Rules and rule enforcement

 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.

 

 

 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.

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!

 

 

You’ll want to catch our next installment of "Community Matters" as Kevin Wells and I will be discussing therapy and companion pets and service animals with the manager of a large resident owned community in Sarasota County and a representative from Southeastern Guide Dogs.

"Community Matters" airs on WSRQ (1220 AM and 106.9 FM) on Saturday mornings from 11 to noon and online at www.sarasotatalkradio.com.   Podcasts of each of our shows are made available on Mondays after the show airs at the WSRQ site–just click on my photo and you’ll be able to listen to those podcasts.

If you have any questions about this topic or suggestions for future shows, please feel free to post a comment to my blog or email me at sgordon@lutzbobo.com.

I hope you enjoy this Saturday’s installment of "Community Matters".

Earlier today, I received an email from the Community Association Institute’s Florida Legislative Alliance ("FLA") alerting me to bills to be introduced in the upcoming legislative session in Tallahassee.

According to the email, Senate Bill 286 and House Bill 575 "will have a serious negative impact on community associations and other consumers of design professional services."

The email from the FLA continues:

"As presently designed, these bills will permit surveyors, engineers, landscape architects, architects and interior designers ("design professionals") to eliminate all personal liability for economic damages caused by the negligent performance of their design professional services pursuant to a contract with the consumer.  This is done by them simply placing a ‘prominent statement (in their form contract), in uppercase font that is at least 5 point sizes larger than the rest of the text’, and, pursuant to this legislation, an individual employee or agent may not be held individually liable for negligence."

According to the FLA, supporters of these bills argue that consumers will take steps to re-impose liability on a "design professional" upon seeing that "prominent statement" in the contract.  However, this argument–according to the FLA–"completely ignores human nature" and the fact that many, if not most, consumers (including ROC boards) sign form contracts without even reading those contracts.

In addition, while these bills do not protect design professional companies, the FLA contends that design professional companies can easily "hide" assets by placing them in other entities–thus eliminating any realistic chance of a consumer or community association recovering any amounts when suffering damages as a result of the negligence of a "design professional".

The FLA’s email summarizes SB 286 and HB 575 as "an unfortunate attempt to shift the ultimate negligence liability burden from the design professionals to the consumers."

If you agree with the FLA’s analysis of these bills, the FLA urges you to contact your state senator and state representative as well as the members of Florida’s Senate Judiciary Committee and House Civil Justice Subcommittee to request that they oppose any attempt to reduce liability for these "design professionals".   The FLA asks that you include a reference to SB 286 in your correspondence to Florida’s Senators and refer to HB 575 when contacting Florida’s Representatives.

Just a reminder–if you’re a ROC manager or board member and haven’t already sent in your reservation for the Third Annual Community Association Festival at the Venice Community Center on Wednesday,  February 20, there’s still time!  Just send an email to deanna@sleuthpt.com or call 941-809-2031.  Remember, the event’s free, and that includes a continental breakfast, a barbecue lunch, and a lot of information and networking opportunities.  I hope to see you there–just wear your favorite Hawaiian shirt!
 

 

I always enjoy sharing positive stories about resident owned communities and the August 22 column by Eric Ernst in the Sarasota Herald Tribune is a great example of cooperative living at its best.

Country Club Estates in Venice is in the midst of a very exciting project that will enhance and increase its value and desirability both on a short term and long term basis.   The unit owners’ commitment to the future of Country Club Estates is indeed "good news for affordable housing in Venice."   Kudos to the board, the manager and all of the members of Country Club Estates!

So much for the good news.

Here’s an incredible story from a recent edition of the New York Post, entitled "Co-op Brawl":

Apparently, the president of an apartment cooperative located on Fifth Avenue in New York was upset because the representatives of the estate that owned a penthouse apartment in the building did not accept her "low ball" offer to purchase the unit.  The president and her board then allegedly decided to sabotage an existing agreement to sell the penthouse for 27 million dollars by unilaterally deciding that the apartment’s "prime selling point"–a private wrap-around terrace with city and Central Park views–can be used by everyone in the building to get onto a newly proposed roof deck.

Of course, a lawsuit has been filed by the sellers seeking 5 million dollars in damages and a court order declaring that the terrace (which is larger than the unit’s interior living space) is private.

Not surprisingly, none of the lawyers involved in this ugly legal battle returned calls from the newspaper seeking comments.

Members of Florida cooperative or condominium associations should rest assured that neither the size nor the configuration of a condominium unit or a cooperative unit can be changed in any material way without the approval of the affected unit owner.

Now that we’re well into the month of October, preparations for this season’s set of seminars are under way and I’ll be posting information within the next few weeks. 

I hope everyone had a safe and restful "off season" and look forward to seeing you soon!

I was just asked to speak on Reasonable Accommodations Under the Fair Housing Act at two Community Association Workshops scheduled for this month in Southwest Florida.

Both events are free to all community association managers and board members and CAMs can receive CEU credits for both my presentation and other presentations.

The first workshop will be held on the morning of July 12 at the DiamondHead Beach Resort & Spa, which is located at 2000 Estero Boulevard on Fort Myers Beach.  Check-in is at 7:30, followed by breakfast at 8, and two CEU sessions beginning at 8:30.  In addition to my presentation,  Rose Bechard-Butman and Wendy Shaw from Allstate Resource Management will be speaking about Stormwater Systems–a timely topic given our recent experience with Debby.

The second workshop is set for July 17 on Marco Island at the Marco Presbyterian Church, located at 875 West Elkam Circle.   Check-in begins at 11:30, followed by lunch catered by Mango’s Dockside Bistro at noon.  The CEU sessions will start at 12:30.   Florida Shores Bank will be instructing CAMs and board members on how associations can be financially prepared for hurricanes (again, always an important topic in Florida).   I’ll speak on Fair Housing and one more CEU session may be added to this workshop. I’ll let you know if and when that occurs.

If you live in or near Lee or Collier Counties, and you’re a manager of board member in a resident owned community, I hope you’ll take the opportunity to join us at one of these workshops. 

Please RSVP by contacting Mary Danitz at Florida Shores Bank by emailing her at mdanitz@FloridaShoresBank.com or calling her at (239) 265-9053.  Seating is limited so don’t delay!

Have a safe and happy July 4th!

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.