Florida limits condo owner rights to speak

The law requires board members, owners to stick to agenda items at board meetings


Article Courtesy of The Sun Sentinel

By Daniel Vasquez

Published December 23, 2010

Alan Weiner wanted to ask a question of his condominium board members at a recent owners meeting: How many are certified to serve as required by a new Florida law? Weiner found out the hard way that owners have no legal right to bring up an issue not already on a meeting's agenda.

"This was the first time I had requested to speak," Weiner said of the meeting of the Bonaire Village Condominium Association of Delray Beach, "and was told that the board recently ruled that those wishing to speak had to have prior clearance from the board office."

The truth is, no matter what your governing documents say, condo boards must notify owners 48 hours in advance of a meeting and the notice must include a copy of the agenda. Owners and board members are only allowed to address agenda items. In homeowners associations, notice of a meeting must also be made 48 hours in advance but no agenda is required and owners may only speak on items put on the agenda by petition.

So, Florida meeting law is clear: in general if an issue is not on a condo meeting agenda, it is off limits for board members and owners alike to discuss.

The question Weiner wanted to ask was simple to answer: As of July 1, newly-appointed or elected condo board members are required to certify in writing within 90 days after being elected or appointed that they have read the association's governing documents and will uphold community rules to the best of their ability. Members may also be certified via a state-approved course. But the law only applies to board members elected or appointed after July 1, many experts say.

But Weiner was still out of legal luck when it came to getting an answer or response to a non-agenda item. "Many times it is necessary to speak at a given meeting," he said. "Waiting for the next meeting dilutes what needs to be said."

When reached by phone, Bonaire President Barry Howard declined comment and referred questions to association attorney, Melissa Beigel, of Becker & Poliakoff. Beigel said the condo board was not trying to be bad guys here, but were instead attempting to follow Florida condo codes and statutes and be fair to all owners who must follow the same state-mandated rules.

"By law board meetings are restricted to agenda items," Beigel said. "In most circumstances, neither board member nor owners have the right to talk about anything not on the agenda."

What about items on the agenda? Florida requires boards to allow owners to speak on any item on the agenda. For HOAs, the standard is even tougher: Owners are not allowed to speak on agenda items unless 20 percent of the owners petitioned to put that item on the agenda.

Beigel said she recommends - at most that board members consider discussing whether issues that owners clearly want addressed be added to a future agenda. Another course of action: Get a majority of board members interested in your issue and have them place the item on an upcoming board meeting agenda. You may find boards more responsive when you have numbers of neighbors behind you.

While state law limits what owners can speak about at meetings, it is more helpful when it comes to recording comments and actions of boards.

In Florida, condo owners have the right to record board meetings. But the law allows boards to pass rules that limit when and how a meeting is recorded. For instance, owners are not allowed to use recording equipment with distracting lights or sounds. And if governing documents state so, boards can require owners to notify in advance plans to record audio or video of a meeting and to set up equipment before the meeting starts so as to be least disruptive. The law does not address HOA owner rights when it comes to recording meetings.

Daniel Vasquez can be reached at condocolumn@sunsentinel.com or 954-356-4219 or 561-243-6686. His condo column runs Wednesdays in Your Money and at sunsentinel.com/condos. Check out Daniel's Condos & HOAs blog for news, information and tips related to life in community associations at www.sunsentinel.com/condoblog. You can also read his consumer column Mondays in Your Money and at www.sunsentinel.com/vasquez.