ELSS Bill Vetoed, Condominium Bill Approved, & Final Report on Community Association Bills for 2017 Session

Governor Rick Scott has now taken action on all of the community association bills that passed during the 2017 legislative session.

HB 653, Relating to Community Associations, was Vetoed.  Among other things, the bill would have allowed high rise buildings to opt out of an engineered life safety system (ELSS) with a vote of two-thirds of the owners.  The lead lobbyist in this effort to change the law for high rise condominiums and cooperatives is former State Senator Ellyn Bogdanoff, who is now an attorney and lobbyist with Becker & Poliakoff.  Here is a note from Ellyn:

I received a call last night from Rep. George Moraitis to let me know that Governor Scott vetoed the bill. The London fire clearly played a role in this decision. The loss of life there was a tragedy that gave all of us pause but it should not have had an impact on the opt out for ELSS. Our opposition seized the moment and in an abundance of political caution, Governor Scott vetoed the bill. We lost the battle but we have not lost the war. We will regroup and press on.”

If your association is a high-rise, please reach out to your association attorney for the next steps and advice regarding an ELSS.

HB 1237, Relating to Condominiums, was Approved and the effective date is July 1, 2017.  Please read a summary of the bill here.  As you will note, it will require some significant changes in the operation of condominiums with respect to the following subjects:  term limits, conflicts of interest, websites for official records (for condominium associations with more than 150 units), the use of debit cards, recalls, arbitration of disputes, and suspension of voting rights.  Condominium associations will want to consider updating its policies and procedures to ensure compliance with the new laws.

HB 6027, Relating to Financial Reporting, was Approved and the effective date is July 1, 2017.  The bill removes the provisions in the Condominium, Cooperative, and Homeowners’ Association Acts that allow an association that operates fewer than 50 units, regardless of the association’s annual revenues, to prepare a report of cash receipts and expenditures in lieu of the required financial statement.  The bill also removes the provisions from the Condominium and Cooperative Act which state that associations may not waive the financial reporting requirements for more than 3 consecutive years.  Therefore, all associations, regardless of size, must have prepared the appropriate financial report, based on the association’s revenues, unless waived in advance by the members.

SB 398, Relating to Estoppel Certificates, was approved and the effective date is July 1, 2017.  Please read a summary of the bill here.  Associations should update their Estoppel Certificate Resolution and their Estoppel Certificate Form to ensure that it is compliance with the new statute.  We have already developed the necessary forms, so please contact your association attorney to assist you with that process.

SB 1520, Relating to Condominium Terminations, was approved and the effective date is July 1, 2017.  This new law will increase the thresholds necessary for an optional termination.

Now that the Governor has taken action on all of the bills, we will be putting our finishing touches on our 2017 Legislative Guide, including important action items for the Association to take in light of the new laws.

Thank you for all of your support during this Legislative Session!

Written by Yeline Goin and originally posted on Florida Condo HOA Law Blog.

Florida Condominium and HOA Fining Laws are Slightly Different

Question: There seems to have been a lot of change in the law about fining. Has the legislature finally made the condominium statute and the homeowners’ association statute the same on this issue? (C.M. by e-Mail)

Answer: More or less. The legislature is getting closer to making the statutes identical, but there are still a few minor differences. For an overview of the fining (and suspension process), see my column dated September 15, 2016, titled “Association Has Several Options to Enforce HOA Documents.

The first difference is who may serve on the independent committee. The condominium law only allows unit owners to be committee members. Those unit owners cannot be on the board or live with a board member. There is no ownership requirement found in the homeowners’ association statute, although the bylaws would still have some role on the composition of committees. The only restriction in the HOA law is that committee members may not be officers, directors, or employees of the association, or the spouse, parent, child, brother or sister of an officer, director, or employee.

There is also a difference between the two laws regarding the required number of committee members. The Homeowners’ Association Act states that there must be a minimum of three members on the committee, but the Condominium Act is silent. The Florida Not for Profit Corporation Act provides that a committee must have at least two members.

