punta Gorda area as a small but very powerful category 4 hurricane five years ago today, on August 13, 2004. 

There are several manufactured housing communities mentioned in the story and, with one tropical depression and a very strong tropical wave churning off the coast of Africa, I thought this would be a good time to remind ROC residents that a slower than usual start to our annual hurricane season should not give rise to a false sense of security.    The traditional peak of the season is still one month away and as we all know, hurricanes that occur in "slow" seasons (such as Hurricane Andrew, which devastated portions of southeast Florida in late August of 1992) can be just as destructive as those that occur in "active" seasons.  

As always, ROC managers and board members should be aware of the need to prepare for an unwelcome visit from one of these tropical systems.

A quick recommendation for ROC hurricane preparation resources

This will be a very short post but I wanted to highly recommend the July 2009 issue of the Florida Community Association Journal.  A substantial portion of this special issue is devoted to hurricane preparedness and the magazine is loaded with helpful hints and information (including many addresses for links to websites about weather, shelters, pets, road closings, county resources and safety).  It also includes a "Hurricane Preparedness Directory", which is a region by region list of potential service providers.

If at all possible, try to get a copy of this magazine and keep it around for future reference.  I don't believe the full content of the issue is available at the FLAJ site yet, but interested ROC managers and board members might consider the site as a good starting point to order a copy. 

Now let's all get back to crossing our fingers and hoping that we'll have a boring, uneventful, and safe hurricane season!

 

ROC's, hurricane products, and foreclosures

I read two articles in last Sunday's edition of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune that should be of great interest to resident owned communities.

The first article focuses on the "false sense of security" that many Florida residents may have when the next hurricane approaches because they purchased "home protection products" even though the claims that these products make homes "hurricane resistant" or even "hurricane proof" may never have been tested or may in fact were found to be false.   It's a lengthy report but well worth reading if for no other reason than to remind managers and ROC board members of the dangers involved in recommending products or service providers.   Remember, we live in a world where potential liability lurks just around the corner.   No ROC wants to be sued because it recommended a product or service to one of its residents and that resident was injured or suffered damage to his property because the product or service recommended by the ROC board member or manager didn't perform as advertised.

The second article concerns the foreclosure crisis and reports that many lenders have now decided to delay taking title to properties that are in the process of being foreclosed.   There are a number of reasons for this, including those I've listed below:

  • Lenders are now being required by judges to produce more records and file more pleadings and this adds to the time involved in the legal proceedings
  • Lenders already have much more foreclosed real estate in their portfolios than they can sell at this time
  • Every lender knows that once that lender takes title to a property at the foreclosure sale, that lender becomes responsible for both assessments and fees for the parcel and the maintenance and upkeep of the property                                           
  • Lenders have no desire to pay any amounts for properties that are "non-performing" (that is, properties that are generating no income for the lender) and thus many of them have decided to leave these "non-performing" properties in "foreclosure limbo" rather than taking title to them.

This article simply confirms conversations I've had with representatives of several lenders within the past few weeks.

What this means for ROC's is quite simply that whatever rights ROC's have to collect unpaid assessments under Florida Statutes Sections 718.116(1)(b) (for condominiums), 719.108(1)     (for cooperatives) or 720.3085(2)(c) (for mandatory homeowners associations), those rights are triggered by the acquisition of title to the property--and if the lender chooses to delay the foreclosure proceedings, that "trigger date" will occur later (in some cases, much later) rather than sooner.  During this "limbo" period, ROC's will be forced to deal with properties that may not be properly maintained and are not providing any income to the community's coffers.  This is already creating substantial hardship for many communities thoughout the country. 

I certainly cannot tell you that relief is just around the corner from the many problems being created by the foreclosure crisis and the epidemic of untested, unproven, or defective "hurricane protection products" but I'll do my best to keep you posted when I read about any further developments.

 

 

Can I use our community clubhouse as a hurricane shelter?

Another hurricane season has arrived in Florida and with every approaching tropical storm system I expect to receive at least one call from an ROC manager or board member asking whether the residents can use the community clubhouse as a storm shelter.  My answer is consistent although not always popular:   Unless the community clubhouse has been certified as a "hurricane evacuation shelter" (which means it meets the safety standards established by the American Red Cross), managers and board members should do everything in their power to discourage the use of the clubhouse or any other community building as a storm shelter.

When a condominium, neighborhood, subdivision, or manufactured housing community is placed under a mandatory evacuation order by Florida's Governor or county or local authorities, "mandatory" doesn't mean "I'll leave if and when it's convenient" or "I'm not leaving without my dog/cat/bird"--it means that the refusal of that resident to leave the community in spite of being ordered to do so is a crime--a second degree misdemeanor under Florida law.  I'm certainly not going to advise any client community to help a resident commit a crime and technically that's what managers or board members are doing when they give residents a reason to remain in the community once that order is issued by allowing the clubhouse to be used as a gathering place during a storm.

Here's a partial list of what can go wrong when residents are allowed to use a clubhouse that has not been certified as a hurricane evacuation shelter:

  1. The hurricane roars through, the clubhouse doesn't withstand the force of the winds and/or the storm surge, and residents that were using the clubhouse for shelter are injured or killed
  2. The clubhouse manages to withstand the storm but one of the residents in the clubhouse suffers a stroke or heart attack and dies because the clubhouse had neither the trained personnel nor equipment present to treat that resident and the county's paramedics were busy dealing with numerous other emergencies or were unable to safely enter the community.
  3. The hurricane roars through, the clubhouse survives, and everyone is fine until a resident walks outside, and steps on a downed power line in the community and suffers severe injury or death.

The community association's liability in each of these situations may be substantial and it's entirely possible that the association's insurance company will--with good reason--say that its coverage does not protect the association from claims filed because of an injury or death that occurred because the association allowed the clubhouse to be used for a unauthorized and unlawful purpose.

I've even suggested that associations padlock the clubhouse when a mandatory evacuation order issues or at the very least post signs in bold letters at every entrance way to the clubhouse and any other community buildings to warn every resident that the building is not a hurricane shelter and that any resident that uses the building for that purpose does so at his or her own risk.

There's no reason in this day and age for anyone living in Florida  to be unprepared for an approaching tropical storm system.  Media outlets such as The Weather Channel have almost constant updates when tropical weather threatens our area and the National Hurricane Center provides timely and accurate information that allows all residents to follow and prepare for hurricanes and tropical storms.    Almost every local newspaper and television station publishes an annual hurricane special insert that contains suggested preparedness lists, tracking maps, and locations of certified hurricane evacuation shelters.  Florida's laws also provide shelters for residents with pets, and seek to identify residents with "special needs" who may require assistance in evacuating to the appropriate shelter.  In short, no resident in a community without a certified hurricane evacuation shelter remain in that community when a mandatory order issues to evacuate that community and no community association should encourage its residents to use the community clubhouse or other community owned building to "ride out the storm."