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”.

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It Has Begun, 2017 Florida Condominium Association Legislation

It’s only the beginning, Florida’s 2017 Pending Condominium Association Legislation

-By Joshua Gerstin, Esq.

Recently, Florida’s House and Senate passed a bill drastically changing the laws related to condominiums. Considering the public landscape of the various issues the bill addresses, it is unlikely Governor Rick Scott will veto the bill.   Therefore, condominium associations should begin to familiarize themselves with these new laws as soon as possible.

Following are changes to Chapter 718 from the recently passed Senate Bill 1682, additional legislative changes affecting community associations are expected from the legislature in the near future (will be detailed upon passage in subsequent articles):

1.     The term “kickback” was inserted, although undefined, in the list of prohibitions against a director when choosing a vendor for a condominium association.  In certain circumstances, kickbacks or other prohibited conduct can now be classified as a crime.

2.    Theft, embezzlement, forgery of ballot envelopes, election fraud, the destruction of official records in the furtherance of a crime and the acceptance of kickbacks are all classified as crimes.

3.    A condominium association is forbidden from hiring an attorney that also represents the association’s management company.

4.    Board members, the property manager and the property management company are prohibited from purchasing a property at a foreclosure sale resulting from the association’s foreclosure.

5.    No later than July 1, 2018, condominium associations with 150 or more units must have a website dedicated to the association’s activities on which required notices, records and documents can be posted. The website must contain a members only, password protected page accessible only to unit owners and employees of the association. The legislation contains an extensive list of documents that must be posted to the Association’s website.

6.    If permitted by the Association’s Bylaws, term limits of four consecutive two year terms can be imposed on a director and require a 2/3 majority to reelect.

7.    The Board certification requirement for recalls is removed in its entirety. Directors are required to step down at a meeting five business days after a recall petition with the requisite votes is submitted.

8.    An association or any officer, director, employee, or agent of an association may not use 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. Use of a debit card issued in the name of the association or billed directly to the association for any expense that is not a lawful obligation of the association may be prosecuted as credit card fraud pursuant to s. 817.61.

9.    A condominium association cannot employ or contract with any service provider owned or any person who has a financial relationship with a board member or officer, or a degree of consanguinity by blood or service provider in which a board member or officer, third degree of consanguinity by blood or marriage of a board member or officer, owns less than 1 percent of the equity shares of the service provider.

10.     Arbitrators hired by the Division are mandated to hold a hearing within thirty days of confirmation of a dispute and issue a written opinion thirty days after the hearing.

11.    Management companies are required to disclose financial interests in any vendor they recommend to an association

12.    Management companies are required to turn over all association records when their contracts expire.
A determination of whether the Division has adequate funding to handle its increased responsibilities remains an open question.  Nonetheless, Governor Rick Scott is expected to sign Senate Bill 1682. Other bills affect community associations are winding their way through the legislature. We will keep you updated as further legislation develops.

Stay Informed, Subscribe to the Gerstin & Associates Newsletter

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

Vaccine Discovered to Prevent Zombie Homes from Plaguing Florida’s Community Associations!

Two recent Florida Appellate Court decisions offer hope for community associations plagued with zombie homes.

-By Joshua Gerstin, Esq.

Within the last decade, almost every community association has encountered the same problem, a lender forecloses on an owner and nothing happens for years.  Either the owner vigorously contests the lender’s foreclosure, the lender simply does not move forward or both.  While the lender’s case meanders through the courts, the association is left with a “zombie house”, an abandoned home lowering property values and/or an owner no longer paying his/her maintenance assessments.  Until now, once a lender filed a foreclosure lawsuit a community association could do nothing other than sit and wait, sometimes for years.

In two recent Florida appellate court cases a vaccine for this zombie house problem was discovered, the community association’s “relation back” provisions in its Declaration.  In Fountainspring II Homeowners Association, Inc. v. Veliz, Case No. 4D-3408 (Fla. 4th DCA March 15, 2017), and Jallali v. Knightsbridge Village Homeowners Association, Inc., Case No. 4D15-2036 (Fla. 4th DCA Jan. 4, 2017), the Courts ruled the association was permitted to begin its own foreclosure action after the lender’s foreclosure had already begun (and stalled). In addition to the Florida laws governing both condominium and homeowner associations, the Courts found the governing documents of each association to be a major factor in their decisions.

According to both the Fountainspring and Jallali cases, well-drafted “relation back” provisions in a community association’s governing documents allow community associations to foreclose on an owner after the lender foreclosure lawsuit has already begun.  Although the association’s lien and foreclosure remains subordinate to the lender’s foreclosure, the association can drastically cut the effect and expense of a zombie home.  Properly worded “relation back provisions” in a community association’s governing documents is another tool available to community associations struggling to keep costs down and property values up.

Please contact our office for an evaluation to determine whether your association’s governing documents have the necessary “relation back” provisions to benefit from these recent Florida court decisions.

Stay Informed, Subscribe to the Gerstin & Associates Newsletter

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

Here Come the Lawyers! US Supreme Court Declares Criminals Have a Right to Live in Your Community Association and a Right to Sue You for Trying to Stop Them

By Seth Amkraut, Esq.neighborhood_watch_05b

Click here for .pdf version of this article

Potential Personal Liability for Board Members.

