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!

 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.

 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!

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.

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!

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!

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.

 

As all Floridians know, our hurricane season doesn’t really get under way until August and we’re currently watching a very large systemTropical 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!

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.

 

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!!