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