The statutes differ materially regarding the amount of a fine that can be imposed. The Condominium Act provides that no fine may be more than $100.00 per day and the total fine may not exceed an aggregate of $1000.00. The Homeowners’ Association Act contains similar limits, but also allows both a higher daily and aggregate amount if established in the association’s governing documents.

Homeowners’ associations provide that fines of $1000.00 or more may become a lien on the property. The Condominium Act prohibits fines from being secured by a lien.

Written by Joseph Adams and originally posted on Florida Condo HOA Law Blog.

Florida Condominium and HOA Directors Can Usually Serve on Committees

Question: Can a board member also be a member of a committee, such as the fining committee or the landscape committee? (L.D. by e-mail)

Answer: Yes and no. Generally, a board member can also be a committee member. However, there are exceptions. Section 718.103(7) of the Florida Condominium Act defines committee as “a group of board members, unit owners, or board members and unit owners appointed by the board or a member of the board to make recommendations to the board regarding the proposed annual budget or to take action on behalf of the board.” Such committees, sometimes called “statutory committees,” may clearly contain both (or either) board members and non-board members. The composition of other committees, usually called “non-statutory committees” is not addressed in the condominium statute.

The Florida Homeowners’ Association Act, Chapter 720 of the Florida Statutes, does not define what a committee is or its permissible composition.

To add a bit more to the legal complexity of a seemingly simple topic, Chapter 617 of the Florida Statutes, the Florida Not For Profit Act, authorizes the formation of committees, but only speaks to committees comprised entirely of board members.

Finally, many association governing documents address the composition of committees, and occasionally limit who may serve on committees.

In the absence of any provision in the governing documents to the contrary, I have always interpreted the law to mean that the board can create committees and that board members may be committee members. However, if a quorum of the board has been named to any particular committee, or if the committee in question is a “statutory committee,” that committee meeting would be subject to the “sunshine” rules, including appropriately posted notice for the members, allowing for member attendance and participation, and requiring that minutes be kept. Non-statutory condominium committees must also follow the sunshine rules unless the association’s bylaws exempt them.

In the homeowners’ association context, committees are also required to follow the sunshine rules if the committee has the authority to make the final decision regarding the expenditure of association funds or the committee has the authority to approve or disapprove architectural decisions with regard to a specific parcel.

One major exception involves fining and suspension committees, sometimes called grievance committees, compliance committees, or some similar name. Both the Florida Condominium Act and the Florida Homeowners’ Association Act specifically require that such committees be comprised of individuals who are not officers of the association, directors of the association, employees of the associations or the spouse, parent, child, brother or sister of such persons.

 

Importance of Preparing for Hurricane Season

Today, Wednesday June 1, marked the official start of the 2016 Atlantic hurricane season that runs through the end of November. June 1 should serve as an important reminder about the need for individuals to be prepared for any emergency. This may be the start of the hurricane season, but emergencies can happen anytime, anywhere, and everyone needs to be prepared – not just those folks in hurricane-prone states.

Florida residents should check their personal preparations and emergency kits, note any alerts or messages from local emergency officials, and rehearse emergency evacuation routes. Emergency kit supplies should last at least seventy-two (72) hours.

Important items to have ready in case of an emergency include a battery-powered radio, flashlight, extra batteries, medicine, non-perishable food, hand-operated can opener, utility knife and first aid supplies. All important documents should be copied and stored in a waterproof bag. These may include medical records, contracts, property deeds, leases, banking records, insurance records and birth certificates.

When preparing for hurricane season and potential emergencies, the needs of all members of a household should be considered. If a household includes a person with a disability, special steps to assist them may be necessary and should be incorporated into all emergency planning.

Pets also require special handling. They may become agitated during the onset of a storm, so a pet carrier is a must for safe travel. Pet owners should research pet boarding facilities now within a certain radius of where they may evacuate, since animals may not be welcome in all shelters or hotels.

