Hurricane Irma and Florida Community Association Emergency Powers.

Florida Community Association Emergency Powers.

By Joshua Gerstin, Esq.

Click here for .pdf of this article

Now that Hurricane Irma has past, many community associations are trying to determine whether an emergency special assessment can be levied to pay for the cost of cleanup and damage repairs. Luckily, Florida has learned a thing a two from past weather disasters and has enacted has special emergency provisions for the operation of homeowner (F.S. §720.316) and condominium associations (F.S. §718.1265).

Based upon an emergency as described in the statute, a condominium or homeowner association can levy an emergency special assessment for, amongst other items, the mitigation of further damage and debris cleanup. Although the usual 14 day notice for a special assessment is not required, associations are still required to give the members some notice.  Further, steps may have to be taken to ratify the emergency action taken once normal operations resume.  Therefore, before proceeding, consult with your association’s attorney or the attorneys at Gerstin & Associates.

Although the emergency provisions contained in Florida law are broad, not all semblance of order is suspended.  For example, statutory emergency special powers do not allow a condominium or homeowner association to “borrow” from a reserve fund to pay for an emergency without the required owner notice and vote.  However, it may be possible to levy a special assessment without the required fourteen-day notice to members. Below are the statutory emergency powers available to Florida’s condominium and homeowner associations:

718.1265 Condominium Association emergency powers.—

(1) To the extent allowed by law and unless specifically prohibited by the declaration of condominium, the articles, or the bylaws of an association, and consistent with the provisions of s. 617.0830, the board of administration, in response to damage caused by an event for which a state of emergency is declared pursuant to s. 252.36 in the locale in which the condominium is located, may, but is not required to, exercise the following powers:

(a) Conduct board meetings and membership meetings with notice given as is practicable. Such notice may be given in any practicable manner, including publication, radio, United States mail, the Internet, public service announcements, and conspicuous posting on the condominium property or any other means the board deems reasonable under the circumstances. Notice of board decisions may be communicated as provided in this paragraph.
(b) Cancel and reschedule any association meeting.
(c) Name as assistant officers persons who are not directors, which assistant officers shall have the same authority as the executive officers to whom they are assistants during the state of emergency to accommodate the incapacity or unavailability of any officer of the association.
(d) Relocate the association’s principal office or designate alternative principal offices.
(e) Enter into agreements with local counties and municipalities to assist counties and municipalities with debris removal.
(f)  Implement a disaster plan before or immediately following the event for which a state of emergency is declared which may include, but is not limited to, shutting down or off elevators; electricity; water, sewer, or security systems; or air conditioners.
(g)  Based upon advice of emergency management officials or upon the advice of licensed professionals retained by the board, determine any portion of the condominium property unavailable for entry or occupancy by unit owners, family members, tenants, guests, agents, or invitees to protect the health, safety, or welfare of such persons.
(h)  Require the evacuation of the condominium property in the event of a mandatory evacuation order in the locale in which the condominium is located. Should any unit owner or other occupant of a condominium fail or refuse to evacuate the condominium property where the board has required evacuation, the association shall be immune from liability or injury to persons or property arising from such failure or refusal.
(i)  Based upon advice of emergency management officials or upon the advice of licensed professionals retained by the board, determine whether the condominium property can be safely inhabited or occupied. However, such determination is not conclusive as to any determination of habitability pursuant to the declaration.
(j)  Mitigate further damage, including taking action to contract for the removal of debris and to prevent or mitigate the spread of fungus, including, but not limited to, mold or mildew, by removing and disposing of wet drywall, insulation, carpet, cabinetry, or other fixtures on or within the condominium property, even if the unit owner is obligated by the declaration or law to insure or replace those fixtures and to remove personal property from a unit.
(k) Contract, on behalf of any unit owner or owners, for items or services for which the owners are otherwise individually responsible, but which are necessary to prevent further damage to the condominium property. In such event, the unit owner or owners on whose behalf the board has contracted are responsible for reimbursing the association for the actual costs of the items or services, and the association may use its lien authority provided by s. 718.116 to enforce collection of the charges. Without limitation, such items or services may include the drying of units, the boarding of broken windows or doors, and the replacement of damaged air conditioners or air handlers to provide climate control in the units or other portions of the property.
(l)?Regardless of any provision to the contrary and even if such authority does not specifically appear in the declaration of condominium, articles, or bylaws of the association, levy special assessments without a vote of the owners.
(m)?Without unit owners’ approval, borrow money and pledge association assets as collateral to fund emergency repairs and carry out the duties of the association when operating funds are insufficient. This paragraph does not limit the general authority of the association to borrow money, subject to such restrictions as are contained in the declaration of condominium, articles, or bylaws of the association.

