Special Assessment Leftover Funds Must Be Returned or Credited To Account

Q: Our condominium association board levied a special assessment for Hurricane Irma damage. Our insurance claim settled for more than we expected, resulting in an excess of funds due to the special assessment. What happens to this leftover money? (S.S., via e-mail)

A: Section 718.116(10) of the Florida Condominium Act provides that funds collected from a special assessment can only be used for the specific purposes for which the assessment was levied. Leftover funds are considered “common surplus” and may, at the discretion of the board, either be returned to the unit owners or applied as a credit toward future assessments.

Q: I am on the board of my condominium association. Several of the directors recently had a “workshop” session to understand the details of a major construction project that is coming up. The workshop was intended to be informational only. No votes were taken. Were we required to post notice of the workshop? (S.C., via e-mail)

A: The answer to your question depends on whether a quorum of the board was present at this gathering. While the law does not specifically address “workshops,” if there was a quorum of the board present, it was a “meeting” if association business was “conducted.”

It is widely accepted that votes need not be taken for a meeting to occur. In my opinion, the activity you describe involve the conduct of association business. On the other hand, if the majority of your directors attend an educational seminar, this is not a meeting as you are not addressing the business of your association.

Therefore, assuming a quorum of the board was present at this event, notice and an agenda should have been posted at least 48 hours in advance on the condominium property, and all unit owners should have been given the right to attend and speak, subject to any reasonable rules the board may have adopted governing unit owner statements at board meetings.

Q: My wife and I co-own a condominium unit. At the last election, we both ran for the board and were elected. Now, some of the directors say we both cannot serve at the same time, and have demanded that we choose which one of us will hold the seat. Is there a precedent on this? (J.O., via e-mail).

A: Section 718.112(2)(d)2 of the Florida Condominium Act states that in a residential condominium association of more than 10 units, co-owners of a unit may not serve as members of the board of directors at the same time, unless they own more than one unit or unless there are not enough eligible candidates to fill the vacancies on the board at the time of the vacancy.

Therefore, if your condominium consists of more than 10 units, if you and your wife only own one unit, and if there was a contested election, you both cannot serve on the board at the same time. Whichever of you received the greater number of votes would be the person who was actually elected, so you can’t simply choose between you. The person who received the next highest number of votes but was not considered elected, would take one of your seats.

It is also worthwhile to note that the law requires challenges to elections to be made within 60 days through an arbitration proceeding with a state regulatory agency. If the election was more than 60 days ago, I am not sure how that would play out since seating both you and your wife was what lawyers call “void ab initio,” meaning null and void from the start.

Originally posted on floridacondohoalawblog.com and written by Joe Adams is an attorney with Becker & Poliakoff, P.A., Fort Myers. 

A Primer on Budgeting and Reserves

Few aspects of condominium and cooperative association operations are as heavily regulated as the budgeting process and yet too many boards take an informal approach to these crucial director functions.  From Section 718.504, which lists the required operating expense categories, to Section 718.112, which delineates the process and the requirements for reserve disclosures, budgeting, funding and use of reserve funds, to Section 61B-22 of the Administrative Code, which addresses even more detailed aspects of the process we can see how broadly the Florida Legislature has addressed budgeting and reserves.  Errors in the manner in which budgets and reserves are handled can subject associations to monetary penalties imposed by the State.

Budgeting is a process of estimating upcoming expenses.  On the operating side, most communities rely on prior years’ budgets and financial statements to develop the upcoming year’s budget for operating expenses.  The operating budget should be designed to meet the reasonably anticipated operating expenses.  All board members should do everything they can to deliver value to the members for their assessment dollars, but some boards make the unwise decision to keep assessments down artificially for political purposes at the expense of performing necessary maintenance.  When this occurs, the ultimate repair costs are usually higher because of the damage and deterioration that could have been avoided had repairs been done in a responsible and timely manner.  To put it simply, budgeting to properly maintain the community is, of course, a fiscal issue, and a planning issue, but it should not be a political issue. 

On the reserve side, many communities that went years or even decades without funding any reserves are finally starting to fund at some level and are considering the cash flow funding model over the component funding model, usually because the cash flow model funds a pooled reserve rather than a reserve fund in which funds are restricted for specific reserve assets rather than being available to use for any reserve asset.  For those communities without fully funded reserves, an accurate reserve study is the best defense against complaints over the inevitable special assessments needed to supplement underfunded reserves or fund projects for which the membership has voted to have no reserves. Boards that pull reserve estimates out of thin air are setting themselves up for future complaints and possible recall when the figures they chose prove wildly inaccurate.

There are too many communities that do not attach an accurate reserve schedule to the proposed budget, as required by Statute.  Usually this is because these communities have not obtained a reserve study from a reliable professional or, in an even worse scenario, have a reserve study and have chosen not to disclose its contents.  All board members and managers are encouraged to remember that the purpose of a reserve study is to allow the board to make accurate disclosures of the upcoming reserve expenses.  The purpose of the disclosure is to enable the owners  to know what expenses are coming up, but does not deprive the members of the right to vote each year to waive or reduce the funding of the reserve portion of the budget.  The assets for which reserve disclosures are required by law are the roof, paving and painting, regardless of cost, and any other component for which deferred maintenance or replacement cost will exceed $10,000.00.  Assets costing less than this dollar threshold can be aggregated for the purpose of reserve budgeting and the Administrative Code allows the board to create other reserves (other than those required by Statute).  For each reserve asset, the reserve schedule must disclose its estimated total useful life, estimated remaining useful life, estimated deferred maintenance or replacement cost, and for reserves funded on the component model, the estimated balance in the reserves for that asset at the end of the current fiscal year. 