Many community associations in Florida screen prospective buyers and tenants. This screening process typically includes a comprehensive background check into each applicant’s credit, rental, employment and criminal history.  Recently, an interpretation by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”) of a recent United States Supreme Court Case, Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs, et al v. Inclusive Communities Project, Inc., et al., severely curtailed community associations’ ability to deny sales or rentals to convicted criminals.  Enforcing blanket bans on convicted criminals purchasing or renting in your community can now subject both the community association and its Board members, individually, to liability.

With particularly awful circular reasoning, HUD issued an April 4, 2016, guidance memorandum declaring a higher percentage of adult minorities have criminal records when compared to the overall adult population.  Therefore, prohibiting a person with a criminal conviction to buy or rent in your community has a “disparate impact” on certain racial minorities tantamount to racial discrimination. Considering racial discrimination in housing violates federal law, HUD rounds the final corner and declares by extension the blanket use of criminal records to deny housing violates Federal law. This is a critical pronouncement effectively outlawing all blanket prohibitions on individuals with a criminal history and calls into question less restrictive policies. Even a narrowly tailored policy excluding only certain types of criminals must accurately distinguish between criminal conduct representing a genuine risk to other residents or property.

Making matters worse, HUD’s guidance on this issue shifts the long-standing burden requiring a Plaintiff to prove their case. Instead, community associations will be presumed to have discriminated against a proposed tenant or purchaser if a person within a protected class (e.g. a racial minority) is denied housing simply due to the person’s prior criminal record.   To rebut this presumption, community associations will have to prove the association’s denial of housing to persons with a “criminal history” actually assists in protecting resident safety and/or property. The only exception is for criminal convictions relating to manufacturing or distributing controlled substances. In essence, HUD has determined violent felons, such as murderers or rapists, are less dangerous than people manufacturing or distributing illegal drugs.

Individual board member liability.

As experienced Board members will tell you, often times upset owners (and their accommodating lawyers) name board members individually in lawsuits.  More often than not, these lawsuits are defended (and dismissed) by an association’s insurance counsel. However, most community insurance association policies will not offer coverage for housing discrimination or similar claims.  Without such coverage, both the association and the individual board members will have to pay out- of-pocket for representation and any resulting damages.  Although the individual board members may seek reimbursement from the Association (indemnification), claims for housing discrimination are known as intentional torts or intentional statutory violations. Typically, community associations are not required to indemnify individual board members against claims for damages related to intentional conduct. As you can surmise, the result of not a board member not being indemnified by his/her community association can be financially ruinous.

What can an association do? 

There is no one size fits all formula for creating Fair Housing Act compliant criminal background policies. In this new legal landscape, every community association that considers criminal history when evaluating prospective buyers and tenants must be prepared to defend the inevitable claims filed by rejected applicants.

Gerstin & Associates can assist your community association with drafting a criminal background policy allowing for the rejection of the most dangerous applicants while minimizing the risk of liability for discriminatory practices. Contact our office today for a free consultation.

Stay one-step ahead of new legislation, recent case law and new developments that impact your community association by subscribing to the Gerstin & Associates Community Association Newsletter.  Please complete and either email or fax the following to: (561) 750-8185 (no cover page needed).

Name: ____________________________      Association name: _____________________

Position at the association (director, property manager, etc.) _____________________

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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.

U.S. Supreme Court Bankruptcy Ruling Will Help Florida Community Associations

In Bankruptcy, community association liens are often times “stripped off” if the home is worth less than the amount of the mortgages that are securing it. The United States Supreme Court put an end to that practice as it relates to second mortgages which presumably would also apply to community association liens. Full article here

New Proposed Federal Regulation: Amateur Radio Antennas & Towers Must Be Allowed in Your Community Association

Presently pending in the United States Congress, H.R. 1301 is a bill proposed to protect the installation and use of amateur radio antennas and towers in community associations.  According to the bill, “[t]here is a strong Federal interest in the effective performance of amateur radio stations established at the residences of licensees”.  In regard to a community association’s restrictive covenants, the bill applies existing FCC policy used when dealing with State restrictions on antennas and towers to community association declarations.  The bill would, among other things, require community association “to permit erection of a station antenna structure at heights and dimensions sufficient to accommodate amateur service communications.”   H.R. 1301 would also apply to private office parks and essentially any privately owned land with use restrictions related to amateur radio antennas and towers.

 

The full text of the bill is available here: HR Bill 1301, United States Congress, Amateur Antennas and Towers.

Tech Company Contracts Have Unique Considerations

Understanding the difference between direct and contributory patent infringement is important when drafting contracts for a tech company.

 

As counsel to multiple technology companies, I am always baffled when a negotiating counterpart disputes there are multiple types of infringement, followed by a demand my client bears the burden “for any and all patent infringement” related to its product. In reality, if your client signs a contract accepting the onus for “any and all patent infringement”, your client (if its product is successful) will certainly be either defending or paying a third party’s cost for defending a patent infringement lawsuit. Instead, consider only agreeing to liability based on claims your client’s product “directly infringed a patent”. Being responsible only for claims alleging direct patent infringement, your client will not have to concern itself with having to defend claims contributory infringement. Contributory infringement usually rears its ugly head as part of a scatter shot pleading in which a lawyer names every party or person tangentially related to your product or its use. Patent infringement lawsuits are expensive. Limiting your clients exposure to these lawsuits is something to strongly consider when drafting a contract for a tech company client.

A good analysis of contributory infringement, in which the Court held contributory infringement does not exist without first having direct infringement is in the recent case of Limelight Networks, Inc. v. Akamai Technologies, Inc. -S. CT.- 2014 WL 2440536 (2014).

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.