(2)?The special powers authorized under subsection (1) shall be limited to that time reasonably necessary to protect the health, safety, and welfare of the association and the unit owners and the unit owners’ family members, tenants, guests, agents, or invitees and shall be reasonably necessary to mitigate further damage and make emergency repairs.

720.316 Homeowner Association emergency powers.—

(1)  To the extent allowed by law, unless specifically prohibited by the declaration or other recorded governing documents, and consistent with s. 617.0830, the board of directors, in response to damage caused by an event for which a state of emergency is declared pursuant to s. 252.36 in the area encompassed by the association, may exercise the following powers:

(a)  Conduct board or membership meetings after notice of the meetings and board decisions is provided in as practicable a manner as possible, including via publication, radio, United States mail, the Internet, public service announcements, conspicuous posting on the association property, or any other means the board deems appropriate under the circumstances.
(b)  Cancel and reschedule an association meeting.
(c)  Designate assistant officers who are not directors. If the executive officer is incapacitated or unavailable, the assistant officer has the same authority during the state of emergency as the executive officer he or she assists.
(d)  Relocate the association’s principal office or designate an alternative principal office.
(e)  Enter into agreements with counties and municipalities to assist counties and municipalities with debris removal.
(f)  Implement a disaster plan before or immediately following the event for which a state of emergency is declared, which may include, but is not limited to, turning on or shutting off elevators; electricity; water, sewer, or security systems; or air conditioners for association buildings.
(g)  Based upon the advice of emergency management officials or upon the advice of licensed professionals retained by the board, determine any portion of the association property unavailable for entry or occupancy by owners or their family members, tenants, guests, agents, or invitees to protect their health, safety, or welfare.
(h)  Based upon the advice of emergency management officials or upon the advice of licensed professionals retained by the board, determine whether the association property can be safely inhabited or occupied. However, such determination is not conclusive as to any determination of habitability pursuant to the declaration.
(i)  Mitigate further damage, including taking action to contract for the removal of debris and to prevent or mitigate the spread of fungus, including mold or mildew, by removing and disposing of wet drywall, insulation, carpet, cabinetry, or other fixtures on or within the association property.
(j)  Notwithstanding a provision to the contrary, and regardless of whether such authority does not specifically appear in the declaration or other recorded governing documents, levy special assessments without a vote of the owners.
(k)  Without owners’ approval, borrow money and pledge association assets as collateral to fund emergency repairs and carry out the duties of the association if operating funds are insufficient. This paragraph does not limit the general authority of the association to borrow money, subject to such restrictions contained in the declaration or other recorded governing documents.

(2)  The authority granted under subsection (1) is limited to that time reasonably necessary to protect the health, safety, and welfare of the association and the parcel owners and their family members, tenants, guests, agents, or invitees, and to mitigate further damage and make emergency repairs.

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Fax this completed page to (561) 750-8185 or email the above information to: joshua@gerstin.com

New Palm Beach County Flood Zone Maps Now Available

Palm Beach County homeowner associations, condominium associations, commercial and residential real estate owners can now  type in their property address at:  http://maps.co.palm-beach.fl.us/cwgis/?app=floodzones and immediately view their flood zone.  The press release from Palm Beach County regarding the new flood insurance map is as follows:

New Flood Zone Maps Now Available on the Palm Beach County Website

For more information contact: Building Division

561-233-5100

For this first time since 1982 the Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs) for Palm Beach County have been revised by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The new FIRMs for Palm Beach County will go into effect on 10/5/2017.

To help you view the current and pending flood zone information for your property, Palm Beach County has created a Flood Zone Map Viewer Application! You can search by address and view the FIRMs for your property by visiting http://maps.co.palm-beach.fl.us/cwgis/?app=floodzones or look for the link on our homepage at www.pbcgov.com.

Please note that this tool reports the flood zone designations that touch your property. Just because a Special Flood Hazard Area touches your property, that does not mean that your structure is located within the flood zone. It should also be noted that the flood elevations shown on the new maps are in a different Vertical Datum (North American Vertical Datum 1988) than the old maps were (National Geodetic Vertical Datum 1929). If you are comparing the new maps to a previous survey a conversion between two datum is required.

If you reside in the unincorporated area and are uncertain about your flood zone designation, please call the Palm Beach County Flood Information Hotline at 561-233-5374. If you reside in a municipality, you should contact your local floodplain administrator. For more information on the National Flood Insurance Program visit www.fema.gov/national-flood-insurance-program.