The beginning of hurricane season is also the time to ensure that their Associations maintain the proper insurance coverage, including both hazard and flood insurance coverage. Not only are homes and businesses in hurricane-prone states at risk for flooding, but inland flooding is common.
Mirza Basulto & Robbins, LLP, also reminds our Association clients to confirm that their insurance policies are in full force and effect and adjust deductibles as necessary.

We highly recommend Associations consult with their banks to obtain a line of credit or loan. In case of casualty loss, you must be prepared to cover potential expenses

As a cautionary tale, we have added a link to an article published in the Sun-Sentinel, as to the horrors of not maintaining a hazard and/or flood insurance policy. As a member of the Board of Directors, you have a fiduciary duty to the unit owners to ensure maintenance of such policies (and a personal liability if such policies are not maintained). Insurance premiums may be financed and/or loans may be obtained to finance the acquisition of such policies if not already in place. We encourage you to contact our office should you require more information in this regard.

In the event of the occurrence of any event that is covered under the Association’s insurance policies in effect, we encourage your Association to contact our firm to discuss the filing of a claim.

 

Originally posted at http://www.mbrlawyers.com/

Communications and Community Governance

“That government is best which governs least” – Thomas Paine

Thomas Paine was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States and dubbed “Father of the American Revolution” by historians. He was born in 1737 and lived a remarkable life that spanned the American Revolution, the French Revolution, and life in France under Napoleon’s rule. His communication skills were legendary and he largely influenced many Americans to take up the cause that became the American Revolution. So important were his writings, we still talk about him today.

Community Association Volunteer Leaders (CAVLs as they are designated by CAI) would do well to heed the words of Thomas Paine. In too many community associations, the cry for revolution can be heard. Has your community ever faced a massive turnover or group resignation from its Board of Directors? Does your Board of Directors govern too little or too much?

Community Association Volunteer Leaders are the lifeblood of community association governance. They serve on the Board, they serve on the Committees, and they participate in their communities. But as volunteers, they are not necessarily skilled in politics or communications which can lead to big problems in communities.

Thomas Paine went on to say: “Government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state, an intolerable one.”

In his day, Paine had the power of the printing press on his side. None of today’s communication marvels were available to him. Can you imagine how many friends he would have on his Facebook page or how many Twitter fans would be following him? Facetiousness aside, it is fair to say that most Community Association Volunteer Leaders can communicate far better with their community members today than Thomas Paine could back in his day. Is your association using its communication tools to govern best? Have you created a government that is a necessary evil or have you created an intolerable one? In other words, is your community a better place for your leadership?

I have long held that a community that sheds as much light as possible on its governance is a community that is far more likely to thrive than one that operates in secrecy. Lack of transparency in how their association is being run is the chief complaint I hear from disgruntled residents of associations from around the country. Communities that fail to communicate fail to create harmonious, prosperous living conditions for their residents. The lack of effective communications has made the very people that elected them to see their leaders as an intolerable evil. The irony is that in most cases, those who are governing the association are doing their level best to serve their members.

I hope you will take the words of Thomas Paine to heart when you consider how you will govern your community. The promise of America was little more than a dream when he was a young man. He understood that the challenges facing the fledgling country around him would be met by men and women of great conviction and virtue. He was a master at rallying support for his ideas and building a consensus upon which to proceed. He wrote “the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph” in describing what lie ahead for the Colonies as they prepared to declare their independence from England. While governing our associations may not be as great a challenge, we can certainly draw inspiration from his heroic words. Combine your communication skills with well-intentioned community governance and create a successful community.

