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

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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.

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2011 Florida Community Association Legislative Update

Each of the newly enacted 2011 laws in The State of Florida that impact you and your condominium or homeowner association. These laws went into effect on July 1, 2011.

Click here for the easy to read, print, e-mail and share .pdf version

Fire Code:

Amends s. 633.0215 of the Fire Code to provide that condos, co-ops and multi-family residential buildings of less than four stories are exempt from installing manual fire alarm systems, provided building has an exterior corridor providing egress.

Hurricane Glass:

Condo associations are permitted to install impact glass or other code-compliant windows for hurricane protection.

— Official Records:

Amends s. 718.111(12) (a) 7., to include fax numbers, and provides that email addresses and fax numbers are not accessible to unit owners if consent to receive electronic notices has not been provided by the unit owner.

S. 718.111(12)(c)5. is amended to comport with s. 718.111(12)(c)3. (protected information).

S. 718.112(2)(b)3.b. is added to provide that a Board meeting to discuss personnel matters does not have to be open to the unit owners.

Condo Elections:

Candidates: Must be eligible to serve at the 40 day notice deadline in order to be on ballot or serve.

Director Certification: Condo directors may submit proof of educational course attendance (in lieu of signing the certification form) provided the course is completed within
1 year before or 90 days after the date of election or appointment. Certification is valid as long as the director serves without interruption.

Terms: Terms do not expire at annual meeting if all members’ terms would expire and there are no candidates. When terms expire at the annual meeting, directors may stand
for re-election unless prohibited by bylaws.

— 720 HOA Elections & Meetings:

Adds condo provisions to 720 HOAs:

–Lot owners delinquent more than 90 days are not eligible to serve on the Board, and convicted felons are not eligible to serve.

–All members are entitled to speak at board meetings with reference to all designated agenda items.

— Bulk Telecommunications-HOA:

Creates s. 720.309(2), F.S., mirroring 2010 condo law, allowing association bulk purchase of telecommunications, information, and internet services.

Prohibits HOA from denying individual service to any resident from a certificated or franchised telecom provider.

— Tenants – Condominiums, Cooperatives & HOAs:

Rents: “Future monetary obligations” includes all rent due from the tenant to the unit or lot owner and must be paid to the association until all delinquent accounts are paid in full.

Form Letter: New form letter to tenants explaining tenant’s obligation to pay rent to the association;

Immunity: Tenant has immunity from any claim by
the landlord for rent timely paid to the association after demand.

— Suspensions:

Allows for suspension of common element use rights for non-payment without a hearing, but requires Board approval at properly noticed Board meeting.

Allows for suspension of common element use rights for bad acts after notice and a hearing. If voting rights are suspended, the suspended votes do not count towards a quorum or vote on an action.

— Assessments

A community association that acquires title to a unit through foreclosure is not liable for unpaid assessments that came due before the association’s acquisition of title to any other condo or homeowners’ association.

— Termination of Condominiums:

—Partial terminations and the amendments providing for them are not subject to s. 718.110(4), F.S.

—The plan of termination must state the remaining interests in the portion of the condo not terminated.

—The method of distribution and mortgagee participation to reflect a partial termination has been changed.

—Termination is permitted for reasons of economic waste and/or impossibility if a condo includes units and timeshare units and the improvements have been totally destroyed or demolished.

— Bulk Buyers / Bulk Assignees:

— Amends definitions to mean a person who acquires more than 7 parcels in “a single condominium”.
Bulk assignee is not liable for warranties under s.
718.203(1) or 718.618, F.S., except as provided by the bulk assignee in a prospectus or in the contract for purchase and sale purchase, or for design, construction, development or repair work performed by or for the bulk assignee.

— Requires a filing with DBPR and disclosures to prospective purchasers if the bulk buyer / bulk assignee is offering more than 7 units in a single condominium for sale or for lease for a term of more than 5 years.

— If a bulk assignee receives an assignment of developer’s rights at time of acquisition, and the developer had not already turned over control of the condo to the unit owners, then for purposes of the turnover of control provisions of the condo law, the bulk acquisition of units by the bulk assignee will not be considered a conveyance to a purchaser, or be considered owned by persons other than the developer, and thus will not count
toward the turnover of control percentages until the units are conveyed to owners who are not bulk assignees.

—Bulk buyers and bulk assignees are not required to comply with filing or disclosure requirements IF all units owned by bulk buyer or bulk assignee are offered and conveyed to a single purchaser in a single transaction.

—Bulk buyer and bulk assignee status applies only to the acquisition of condo parcels on or after July 1, 2010, but before July 1, 2012 (in other words, the bulk buyer and bulk assignee status will effectively sunset in 2012).

— New Insurance Legislation, Sinkholes:

—Sinkhole claims must be filed within two (2) years.

Insurers must continue to offer sinkhole coverage, but may limit coverage to homes and not other structures on the property.

—Insurers may require inspections before issuing sinkhole coverage.

—Allows insurers to initially pay only actual cash value
(ACV) for repairs to homes.

—Insurers may require that repairs be made before fully paying a sinkhole claim.

— New Service of Process Legislation

— Any gated residential community, including a condominium association or a cooperative, shall grant unannounced entry into the community, including its common areas and common elements, to a person who is attempting to serve process on a defendant or witness who resides within or is known to be within the community.