I’m typing this blog entry on an absolutely beautiful afternoon in Sarasota. Sunshine, low humidity and temperatures in the mid-seventies. It’s hard to believe that it’s been just six weeks since Hurricane Irma rampaged through our state and disrupted our lives.

All in all,most of the resident owned communities we work with were spared the worst of the storm–although several of our ROC’s will be dealing with the challenges of post-Irma recovery for at least the next few months.

Thankfully, we have not heard of any storm related injuries but once again would stress that managers and board members take all steps needed to make sure that residents understand that, unless the community’s clubhouse is a Red Cross Certified Shelter, the clubhouse should not be used as the place to "ride out the storm".

Sadly, but not unexpectedly, Hurricane Irma (and Hurricane Harvey), brought out those human vermin who prey on those in need. Here’s a link to an article about just some of those Irma/Harvey scams.

While I’m on the topic of scams, I want to highlight two that just make my blood boil:

  1. If you’ve recently purchased your home or unit, you may receive an official looking notice from a company or "office" offering to help you obtain a copy of your deed or assignment of lease. All you have to do is send this company or "office" a check for a "service fee". We were provided with a copy of one of these notices and the check requested was for $89.00. Do yourself a favor if you receive this (or a similar) notice–throw it out. You don’t need a copy of your deed or assignment of lease and if you really want a copy, you can go online and print the recorded document you want for free or make a trip to your county’s recorder’s office and you’ll pay $1 per page. You do the math.
  2. I’ve blogged about the "service dog" scam before but it’s not going away. In fact, it’s getting worse. It astounds me that people are willing to throw money away for diplomas, identity cards, collars, etc. that wrongly identify their pet as a "service animal". Why would anyone pay $100 or more for pieces of paper or cloth that are worthless? I’m going to repeat this again and again until it sinks in: A "service animal" under the Americans With Disabilities Act is defined as a dog (and in certain limited situations, a miniature horse) that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability. The task or tasks performed by the dog must be directly related to the person’s disability. In addition, the Americans with Disabilities Act does NOT require service animals to wear a vest, ID tag, or specific harness.

So let me break this down one more time: It doesn’t matter whether or not you’ve paid $150 for a piece of paper "certifying" that your pet is a "service animal". Either you have a dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks that are directly related to your disability or you don’t. Whether or not you’ve got that "certificate" is irrelevant. And one last thing–which I’ve also mentioned before–Florida Statute Section 413.08(9) makes it a crime for anyone to knowingly and willfully misrepresent that he or she is using a service animal.

Let’s put an end to these two scams once and for all!

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.

 

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.

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!
 

 

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’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.

 

 

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 risknot 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.

 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! 

I woke up one morning this summer with a pain in the area of my right shoulder blade.  I assumed that I’d just pulled or strained a muscle in my neck or back–that’s a fairly common but very temporary hazard of lifting weights and trying to maintain an active lifestyle for us "baby boomers".

Six weeks later, it was clear that there was more involved than just a muscle strain.  By the time my MRI revealed that I had several herniated discs in my neck, the discomfort and pain radiating down my right arm into my hand made it difficult–if not impossible–for me to work at my desk or on my computer for more than a few minutes at a time.

While I’ve managed to cope by answering emails on my iPhone, on my home laptop, or by installing an unwieldy device on my office chair, I feel like I’m functioning at perhaps 50% capacity and by the time I leave the office at the end of the day I can’t wait to collapse on a couch at my home with an ice pack on my aching shoulder.

Here’s the point I’d like to make today:  there’s absolutely no way anyone can tell how much pain and discomfort I feel–I have no cast, sling, nor any other visible signs to show that I have a condition that causes me great pain and will require surgery to correct.  

Not every disability is readily apparent. Board members and managers in resident owned communities are often requested to grant requests for reasonable accommodations under the Fair Housing Act to persons who show no outward signs of any disability.

I’ve continually stressed to ROC board members and managers the tremendous risks involved when a board refuses to grant a resident’s request for a reasonable accommodation simply because there’s no visible evidence that the resident is disabled.

As someone who has now "walked in the shoes" of many of these residents, I have a much better understanding of their anger and frustration when their legitimate requests are denied by ROC boards.  That anger and frustration may very well lead to a Fair Housing complaint and that’s certainly not in the best interests of an association or its members.

I’ll be submitting my materials for a board certification training seminar to the Division of Florida Condominiums, Timeshares, and Mobile Homes later this week and hope to have those materials approved within the next few weeks.  These materials will focus on training board members in resident owned cooperatives and once approved will be sufficient for those board members to meet the new board certification requirements under Chapter 719 of the Florida Statutes.

Once I get the approval from the Division, we’ll schedule a few board training seminars and I’ll post the times and locations on my blog.

In the meantime, I’ll be taking care of those herniated discs within the next few days and hope to be back at work and posting entries on this blog before all of our "snowbirds" return for the holidays!

 

 

 The Sarasota Herald Tribune just published a very informative six day report on the reasons for the many bank failures in Florida during the "Great Recession."   

Since almost every ROC in our state has been affected by questionable loans that have been foreclosed or are currently in the process of foreclosure, I thought my blog readers might be interested in the Herald Tribune’s series.

I’m also posting the link to one of Tom Lyons’ columns in the Herald Tribune published earlier this week as a reminder to owners in resident owned communities.   There is a tax due and owing to the State of Florida when a mobile home, site built home, or condominium is rented on a "short term" basis and the failure to pay that tax will not be taken lightly by our state’s enforcement agencies.

Just a word to the wise:  pay the tax on those rentals!

Among the guests on this week’s edition of "Community Matters" is Sarasota County’s sheriff–I have a feeling that benefits and dangers of "neighborhood watch" programs will be one of the topics on the agenda.  I hope you’ll take the opportunity to listen to our guest host, Cindi Bass, this Saturday morning at eleven or on our podcast released early next week.