Condo courses offer solutions

Article Courtesy The Sun Sentinel


Published August 2, 2007


For many residents of Broward County condominiums, it's a story that plays out often: disputes among residents, association managers or board members.

But there are avenues to avoid those disputes, which can sometimes turn into costly legal battles. Educational courses are available from various sources, including nonprofit groups and the state's Department of Business and Professional Regulation. Many disputes often arise when owners and board members aren't fully aware of their rights and responsibilities, said Bill Raphan, assistant condo ombudsman at the state agency. 

Raphan teaches a course for unit owners and board members at Broward Community College. The $25 course is spread over two Fridays and covers various topics such as the state statutes that govern condo associations. The next course begins Friday and meets again Aug. 10. The courses are an eye-opener for some, he said.

"They're surprised at the obligations and the rights they have," Raphan said. "They're surprised that a condominium is a business and has to be run like a business."

Raphan said questions at classes run the gamut of condo issues, from association funding to unit access for maintenance. Procedures for running a board meeting are the subject of their own course at Palm Beach Community College. During condo elections, questions and allegations of fraud stack up. In one Miami condo, a video camera captured intruders drilling holes into a ballot box, Raphan said. To prevent election fraud, the state agency can provide monitors to supervise an election. 

The issuing of special assessments is also a hot topic.

"People think if they're getting assessed a certain amount, someone's stealing," he said.

Issues such as maintenance and renovations often come up in courses offered by the Community Associations Institute, said Lisa Magill, president of the institute's southeast Florida chapter, a nonprofit group that provides association education resources. Renovation of common spaces such as lobbies can lead to disputes, as can concrete restoration that intrudes into an owner's unit, she said.

"If you have made some very expensive improvements to the interior of your unit, the last thing that you want is the association tearing apart part of those improvements to maintain or repair the concrete infrastructure, but it has to be done," Magill said.

Aside from construction work itself, disputes with contractors are common if the association doesn't adequately protect itself when the contract is written, she said. 

Many of the classes offered by the institute are free, Magill said, although some accredited courses for association managers have fees. There are no classes during the summer, but courses will resume in September, starting with a round table on budgeting. Other classes cover topics such as association rules, fire safety and 40-year structural recertification.

To register for the Department of Business and Professional Regulation's classes, call Broward Community College at 954-201-7800.