2017 Florida Condominium and Homeowner Association Legislative Update

2017 was a big legislative year for community associations, especially condominium associations.  Following is an overview of the 2017 legislation directly impacting Florida’s condominium and homeowner associations.

Click here for the .pdf version.

Condominium & Homeowner Associations

Financial Reporting Requirements

HB 6027, full text of the law can be found here.  Law goes into effect July 1, 2017.

The exemption for condominium associations with less than 50 units and homeowners associations containing less than 50 parcels from providing yearend financial statements prepared by an independent accountant has been eliminated.

Condominium associations with fewer than 50 units and homeowner associations of less than 50 parcels can no longer opt to prepare a report of cash receipts and expenditures in lieu of financial statements.  These associations must comply with financial reporting requirements based upon the association’s revenues.

The prohibition on condominium associations waiving financial reporting requirements for more than three (3) years was eliminated.

 Estoppel Certificates

SB398, full text of the law can be found here.  Law goes into effect July 1, 2017.

Associations have 10 business days to issue an estoppel certificate after receiving a written or electronic request from an owner, mortgagee or their designee. A fee cannot be charged if the estoppel certificate is not delivered within ten business days.

Estoppel certificates must be returned to the requestor (mailed, email or fax) on the day they are issued.

If an estoppel certificate is hand delivered or sent by electronic mail it has to be valid for 30 days; estoppel certificates sent by regular mail have to be valid for 35 days.

-Only board members, authorized agents or representatives (attorneys, accountants, etc.) of the association or the association’s management company can issue an estoppel letter.

The association’s website must list the designated person or entity, with a street or e-mail address, for the receipt of estoppel requests.

Association’s are permitted to amend their estoppel certificates but they cannot charge for the amended estoppel certificate.

Associations cannot collect any money owed in excess of the amount specified in the estoppel certificate.

The Association’s ability to demand the payment of the estoppel certificate fee prior to the anticipated closing of a real estate transaction remains in effect.

Associations can charge up to $400 for the preparation and delivery of an estoppel certificate if, on the date of issuance, delinquent amounts are owed to the association. Otherwise, the Association cannot charge more than $150.00.  Upon request for an expedited estoppel certificate, an additional $100.00 can be charged if the expedited estoppel certificate is produced within three business days.

The statute lists a sliding scale of estoppel certificates charges for owners with multiple units.

The following information is required to be in an estoppel certificate:

  • date of issuance;
  • name(s) of unit/parcel owner(s);
  • unit/parcel designation and address;
  • parking or garage space number;
  • attorney’s name and contact information if the account is delinquent and has been turned over to an attorney for collection;
  • the fee for preparation and delivery of the estoppel certificate;
  • name of the requestor; and
  • assessment information and other information, including:
      • regular periodic assessment amount and frequency;
      • date for which the regular periodic assessment is paid through;
      • next installment due date and amount;
      • itemized list of all assessments, special assessments, and other money currently owed or to become due after issuance of the estoppel certificate;
      • other fees, such as capital contribution fees, resale fees, transfer fees, etc.;
      • whether there are any open violations of rules or regulations;
      • whether association approval of transfer of the unit/parcel is required and, if so, whether the board has approved the transfer;
      • whether there is a right of first refusal and, if so, has the right been exercised;
      • list and contact information for any other associations of which the unit/parcel is a member;
  • contact information for all insurance maintained by the association; and signature of an officer or authorized agent of the association.

Condominiums Only

HB 1237, full text of the law can be found here.  Law goes into effect July 1, 2017.

Directors.

Unless approved by an affirmative vote of two-thirds of the total voting interests of the association or there are not enough eligible candidates to fill the vacancies on the board, a board member may not serve more than four consecutive 2-year terms.

Recalls.

Boards are no longer required to certify a recall or initiate arbitration proceedings for not doing so.  Boards are required to a meeting within 5 business days after receipt of a written recall agreement.

Recalled board members must turn over to the association all records and property of the association within 10 business days after the recall vote.

Voting Rights.

Only monetary obligations more than 90 days delinquent totaling more than $1,000 can an association suspend a member’s voting rights. The delinquent member must be provided 30 days notice accompanied by proof of the delinquency before such suspension takes effect.

Receiver cannot vote on behalf of a unit owner if the owner’s unit was placed in receivership to protect/benefit the association.

Conflicts of Interest.

An association cannot hire an attorney who also represents the association’s management company.

