What You Need to Know About Florida's Condo Laws - Owlcation - Education
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What You Need to Know About Florida's Condo Laws

Dreamworker has a lifetime of successful business, relationship, career and financial experiences she enjoys sharing with her readers.

People who purchase condominiums in the State of Florida and do so without having any knowledge of what is hidden within the laws are taking risks that can seriously impact them financially, physically and emotionally.

Once they find themselves in the middle of a problem, it's too late because there are few ways for them to protect their rights. Trying to do so, can also be quite expensive.

Owners are led to believe that the laws protect them, but it has been made amply clear that they rarely do so.

Thus, the first thing you need to know is that you should never buy a Florida condominium without knowing how the condominium laws work.

Knowing that ownership will strip you of the majority of your rights might make you think twice about buying, and it should!

What You Need to Know About Buying a Florida Condo will help you to understand more about what I just said here, and reading this article will add to your knowledge.

What Florida condo owners need to know about how the laws of the state are biased against them.

What Florida condo owners need to know about how the laws of the state are biased against them.

The Florida Legislature

It is important, first and foremost, for you to understand that those making the laws are lawyers.

Therefore, they have set up a system that requires people to use their services if they want to have any chance whatsoever of standing up for their rights.

This creates more income for lawyers and more financial outgo for unit owners. Furthermore there is no way to know if the thousands of dollars you spend will reap any rewards.

They rarely do.

A Real Life Example

One good example of this is a condo owner who felt that not being permitted to park his truck on the grounds of his community was a violation of his rights.

His truck was his only vehicle, was legally defined as being an automobile and was his only means of transportation. Furthermore, he paid his monthly fees just like everybody else and therefore felt the condo rules discriminated against him.

He battled long and hard with the help of a lawyer, but in the end, he lost the fight. He also lost about $200,000!

This was great for his lawyer, but not so great for him!

The Bureau of Condominiums

The department called the Bureau of Condominiums was set up by the state to oversee problems that occur with Florida's condos.

Some people try to keep from contacting these peopel by calling the state's Ombudsman. However, all the Ombudsman does is tell them to contact the Bureau of Condominiums.

When they do, they quickly learn that this department has no real authority. Its employees act like they do, but in the end admit that they do not.

They always tells people either to file for arbitration or call a lawyer. However, if you go to arbitration without a lawyer, you have absolutely no chance of winning your case because preparing the paperwork is extremely complicated. If you mess it up, the state dismisses your case before it even makes it to the Arbitrator!

Also, the state only allows certain issues to be arbitrated. This means that if your issue does not fall into the right category, you have to file a lawsuit.

At this writing there are only 53 investigators available to help the residents of more than one and a half million condo communities, but the word "help" is clearly a misnomer.

If these people could really help people, they would not need to call lawyers!

When you finish reading it, you'll be as sick as the thousands of condo owners who find out the hard way that they were duped into thinking this agency could help them.

Thanks to the States laws, the Bureau of Condominiums is joke that takes people a journey into a hell that can last for years and cost a fortune.

Those laws may look innocent enough when you read them, but they will undo an owner who tries to seek justice unless he gets very lucky.

Another Real Life Example

A condo owner became concerned when his board began suggesting major changes which most residents would not be able to afford and were not necessary to do.

Florida law gives residents the right to access official documents and to file a complaint with the state if the board does not comply.

It didn't, and he did.

After more than a month the Bureau of Condominiums investigator closed the case in favor of the board. He did this even though he possessed proof that the lawyer and the board had lied to him.

To add insult to injury, the board's attorney stated in his rebuttal that he reserved the right to try and collect his fees ($2,000) from the resident for the work he did on the board's behalf, his reasons being that the requests were malicious in nature!

It is very clear from this example that the board violated the law, but won the complaint anyhow due to a judgment call by an inept and untrained investigator that didn't want to get into a problem with a lawyer.

Imagine the position a unit owner places himself in if he tries to sue the board or management company for some major injustice, rather than just filing a complaint so that he can see some documents!

The Financials Are Unfair to Plaintiffs

It is important to understand the financials of such situations.

  • Boards attorney fees are paid for by unit owners, (including those who file complaints).
  • People who file for have to pay for their own attorneys.
  • Losers generally have to pay the legal fees for winners.

Thus, people who go to arbitration or file lawsuits can end up paying three times! Board members, on the other hand, pay nothing.

This definitely is not a fair playing field and is the main reason why there is so much abuse by boards and management companies!

The Business Rule

The laws that govern Florida condominiums are different and take many rights away from owners.

For example:

1. The only qualifications for board membership is that a person needs to be breathing and not owe any money to the association.

