MyCondoNeedsAWebsite.com

In less than a year, condominium associations with 150 or more units (that do not manage a timeshare) will be required to have a website for the purpose of posting digital copies of certain official records so members can access them online.  Although it seems like a simple enough task to comply with §718.111(12)(g), Fla. Stat., there are few things to consider.

First and foremost, regardless of whether the association owns and operates the website of its own accord or will own, lease, or rent the right to operate a web page/portal from another, there are three components which go into having a website: a domain name (www.mycondoneedsawebsite.com), a website (actual web pages), and a web host (server to store the information that can be accessed from the website).  The cost of these components will become a recurring expense which must be accounted for in the annual budget. Research will need to be done to estimate the costs associated with these components well in advance of the deadline for statutory compliance.  Additionally, if the association is going to have its website hosted and operated by a management company (or a third party) it needs to ensure that it has access to the site at all times and to allow for the transition of data (and the domain name) after the relationship ends as the burden on compliance is placed on the association.  The association should have its attorneys review any agreement concerning its website to avoid hiccups in set-up and transition down the road.

Second, the association must understand what must be part of the website.  The statute requires “current” copies of various documents which are delineated in §718.111(12)(g)2, Fla. Stats.  Posting on the website is not an “in lieu of” criteria, it is an “in addition to” criteria.  In other words, just because the notice and agenda of a member’s meeting is posted on the website does not do away with the requirements to mail/deliver the notice to members or the requirement to post the notice conspicuously at the association.  Also if any of the documents which are to be posted on the website, contain information which should be protected from disclosure, the document must be redacted prior to posting.

Third, the association must understand “who” has access and “how” it is given.  The website must be available on the internet such that anyone typing the domain name in a search bar, can find it.  The website must also have at least one sub-page/portal which cannot be accessed by the general public.  This protected page must only be accessible to owners and association employees through a username and password issued by the association.  In order for an owner to obtain access they must make a written request.  Since access is limited to owners (not their representatives, tenants, etc.) it is important to consider providing owner specific access which can be easily revoked upon conveyance of the unit.  The only exception to the password protection requirement concerns notices of member meetings which are to be posted on the main website in plain view or via a conspicuously visible link from the main page to a page titled Notices.

Two additional points concerning websites for Associations to keep in mind.  At present an association with less than 150 units which has a “voluntary” website is not required to comply with the new statute.  It is possible however for this to change at any time.  Additionally, even though the new statute provides access to some official records, there is no provision which prohibits an owner from making a written inspection request of those very same records. As such, even after July 1, 2018, if an association receives a written request to inspect records (which are otherwise accessible via the website), it must still make them available for inspection (physically or “electronically via the Internet or … on a computer screen and printed upon request”) within five (5) working days or risk monetary damages. §718.111(12)(b) and (c), Fla. Stats.  This may be as simple as ensuring the owner or their authorized representative has access via a user name and password to the website, confirming that access in writing to the requestor and later revoking any access given to the representative but not the owner.  The key is to have a uniform system for dealing with such inspection requests which serves as preliminary proof of compliance in a dispute.  Here too, associations should call on their counsel for assistance.

Written by Marilyn Perez-Martinez and originally posted on the FL Condo HOA Law Blog

Assessments and Combined Lots in Florida HOAs

Question: I live in a homeowners’ association community. Recently, one of our owners purchased the vacant lot next to their home. The owner has now combined the properties into one parcel with the taxing authorities and is now demanding that the association only charge them assessments for one lot, instead of two. Is this appropriate? (B.R by e-mail)

Answer: Probably not. Much of the answer will lie in the language in your governing documents and the version of the law which existed when they were initially recorded. Generally speaking, combining two lots into one property for property tax purposes, has nothing at all to do with the status of the lots under the governing documents of the association, including (but certainly not limited to) voting rights and assessment obligations.

Combining two lots into one lot for association purposes would be unusual, but not necessarily impossible (which is the case in the condominium context unless you have unanimous approval of all owners). First, you (or more accurately, your attorney) would have to review the applicable revisions of the governing documents. Section 720.306(1)(c) of the current version of the Florida Homeowners’ Association Act generally prohibits amendments to the governing documents which change the percentage by which owners share in the common expenses of the association, unless approved by all owners. However, this is a fairly recent addition to the law and older homeowners’ associations may be subject to a different version of the statute. Also, even the current law allows the governing documents to distinguish between assessment obligations for lots based on the state of development.

However, the mere fact that an owner has combined two lots into one parcel for property tax purposes changes nothing, in and of itself. I suspect an amendment to your governing documents is required and the association’s counsel should be able to assist in stating how that could be done, or if there is any obligation to even attempt to do so.

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