 

Originally written by Bob Gourley on MyEZCondo

7 Ways to Modernize Older Communities

With all the new apartment construction taking place nationwide, some owners and management companies are struggling for ways to make their older properties appeal to renters. While it’s true there are a fair share of renters who just want ‘new’, there are a plethora of ways to compete that don’t necessarily involve adding flashy amenities like a zero entry design saltwater pool or a climbing wall. Reinventing resident amenity packages can easily cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. But the good news is that many smart owners and managers are finding ways to compete on a more reasonable scale. Here are a couple of easy ways you can modernize older communities and make them stand out to prospective renters.

Appliances

As each apartment comes up for renewal or is vacated by the current resident, update the appliances. Most renters today favor a look of all stainless, which can be pricey. But you can get the look and feel of stainless with a combination of black and stainless for less money. Over the years, I’ve found that the average prospective resident is perfectly fine with a mix of black and stainless if the stainless is on the microwave and the refrigerator. And it only needs to be on the front; it doesn’t have to be the entire appliance. Why is this? It seems that prospects remember the finish of the appliances that are at eye level, so having stainless or clean steel fronts on your microwaves and refrigerators can essential solve the issue. Make sure you advertise ‘black and stainless’ appliances and you’ll look much newer than you did when you have black or almond appliances.

Snazzy Paint Colors 

A surefire way to give your properties a facelift is to paint, paint, paint. Go for a variety of colors. The old rule of ‘no interior painting’ is long gone. You don’t have to go completely crazy; an accent wall or two in the apartment is probably enough. But make sure your apartments prove to your prospects that they can paint and individualize their living space. Better yet, some paint vendors, like Behr Paints will create a custom color palette just for your company and offer a choice of colors to new residents upon move in.

Fixtures

One of the easiest ways to change the feel of an apartment is by changing up the light fixtures, both in individual units and in common areas within the community. Visit your new construction competitors and see what they are offering in the way of bathroom and kitchen lighting. Then head to the hardware store and find something either similar or better, and start installing it on your turns.

Outlets

All of the newer apartments are offering outlets that include USB ports. And this is a very easy change to make. Your maintenance teams can easily install these in your apartments. The average cost for an outlet with two USB ports is $20. If you’re limited on your budget, residents overwhelmingly prefer to have one of these installed in the master bedroom. Choice #2 for location is the kitchen. These are great renewal incentives as well!

WiFi

Provide free WiFi for your residents in all of the common areas of your property such as clubrooms, fitness centers, business offices and pool areas. While you’re at it, you should have charging stations and plenty of outlets, too. Residents don’t want to go without their devices; devices that need electricity to be charged.

Cellphone Signal Boosters

It’s a harsh reality, but an apartment community with less than four bars of cellphone reception is a community that is going to suffer. This is one feature you HAVE to have to stay competitive. Luckily, it’s an easy and inexpensive fix. Take a tour of your properties while examining your cell phone reception. If you have areas with poor service, install signal boosters.

Service

Let’s face it. Older communities simply won’t have all the bells and whistles of new construction. So to make your community stand out, it’s really important to offer services that will make life easier on your resident. Some great examples include giving your residents access to cleaning services or an on-site concierge.

From a technology standpoint, allow your residents to make service requests through your website and directly contact your staff either via text or email. Combining rent and utilities into one comprehensive bill that residents can pay online is a must too, and is now being offered by PayLease and Ocius. Even better, these services will save you hundreds to thousands of dollars a year in administrative and processing costs. That’s money you can put right back into updating your properties!

This is just a small sampling of ideas to help you keep new, prospective residents coming through the doors and maintaining a lower turnover. Make regular visits to new properties in the area for ideas on services and décor you can add to stay competitive.

Written by Lisa Trosien. Originally posted at PayLease

Landscaping: Let’s Give Them Something to Talk About!

If there is any one common element that gets residents talking and thinking about their condominium or HOA, it is landscaping. The state of appearance in any community association is a direct reflection of its residents and the people responsible for maintaining the look and feel of the property. For most associations, that reflection lands directly on the board of directors and the property management firm.

