Legislature set to revise condo, homeowner association laws

Article Courtesy of The Sun Sentinel

By Joe Kollin

Published February 20, 2008


The countdown is on.

On March 4, the state begins its annual 60-day lawmaking session. Expect a battle between those hoping to rein in the power of condo and homeowner association boards and those wanting to make sure any changes don't hurt boards' ability to do their jobs.

State Rep. Julio Robaina's seven-member House Select Committee on Condominium & Homeowner Association Governance has been holding statewide public hearings but has until March 3 to make its proposals.

However, other lawmakers have already filed bills to expand the rights of homeowners to fly flags in their yards (SB 1378, HB 857); extend until 2011 the deadline for high-rise condos to have a generator hooked up to power an elevator (CS/SB 550); and require the state to tell purchasers exactly what they are getting into when they buy a condo (HB 679).

Sen. Lee Constantine , an Orlando-area Republican, filed a bill (SB 308) that says condo associations can't stop owners from putting solar collectors on building roofs. That is being monitored by two lobbying groups representing boards and the companies that serve them.

"No matter how worthy the energy-saving device may be," the bill should not let owners alter roofs without board approval, said Donna Berger, executive director of the Community Advocacy Network (CAN), an arm of the Katzman & Korr law firm.

The Community Association Leadership Lobby (CALL), an arm of the Becker & Poliakoff law firm, is keeping watch over the solar collector and flag proposals.

"Our primary concern is that it mandates a standard for all HOA communities and takes away control from associations to decide how to address this in their communities," said executive director Yeline Goin.

On the other hand, Cyber Citizens for Justice (CCFJ), an all-volunteer group, will be battling for unit owners. It wants to remove attorneys' financial incentive to file liens and foreclosures against owners who owe as little as $25. It also wants to prohibit associations from filing liens until 30 days after an owner is given notice, with that notice to include a warning that a lien could result in "high attorney's fees."

Other proposals the group has made include requiring the state to regulate homeowner associations the way it does condos; preventing associations from banning emotional support animals when a doctor says they are needed; and making condo owners who screen their balconies responsible for damage to the screens.

If you have a proposal, contact your legislator or Robaina at Julio.robaina@myflorida house.gov or 305-442-6868. You can find your legislator at www.leg.state.fl.us.


Q. Readers in condo and homeowner associations say their boards sign contracts for new roofs, additional landscaping or construction of tennis courts without asking owners first. Yet the results for owners are special assessments and huge increases in maintenance. Can boards obligate owners for big expenses without getting approval from a majority of owners, or at least informing them that an expensive project is being considered?

A. Attorney Robert Kaye, whose Fort Lauderdale firm represents more than 500 associations in Broward, Palm Beach and Miami -Dade counties, said it depends on the nature of the project and the provisions of an association's documents. Florida law lets boards spend association money for projects considered "necessary maintenance" of common property regardless of whether the documents require an owner vote.

"So, if the project being considered is a roof replacement, the board would make that decision, while the construction of tennis courts where none previously existed would likely require a vote of the owners, depending upon the provisions of the governing documents," Kaye said.

This concept also applies to situations that would seem to be capital improvements but are necessary to maintain the property, such as the installation of a seawall to prevent erosion.

Current laws, he said, require boards to provide owners with at least 14 days notice of a board meeting at which nonemergency special assessments are going to be considered. The notice also must describe the nature of the assessment.

In condos, owners have the right to speak on agenda items. In homeowner associations, owners must petition for the right to speak, although boards may listen to owners without a petition, Kaye said.