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.

 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! 

Briny Breezes is a resident owned manufactured housing cooperative located in Palm Beach County.

Two of the community’s sea walls that protected the cooperative property needed repairs and upgrades.   The directors of Briny Breezes, Inc., the cooperative association that owns and operates the community, hired an engineer who reported that the required repairs and upgrades to the seawalls would cost approximately $150,000.

While there were adequate funds in the association’s reserve account to pay for these repairs, Briny Breeze’s governing documents clearly prohibited the association’s board of directors from spending more than $30,000 for capital improvements or spending more than $30,000 for replacement of capital assets in any fiscal year.  According to the association’s governing documents, the affirmative vote of at least 51 per cent of the members was required for these expenditures.

Earlier this year, Briny Breeze’s manager asked the Division of Florida Condominiums, Timeshares, and Mobile Homes (the "Division") to determine whether the association’s board of directors could use the reserve funds to pay for the seawall repairs that were needed to protect the cooperative property without obtaining the approval of the association’s members.

The Division, in its Declaratory Statement issued this May, held that the association could use its reserve funds to make the needed repair to the seawalls without a vote of the membership.

The Declaratory Statement cited Florida Statutes Section 719.104(5), a federal bankruptcy court decision interpreting Florida law, several decisions of our state appellate courts and a decision rendered by one of the Division’s arbitrators. 

The Division noted that , even if expenditures result in alterations or improvements to the community’s common elements, it is within the board’s authority to authorize these expenditures without member approval where the expenditures for the alterations or improvements are needed to protect the common elements.

At the same time, the Division did caution that an association’s directors might very well be precluded from unilaterally spending money for upgrades that constituted material alterations to the common elements and went beyond the repairs required to protect the common elements.

The Division concluded that, while the "safest course for the board is to get a unit owner vote", the board should not be limited to "simply repair the sea wall to protect the common elements."

Hopefully, this Declaratory Statement will provide ROCs with some guidance in the future.

I’ll be discussing issues affecting aging members of resident owned communities this week on "Community Matters".

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 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!

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!
 

 

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.