Board members, the property manager and the property management company are prohibited from purchasing a unit at an association foreclosure sale or accepting a deed in lieu of foreclosure.

Associations are prohibited from hiring service providers owned (at least 1% of equity shares) or operated by a board member, any person who has a financial relationship with a board member, or a close relative of a board member.

Officers and directors must disclose to the board any activity that may be construed as a conflict of interest. A rebuttable presumption of a conflict of interest exists if a director, officer, or relative of a director or officer enters into a contract for goods or services with the association or holds an interest in a business entity that conducts business with the association or proposes to enter into a contract with the association.

Any proposed activity that may be a conflict of interest must be subject to a board vote. The meeting notice agenda for such vote must list the proposed activity and all transactional documents (contracts) related to the proposed activity must be attached to the meeting agenda.

If the board votes against the proposed activity, the director or officer must notify the board in writing of his or her intention not to pursue the proposed activity or to resign from the board. If the board finds that an officer or a director has violated this provision, the officer or director is automatically deemed as being removed from office.

Official Records.

Bids for materials, equipment or services are considered part of an association’s official records.

In addition to unit owners, designated representatives of unit owners may inspect and copy condominium documents and records. Tenants may inspect and copy only the association’s rules and by-laws.

Associations with 150 or more units must post copies of certain specifically designated official records on its website, be inaccessible to the general public.  Does not go into effect until July 1, 2018.

Websites.

Condominium association with 150 or more units must maintain a secure website containing the following items:

  • Owner password and login.
  • The secure portion of the website must contain all condominium documents, rules and regulations, management and other agreements to which the association is a party, annual budget and proposed annual budget, financial reports and board certifications.
  • The ability to post on the front page of the website, or a separate subpage labeled “Notices”, which is linked to and visible from the front page. Documents to be considered or voted upon by the board or the owners must also be posted.

Financial Reports.

Condominium associations with less than 50 units are no longer exempt from the financial reporting requirements applicable only to larger condominiums.

Unit owners are entitled to the most recent financial report within 5 business days after the receipt of a written request.

Annually, associations are required to report to the DBPR all of the financial institutions at which it maintains accounts.  A copy of the submission is obtainable upon receipt of a written request by a member.

Criminal Penalties added to F.S. §718

Association officers, directors or manager may not solicit or accept kickbacks from vendors.

Voting certificate or ballot envelope forgery is now considered a crime.

Destroying official records or hindering their access in furtherance of a crime is punishable as a crime in F.S. § 918.13 or as obstruction of justice pursuant to Florida Statutes, Chapter 843.

An office or director charged with one of the above crimes must be removed from office and cannot be appointed, elected or have access to the association’s official records without a court order.  If the charges are resolved without a finding of guilt, the officer or director must be reinstated for the remainder of his or her term of office, if any.

Debit Cards.

Associations and their officers, directors and employees are prohibited from using a debit card issued in the name of the association, or which is billed directly to the association, for the payment of any association expense. Using a debit card in violation of this law, for a non-association expense, can be prosecuted as credit card fraud (confusing, poorly drafted statute)

Ombudsman.

If necessary to assist with an investigation of election misconduct, the Ombudsman can open and review ballots that are otherwise supposed to be cast in secret.

Condominium Terminations

SB 1520, full text of the law can be found here.  Law goes into effect July 1, 2017.

Provides for termination of a condominium when the community is no longer economically viable;

Requires affirmative vote of 80% or more of the owners and negative vote of no more than 5% of the voters;

Requires approval of the termination by the Division;

Requires a waiting period of 24 months to propose a subsequent plan of termination after rejection of a previous plan;

Requires the identity of the person or entity that owns or controls 25% or more of the units;

Requires the identity of the natural persons who own 10% or more of the entity which owns or controls 25% or more of the units;

Carries an effective date of July 1, 2007 – 10 years before the legislation was passed and signed into law.

Noteworthy Veto
Condominium Fire Sprinklers

Under current law, local governments are barred from requiring sprinkler retrofitting of condominium buildings (three stories or more) before the end of 2019.  Owners can also vote to opt-out of retrofitting sprinklers, but are not able to opt out of  the installation of alternative fire safety systems known as “engineered life safety systems”.  The legislation vetoed by Governor Scott would have postponed the retrofitting requirement until 2022 and would have allowed owners to opt-out of both retrofitting sprinklers and the installation of “engineered life safety systems”.