This analysis applies to both condominiums and cooperatives (the citations above are for condominiums, but there are identical requirements for cooperatives in other portions of the Statute and Administrative Code).  Homeowners association are not subject to the same requirements unless the developer (before turnover) or a majority of the members (after turnover) vote to opt into the statutory reserve structure.

Preparing your operating budget and planning for reserves each year requires thoughtful deliberation as to the needs of the community both short and long-term.

Charging the Way: New Law Opens the Door for Electric Charging Stations in Condominiums

A recent amendment to Chapter 718, Florida’s Condominium Act, facilitates a unit owner’s ability to install and use an electric-vehicle charging station within their condominium. Section 718.113(8), Florida Statutes, which took effect on July 1, 2018, created a new provision stating that a declaration of a condominium or the board of administration of a condominium may not prohibit a unit owner from installing an electric vehicle charging station within the boundaries of the unit owner’s limited common element parking area, under certain circumstances. A unit owner’s “right” to install a charging stating is not, however, without limits. An association may require that the unit owner comply with all safety requirements, applicable building codes or recognized safety standards for the protection of the association property and its members. An association may also require the unit owner to engage the services of a licensed and registered electrical contractor or an engineer that is familiar with the installation and requirements of an electric vehicle charging station. An owner wishing to install an electric vehicle charging station may also be required to comply with any reasonable architectural standards adopted by the association that govern the dimensions, placement or appearance of the electric vehicle charging station. However, such standards cannot substantially increase the cost of installation.

The new law also provides for additional safeguards for the association. For example, installation of an electric vehicle charging station may not cause irreparable damage to the condominium property. The electricity for the electric vehicle charging station must be separately metered and paid for by the unit owner making the installation. Cost of installation, operation, maintenance and repair of the electric vehicle charging station, including hazard and liability insurance, is the unit owner’s responsibility. Additionally, an association may require the unit owner to reimburse the association for the actual cost of any increased insurance premium attributable to the electric vehicle charging station. The law also shields condominium associations from construction liens resulting from the installation of electric vehicle charging stations by unit owners.

The new law does not, however, say anything about what happens if the association voluntarily opts to install “common” electric vehicle charging stations. In other words, if a condominium association opts to install these “common” electric vehicle charging stations (after complying with the necessary legal requirements) it does not mean that unit owners no longer have the right to install their own charging stations. The new law also does not address who is responsible for any costs associated with upgrading the condominium’s electrical system if an upgrade is necessary to handle the increased electrical usage.

Originally posted on floridacondohoalawblog.com and written by Jennifer Horan

Those Pesky Little White Balls

Living in a golf course community is the ultimate dream for many. However, a golf course address can equate to some rather nightmarish liability issues for many community associations. Those issues often stem from misdirected golf swings or “errant” shots.

There is no statutory law that governs golf ball liability. However, the Supreme Court of Florida has established that the driver of a golf ball is charged with the duty to exercise “ordinary care” for the safety of persons reasonably within the range of danger. Similarly, several other Florida courts have concluded that an operator of a golf course is not required to maintain the course in such conditions that no accident could possibly happen.

Nonetheless, according to such court rulings, the owner or operator of a golf course does have a legal duty to maintain the course in a reasonably safe condition, commensurate with the facts and circumstances that an ordinarily prudent person would generally exercise. Moreover, if a person knows of the existence of the course before moving into a golf course community, he or she is presumed to have “assumed the risk.” As such, generally speaking, that person cannot hold anyone liable for any damage or physical injury which may result from an errant golf ball.

The question of whether a community association can be held liable for errant shot damage or physical injury is dependent on several factors. If approached from a safety perspective, it is well-settled that a community association is charged with a duty of protection from foreseeable common element danger. Such duty arises because an association is usually held to a landlord’s standard of care regarding the common elements in its control. Additionally, the duty to protect against flying golf balls can also be compared to an association’s duty to protect its residents and invitees from foreseeable criminal acts.

Based on all of this, community associations are not automatically insulated from liability regarding errant golf balls. The potential for significant liability does exist. As such, an association’s governing documents and marketing materials should clearly provide that the association cannot be held liable for any damage or injury caused by golf balls hit from a community, or adjacent course. The disclaimer should also be included on the face of an association’s website and in periodic newsletters as well.

Finally, if an association is aware of errant golf balls flying into the community, it should also display signs to warn of the issue, given that the “open and obvious nature” of such a hazard may not always suffice to discharge an association of its duty to warn its membership and invitees of foreseeable potential harm. But, warnings do not necessarily discharge an association from maintaining its property in a reasonably safe condition. Thus, even if an association places warning signs regarding errant golf balls, it still has a duty to try to alleviate any known problems, in an effort to keep its premises safe.

Originally posted on floridacondohoalawblog.com and written by Astrid Guardado, ESQ