Why is it so important that landscaping be a top priority for community associations? Quite simply, short of X-ray vision, the landscaping and beautification efforts put forth on behalf of a condominium or HOA are the most visible sign that a community is desirable and flourishing.

Put yourself in the position of a visitor or prospective buyer. What is the first thing you will notice while touring the grounds of a community association? Is it the well-managed reserve fund? Is it the money saved from prudent shopping for insurance? No! It’s the verdant landscape, beautiful trees, attractive shrubs, well-maintained walkways, garden trellises and such! Landscaping turns a slab of earth into a desirable piece of real estate.

I have also found that landscaping is a hot topic for residents. After all, they will enjoy or decry the decisions made about the landscaping they will see every day. In my community, we encourage involvement by allowing volunteer gardeners very small plots that they can tend to. They get to choose which flowers are planted (from a pre-approved selection, of course). Not only does this save the community a little money, it creates a sense of civic pride in that the residents are personally invested in the beautification of the property. When residents take ownership of how the property looks, everyone comes out ahead. Nothing makes me happier than seeing residents come together and work on a community project as a community. I have often said that better gardens make for better neighbors.

Finally, having a community-involved landscaping strategy just makes good business sense. I have found future board members from community volunteers whose first act of volunteerism was helping to plant some flowers. Turns out that by having community members involved in our landscaping choices, we weren’t just planting seeds in the garden. We were growing future leaders of our community. And that’s a landscaping project I’m happy to talk about, time and time again!

Written by Bob Gourley Originally posted at MyEzCondo

How to Motivate Residents to Pay Online

For over a decade, electronic payments have been commonplace in the auto, utility, insurance and cellular industries. Unfortunately, the property management industry is at the tail end of the curve. And management companies that do have an e-payment solution in place often don’t see a huge utilization of the service. Why? Simply because residents aren’t aware they can pay rent online. A little communication goes a long way, so here are two crucial tips for marketing your rent payment service:

  1. Get Your Property Managers on Board: Property managers are the front line to your e-payment service. But realistically, property managers won’t tell residents about it if they aren’t comfortable with it themselves. Make sure they are completely trained on the system and understand the benefits of using it. It is especially important for them to understand the time savings and the ROI of converting paper checks into electronic transactions. Once they use the service, they will have a good comprehension of the time savings, but it would also be good for them to know that the average cost to process a paper check is over $4 per item. Once a property manager realizes the savings and ease of electronic payments they can undoubtedly market the system better to their residents.
  2. The More Ways You Market, the Better Your Results: Any marketing is good marketing when trying to raise awareness amongst your residents. Universally, email marketing seems to be the clear winner in terms of cost and effectiveness. However, any and all outlets you choose; web buttons/banners, print, signage, newsletters, statements, social media, etc., will reach a different resident in a different way. So feel free to experiment with the ways you market and always be sure to give them instructions on how and where they can make their payment.

Since marketing is such a critical element in a successful e-payments program, PayLease offers a wide variety of marketing options to help you increase utilization. Clients will receive a custom marketing plan to fit your management company and your resident demographics.  Contact PayLease for further information on how they can help you market e-payments to your residents.

Written by Matt Amoia. Originally posted on PayLease

Failure to Communicate can Lead to a Managers Downfall

Since I work closely with management professionals, one of the more difficult questions I routinely face from community association leaders is how the community should go about the process of selecting a new community association manager. It causes me great concern when I first hear that a community is thinking of changing managers as most of them I know are conscientious and hard-working individuals who truly give their all for their clients. My first reaction is to ask the board members why they are even considering changing managers. Among the more common answers I hear are:

  • “Too many residents complain of the manager not getting back to them after an issue is reported.”
  • “Projects aren’t getting done on time!”
  • “This manager is charging us too much for the service provided!”
  • “It just isn’t working out.”