2 Boards can make all sorts of expensive. law breaking and abusive decisions,, but something called "the business rule" excuses them from the having to bear any legal consequences for their actions because the state assumes them to be "innocent". The only exception is when they seek professional advice, do not heed it and cause problems for the community.

3. Furthermore, the law prohibits money to be an issue when it comes to making decisions, thus giving boards blank checks for spending residents' money as they choose.

Can you imagine a board wanting to tear off relatively new roofs and mansards for an entire community, charge residents an assessment of more than 2 million dollars and being excused for doing so? This is happening right now in my own community and will likely bankrupt many residents.

So, when boards waste money, hold meetings without giving proper notice, refuse to produce minutes so that residents who don't attend meetings can know what is going on, defame people publicly and allow some residents to do things that are violations, there is no recourse for owners, thanks to The Business Rule.

Voting Rights

There are three main areas where residents get to vote on issues. All are horribly flawed due to biased and unfair state laws.

Unit owners can vote to recall board members, vote in annual elections and vote for or against material alterations.

Recalls

When residents become unhappy with the behavior of one or more board members, they have the right to recall them from office.

The catch is that doing so has several caveats that make it difficult or impossible to do and the recall may only be temporary.

  1. Residents must either call a member meeting or have residents sign paperwork stating that they want board members removed.
  2. More than half of the unit owners must agree to do this.
  3. They must also allow the board to choose replacements or, barring this, provide their own replacements.

In the first situation,getting people to sign their names to papers (or even vote by raising their hands) to remove a board member from office is extremely difficult. After all, board members are also their neighbors and there can be social repercussions that come from doing something like this.

Secondly, it is almost impossible to get more than half of the people living in a community to commit to a recall. Imagine trying to do this chore in 500 unit condo!

Finally, even when people manage to recall a few board members, it's almost a useless cause because the remaining members will simply vote other friends into office because they know they'll vote with, rather than against, them on important issues.

Finally, even when people are recalled, they can run for office the following year and get on the board again!

You may wonder who would vote for them? Well, a vote isn't always required.

For example, one condo has a seven member board. If more than seven people do not run for office in a given year, any person who simply puts his name on the list to run is automatically on the board!

So what good is the recall law?

Elections

One power that people do have is to be able to vote to elect board members and vote in favor or against any alterations that change the look of or materials used in upgrades to the common element.

There has been a huge problem in South Florida in recent years due to vote fixing. As a result, the state has passed new laws, but so far, they have proven to be ineffective. This, again, is because of the bias against unit owners, the lack of competent and empowered investigators and the costs and time involved in litigation.

So, while people can vote to elect board members, cheating is rampant in some communities. This means that the corrupt officials remain in office despite the fact that they and their friends break the law in order to maintain their positions.

Residents can complain, but only if they hire lawyers to help them. Even when this happens, enforcement is rare.

One example is creating a ballot in the name of someone who is out of town and either does not send in his vote or does not vote at all. It's very easy to do and almost impossible to detect unless someone in authority is overseeing the vote.

Laws that provide no realistic means of enforcement are totally useless.

State laws give boards the power to spend unit owner money without their permission, even when amounts can imperil the community.

State laws give boards the power to spend unit owner money without their permission, even when amounts can imperil the community.

Material Alterations

When it comes to voting for material alterations, residents do have the ability to vote yes or no. However, they are not aware that a "yes" vote means they are financially committing themselves to a project regardless of the costs that might be involved. They think they are only stating general preferences.

Boards are not required to tell residents the potential costs of a project and, in fact, state law even goes so far as to say that cost cannot be a consideration when it comes to making a material alteration!

Boards get to decide which alterations are material in nature and which are considered to be normal maintenance. In the latter situation, there is no voting.

If residents question the decision to call an issue normal maintenance when they think it is a material alteration (which would allow them to have a vote), they must hire a lawyer and go through arbitration or litigation to settle it!

Thus when residents find changes unnecessary or too costly, there is generally nothing they can do about them other than to pay up, and paying up can cost tens of thousands of dollars or more.

Stating that cost doesn't matter when it comes to making alterations is ridiculous. Of course cost matters, and of course cost should be a determining factor.

The state even goes so far as to tell boards they are not required to accept the lowest bids for any work they contract.

When boards make careless spending decisions, residents suffer the financial consequences, which sometimes result in the loss of their homes.

Florida condo residents often need to hire lawyers to advocate for them in order to get satisfaction with regards to even the most simple issues.

Florida condo residents often need to hire lawyers to advocate for them in order to get satisfaction with regards to even the most simple issues.

Unit Owners Are Powerless

Unrealistic and unenforceable state laws open the doors for condo boards and their agents to blatantly and consistently violate condominium owners.