Stay Informed, Subscribe to the Gerstin & Associates Newsletter

  • Name: _________________________________________________
  • Mailing address: ________________________________________
  • E-mail address: _________________________________________
  • Community name: ________________________________________
  • Position on board, if any: __________________________________

Fax this completed page to (561) 750-8185 or email the above  information to: joshua@gerstin.com.

 

 

Looming ADA Rules Could Affect Millions of Websites

ada-website

As many small business property owners will attest, the ADA is a brutal and often times unfair law. Property owners that do not comply with the ADA are not entitled to any advanced notice prior to being sued.  Although important to promote access for the disabled, often times the ADA is exploited by a person that either has never actually visited the premises or visited the premises solely for litigation purposes.  This same heavy handedness is coming to websites and whether they are accessible to the disabled.  Property owners such as hotels and hospitality websites will be the first front which will soon be expanded to almost every website.

For more information, and how to check to see if your website is ADA compliant go to: http://www.sun-sentinel.com/business/small-business/fl-ada-website-accessibility-suits-20150623-story.html#page=2  

Please contact our office to assist your business with all of its legal technology needs, including the issue of ADA compliant websites.

Fines for Florida Businesses That Don’t Allow Service of Process on Employees

 

As of July 1, 2014 Florida employers must allow the service of process on an employee or face a civil fine as high as $1,000.00.

 

The newly amended Florida Statute§ 48.03(1)(b) is as follows:

48.031 Service of process generally; service of witness subpoenas.—
(1)
(b) An employer, when contacted by an individual authorized to serve process, shall allow
the authorized individual to serve an employee in a private area designated by the employer.
An employer who fails to comply with this paragraph commits a noncriminal violation, punishable by a fine of up to $1,000.

2013 Florida Legislative Update

Rick+Scott+signs+bill+April+22

The 2013 Florida Legislature was very busy this past session. Many of the bills that passed and are awaiting Governor Scott’s signature or veto will directly impact your business. Unfortunately, there has been little or no press coverage of these newly enacted laws.  Click here to view a list of the actions taken by Governor Scott so far and the upcoming bills awaiting a signature or a veto. Keep in mind,  Governor Scott has 15 days to act on bills presented to him after the close of the annual legislative session. After the 15 day deadline expires and the Governor has not taken any action (sign or veto) , the bill automatically becomes law.

2013 Florida Governor Scott action taken bills

You can view the full text of each bill that passed the Florida Legislature here.

 

 

New Florida Supreme Court Ruling Should Alert Businesses to Review Their Contracts, Now

Although businesses should review their standard “form” contracts annually with their attorney, many do not.  Most often changes to year’s old contracts occur after a deal has gone bad or an expensive lawsuit has been lost. Hidden “time bombs” await businesses in the form of “the law has changed since we first used this contract” or ” this provision has not been enforced by a court in years”.  However, every so often news of a court case, ruling or new statute froths to the top and successful businesses take the necessary steps to adapt their businesses and their contracts accordingly. The recent Florida Supreme Court decision in  Tiara Condominium Assoc. v. Marsh & McClennan Companies, Inc. (SC10-1022) should be one of those instances.

In the Tiara Condominium case, the Florida Supreme Court severely limited the “Economic Loss Rule”. This means business that may not have been able to sue for breach of contract, because the actual contract said they could not (clauses limiting certain damages or liability, etc.) have a second chance.  Lawsuits seeking damages for tort claims like negligence can now be filed even though a claim for breach of contract, on the same set of facts, is not available.

To businesses that update their contracts regularly, the court’s decision restricting the confusing and often sloppily applied Economic Loss Rule will be welcome. These businesses will have their attorneys review their contracts for the best way to adapt to the court’s ruling.  Most likely contract provisions regarding liability and damage limitations, indemnity, insurance and dispute resolution will be modified. Unfortunately, for many businesses the effect of the court’s decision will only be known at a later, much more expensive, date.

 

Florida’s First District Court of Appeal: Florida’s Hotel Tax Does Not Apply to Online Travel Agencies

In a 2-1 decision upholding a lower-court ruling, the Florida First District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee said yesterday that the Tourist Development Act doesn’t apply to what a company collects from customers who reserve rooms online. The companies “are simply conduits through which consumers can compare hotels and rates and book a reservation at the chosen hotel,” the court ruled. . . click here for full article

Florida Supreme Court Hears Online Hotel Tax Appeal

Millions of dollars are at stake in the case being considered by three judges of the 1st District Court of Appeal, but any ruling they make is likely to be appealed to the Florida Supreme Court by the losing side. Roberto “Bobby” Martinez, a former U.S click here for full article