The follow-up comment I usually get is to “please do not tell the manager” that we are looking to replace him. While I understand this sentiment, the secrecy between board and community association manager highlights the much larger problem to me. Quite simply, there has been a failure of communication between all parties involved. Unfortunately, it is often the association manager who becomes the scapegoat for this communication failure and will lose not only a client but also valuable income for years to come. That is why it is in every association manager’s best interest to be proactive in his managed communities’ communication efforts. A well-informed client is a happy client.

Communicating with board members is simple enough. Association managers already attend numerous board meetings, annual meetings and even committee meetings. However, with the exception of those homeowners who attend the annual meeting, most residents are largely unaware of the professional who manages their association. Worse still is that the only communication some residents ever receive from their association manager is a notice of a rules violation or a fine. That is why communication tools such as letters, e-mails, newsletters, community websites and even social media are vital to helping association managers properly communicate with the vast numbers of residents whose communities they manage.

Of course, there are numerous other advantages to establishing and maintaining great communications within the communities you manage. Better informed residents tend to be better behaved residents. You can use your communication efforts to build civic pride and create a better sense of community. Perhaps, most importantly, successful communication efforts create loyal clients. Wouldn’t you rather have the board come to you to discuss management shortcomings such as those listed above instead of going out shopping for a new manager behind your back? Of course, you would!

Taking the time to produce great communications is not always at the top of a busy manager’s “To Do” list. Understandably, there are numerous distractions and emergent matters to deal with. However, if you neglect a community’s communication needs, don’t be surprised to learn your clients have been secretly looking to replace you. You can avoid that disappointment by making communications a top priority. If you need help telling your story, don’t be afraid to seek out an expert. Communicating with your clients is the best way to assure they will stay loyal to you for years to come.

Written by Bob Gourley is founder of MyEZCondo, a communications firm that produces newsletter and website content material for condominiums and homeowner associations throughout the USA. He also serves as board president of his local HOA.  This article originally appeared in Condo Management Magazine.

Keeping it Legal: The Story of your Community Association’s Attorney

 

Comedian Milton Berle is quoted as saying “Attorneys practice law because it gives them a grand and glorious feeling. You give them a grand and they feel glorious”.

While attorneys may be on the receiving end of many jokes, the contribution they make to your community is no laughing matter. Depending on the size of your association and the challenges you are facing, chances are you have one or more attorneys performing crucial work on behalf of your association. Telling the story of the important work these professionals perform on behalf of your association is crucial to helping your community cope and thrive in the face of legal challenges.

Attorneys that specialize in the legal issues and challenges facing community associations are relatively abundant. The attorney you have chosen to represent your community is an important member of your team and a vital asset to promoting a healthy and harmonious community for your residents to enjoy. If you’ve ever taken the time to read through your community’s covenant, declaration, by-laws, and rule and regulations documentation, you have a first-hand appreciation of how complex those documents can be. In the litigious society in which we live, can you imagine having to stand by your own interpretation of those documents in a court of law?

Since 1993, Community Associations Institute has recognized excellence in the practice of Community Association Law. That is when the College of Community Association Lawyers, more commonly known as CCAL, was founded. Membership in CCAL is quite exclusive. Of the thousands of attorneys that practice community association law, less than 150 have been granted membership.You can learn more about the College of Community Association Lawyers at the CAI website –http://www.caionline.org/career/designations/ccal/Pages/default.aspx

What will your typical homeowner want to know about the attorney you have chosen to do the important legal work of the Board? Ideally, you will want to provide a biography from the attorney that details his or her involvement in the world of community association law. Many of these attorneys will be happy to provide articles of legal interest that can be included in your newsletters or posted on your website. Quite often, it is beneficial to have the attorney appear before the membership at an HOA meeting to address legal concerns held by members of the association.

In describing lawyers, John Quincy Adams said “Whoever tells the best story wins”. I couldn’t agree more. Choose your community association attorney wisely if you want to be the winner when your community’s story is told.

Written by Bob Gourley Originally posted at MyEzCondo