The state has laws on the books that make it look like residents have power, but they really do not.

The only way they can become powerful, is to get themselves elected to boards, but few think the work or responsibilities involved in sitting on a board makes doing this worthwhile. Furthermore, some do not feel capable, while others are old, sick or apathetic.

So, if

  • the state does not protect people
  • those willing to sit on boards can choose to abuse their positions and
  • others are unwilling to step up

you create a noxious stew like the one Florida condo owners are now facing.

Corruption Is Rampant

No matter the circumstances, condo owners need to understand that once they buy a unit, they are putting themselves at grave risk because the few examples cited here are just the tip of the iceberg.

Communal living in its very nature requires people to give up certain rights, but it certainly should not require them to be victimized financially or socially by incompetent or unscrupulous laws, lawyers, boards and property managers.

The Florida Legislature must start reviewing and changing condo laws so that unit owners do not have to employ lawyers to obtain justice.

Just knowing that the condo laws of Florida are biased against owners serves a small level of protection, but until the laws change, potential buyers and owners need to beware.

Questions & Answers

Question: The roof leaked and caused damage inside my condo. In Florida, who is responsible for the interior repairs?

Answer: Generally speaking, the association is responsible for the buildings and the owner is responsible for the living space. However, each case must be taken on a case by case situation. For example, if you had a small roof leak and did not report it quickly, thus causing it to become more serious, YOU will have to pay for the internal damage. Your homeowner's insurance, however, should cover this. However, if you reported the leak quickly and the board didn't address your problem quickly, thus making it worse, THEY would have to pay for the repairs. People who leave their condos vacant for long periods of time often run into this problem because they were not present to see a leak when it started, so couldn't report it. However, it is on them to have someone check their condo regularly and report back to them if they see issues.

Question: How long can a president serve on a condo's board?

Answer: Florida just passed a law limiting board membership to a maximum of 8 years, this includes the President and any other officers.

Question: Why is the condo board not required to have bylaws rewritten after 30 years?

Answer: Why would boards rewrite bylaws that are working well for a community? If they want to change them, they can amend them through a community vote.

Question: Does the Florida condo board have to provide monthly Financial statements?

Answer: Condo boards are supposed to maintain websites that residents can access that have financial statements and other important information on them. However, I don't think the smaller communities are required to do this. Owners can, however, request to see those statements and can even make copies, but they have to do so following DBPR rules which are a bit cumbersome.

Question: Can a Florida Condominium vote terminate and divide funds equally among owners, so that each owner can govern his own maintenance as a whole like a habitat community?

Answer: It is possible to do depending on what your documents and state laws say. However, it is a very complicated thing because your units are physically connected, so if one owner does not do his part and maintain his own place properly, what would the others do? Or if one owner doesn't agree to pay for joint items such as lawn care, what would the others do? You need to have a management team to handle these things, and this would be hard to do without being a condo because a condo is actually a not for profit corporation. Furthermore, you'd have to get every single owner to agree, sign individual contracts, pay lawyer's fees, etc. It would be a mess. If you are unhappy with your situation, you'd do better to sell and just buy a house or rent an apartment.

Question: Our condo deeds do not assign a specific parking spot to an owner. Does a Board of Directors have the authority to change parking assignments?

Answer: Yes, as long as they set up the rules, vote on and pass them and give each owner a copy. Parking problems are one of the biggest issues that condo owners face, so it's always a good idea to assign spaces.

Question: Does the condo association have to provide each unit owner a copy of the by-laws & the declaration to each owner?

Answer: The association originally provides one copy of the documents to a unit. After that, it is up to the unit owner who is selling to provide his copy to his buyer. If he does not do this, the new owner must purchase a copy for himself unless the association supplies them. Most do not do this.

Question: Can a board refuse to answer any questions related to the operation of the condo association?

Answer: There are certain things boards cannot discuss with the community, such as pending lawsuits or replacing contractors. However, if you submit a question in writing and send it to the board via certified mail, they must respond within 30 days. However, they may just respond with a "thank you for your concern" rather than a real answer. Legally, however, you have the right to inspect and make copies of all official documents. Contact the DBPR in your state for guidance about how to do this.

Question: Does this new term law apply retroactively or do the 8 years start when the law was passed?

Answer: I believe all laws that are passed take effect on July 1st following the date when they were passed.

Question: If you're not the owner of a condo, can the Florida owner do a credit check on you after you been living there for four years with no problems?

Answer: If you are residing in a condo, the board has the right to check your background both criminal and credit. They should have done this before allowing you to move in, but if not, they can still do so. It's a means of protecting the members of the community both financially and physically.

