Legislative condo bills called a mixed bag

Article Courtesy of the Sun Sentinel

By Joe Kollin
Posted May 11, 2006

By the end of next year, your high-rise condo may be required to install a generator that can power at least one elevator for five days after a hurricane. But it may have until 2025 to install fire sprinklers in enclosed hallways and lobbies.

For residents in communities run by mandatory homeowner associations, meetings of committees that spend your money or rule on your requests can no longer be secret. Also, you may be able to force your neighbors to vote on establishing a reserve fund to pay for cleanups after the next hurricane.

The annual 60-day session of the Legislature ended on Friday with bills approved by both houses going to Gov. Jeb Bush to sign or veto.

"It was a productive session," said Donna Berger, executive director of the Community Association Leadership Lobby, or CALL. "I would like to have seen more in terms of insurance relief, but I'm glad the bills we were concerned about were defeated."

Her group includes condo and homeowner association boards that are clients of the Fort Lauderdale-based Becker & Poliakoff law firm.

However, for those who wanted strong measures to protect owners from abusive boards, the session was pretty much a failure. Legislators barely considered some of their proposals, such as limiting terms of directors and giving owners the right to speak about issues on agendas of board meetings.

"This year the Legislature just ignored the problems," said Jan Bergemann of Deland, president of Cyber Citizens for Justice, which in the previous two sessions successfully pushed for major changes in condo and homeowner laws.

Wayne T. Moses, who owns a home in the 56-home Villas Del Mar in Boca Raton, a homeowner association community, agreed.

"They'll wait for something drastic to happen before they do anything," he said. "People are stressed out because of the dictators. It's not pleasant to live like this, and the Legislature is doing nothing in favor of us, the homeowners who buy homes and pay taxes.''

But Arnold Frankel, a director and former president of a 33-unit condo building in Lauderhill East, was glad the Legislature didn't impose term limits.

"Some buildings might have to go to their attorneys to run their buildings because no one wants the job," he said. "I'm sure there are some condos where there should be term limits, but there are some where it's the other way around. Our last president did a fantastic job, but his wife finally told him point blank that it was her or the building. So he gave up the presidency and we all lost out."

Berger said she was concerned about the measure requiring high-rises to have at least one generator-powered elevator by the end of next year.

"We're not talking about multi-national corporations -- we're talking about condominiums," she said of the expense.

She said she was pleased that condos were given 11 more years to install fire sprinklers (the original deadline was 2014) because many associations are stretched thin with recent hurricane expenses.

Bergemann, however, was upset.

"How many people have to die before we finally install them?" he asked. "The delay unnecessarily endangers the elderly, the disabled and the firefighters, who have a hard enough job anyway in these high-rises."

Condo/homeowner association bills
South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Posted May 11 2006, 10:16 AM EDT
The following measures are among those approved by the Legislature during the annual session that ended last week. They now go to Gov. Jeb Bush to consider. Text of the bills can be found at www.myfloridahouse.gov. Keep track of Bush's decisions at www.flgov.com/2006.

Legislative actions
  • FIRE SPRINKLERS: Condos that are at least 75 feet high, about seven stories, have until 2025 rather than 2014, which is currently required by law, to install fire sprinklers in all common areas, including enclosed hallways, lobbies and stairwells. HB 391.
  • ELEVATORS: Condo buildings at least 75 feet high, about seven stories, must have at least one public elevator capable of operating on alternate power for a particular number of hours a day for at least five days following a disaster. The alternate power also must be connected to the building's fire alarm and emergency lights in the lobby and hallways. Deadline for complying is Dec. 31, 2007. Associations must adopt emergency operation plans for evacuation, health, safety and welfare of residents. HB 7121.
  • OPEN MEETINGS: Any meeting of any committee at which a final decision will be made about spending association money or approving or rejecting architectural plans must be open to all members of mandatory homeowner associations. HB 391.
  • RESERVE ACCOUNTS: Allows mandatory homeowner associations to vote to establish reserve funds and establishes the guidelines they must follow. Also requires boards without reserves to notify owners that a special assessment may be required after the next disaster. HB 391.
  • MEDIATION: Owners in homeowner association communities who disagree with their boards over issues such as enforcement of the rules and access to official records must mediate before they can sue. Issues that involve collection of assessments, fines, attorneys' fees and costs, which are the basis of many disputes, aren't subject to mandatory mediation but must go directly to court. HB 391.
  • TERMINATION: Condominium associations can be terminated using a procedure that protects individual owners after a disaster, such as hurricane or fire. The state won't require the continued operation of a condo when it would be an "economic waste." SB 1556.

    Compiled from state documents.