Question: Is there such a thing as a board allowing temporary exceptions to the bylaws? I live in a community that does not allow trucks. However, someone is parking a truck on the premises and I have been told that they have been granted a temporary exception.

Answer: Boards can do this, but it isn't really legal because it basically is discrimination. In other words, they are allowing one person to do something that nobody else can do. It's a bad idea and can lead to someone suing the board and, if nothing else, can cause a huge amount of hard feelings among residents.

Question: Is a board responsible for resolving an owner's disruptive behavior?

Answer: That depends on what the person is doing. In many cases, a board will step in if there are problems where an owner is violating the rules of the community, but in some, it will be up to owners to resolve their own disputes. Sometimes this will mean contacting the police or hiring an attorney.

Question: Is there a law that you can't rent your condo in Florida?

Answer: No, but it is up to what it says in your documents that determines whether you can rent out your condo or not. Any board member can answer this question for you. Each condo is different in its requirements.

Question: How did a condo board year after year get away with no vote until 2017 to put 10 or 20% into reserves?

Answer: Obviously, the board did not choose to have a vote on this issue and was not required to do so. However, a new board can call for such a vote if they feel it is necessary.

Question: Why were condo bylaws written to allow 1 and 2 bedroom units to pay exactly the same condo fees and therefore pay the same assessment amounts? Why can't people get help from the state etc. to change the laws?

Answer: Fees are set based on square footage. If two units have the same square footage, then, yes, they would pay the same assessment amounts. The state cannot change condo bylaws any more than condo associations can change state laws. They are two different things.

Question: Concerning Florida's condo laws, once an assessment is passed, does it have a deadline for completion? Can a major repair listed on an assessment that is affecting my apartment be removed from the new appointed board?

Answer: The state statutes require all boards to be responsible for maintaining the common element. Sometimes boards must pass assessments in order to get the money to pay for repairs. If the work is necessary, it doesn't matter who is sitting on the board because they will still need to get the money to pay for the work.

Question: I live in a large (200+) "upscale" HOA. The board president took complete control and dissolved all committees. Has gone months without meetings. Will not disclose email addresses of owners, although he sends out slanted emails. He won't disclose phone numbers, which code does seem to "mandate". Do individual members have any standing to complain about any of this? He is not promising that he will comply with new 1/1/19 laws.

Answer: If you have 51% of residents or more who feel the same way, you can recall the board. Directions for doing so are on the internet. You can also get new people to run for the board in the next election so that you can dump the President and other Directors. It is not illegal to share people's phone numbers, but a board can only publicize and share emails with permission from individual residents. You can also pull together your own email list and use it to communicate your thoughts since you are not on the board. This guy is in violation of many condo laws but to go after him for that means hiring a lawyer, which can be very expensive and time-consuming, so try the other suggestions first.

Question: The condo contractor and the manufacturer disagree on the cause of window screens being damaged on my condo in Florida. The board sided with their contractor - do I have any recourse?

Answer: Although boards are supposed to take care of common element issues, window screens may or may not be included in the definition of common element. If not, no, you have no recourse. If so, yes. However, you'll need to get a lawyer to help you with this issue, and I'm not sure the cost will be worthwhile as, even then, you can't know how an arbitration hearing would go, and they are quite costly. Florida laws are very biased against condo owners, so I doubt you'll come out ahead on this one. Best bet is to just pay to fix the screens yourself.

Question: Can a condo board change the rules of owner occupying a unit and not allowing even 1 person to rent?

Answer: A board must follow the directives outlined in your condo's Declaration of Condominium. Whatever that states is what the board is required to do. Some will allow rentals, while others do not.

Question: Can a condo association promote a politically biased film made by residents and show it in our theater using condo employees and also send out a trailer of the film from the condo's rec department head?

Answer: This is a question you should be asking a condo attorney. However, it has been my experience that condo boards are supposed to remain neutral in their behaviors simply because it's a smart thing to do given that residents have many different views, etc., and they are supposed to represent all owners, not just some. If they are using residents'

money to promote their political views, I suspect doing this may well be illegal. Again, contact a condo lawyer for advice.

Question: Can a master association force a neighborhood association to repair irrigation valves that are on the master association common property?

Answer: Look at your documents, because this is where you will find your answer. Your management company can also answer this for you. There is no way for me to know given the info you provided.

Question: Is your statement made in this article about having seven names on a ballot a part of Florida Condo rules?

Answer: Each community sets its own guidelines as to how many people they want to have on their Board of Directors, and this information is included in their documents. My own community allows seven board members to be on our board, but anybody who wants to run can put his name on the ballot each year. The absolute minimum allowed to create a board in our community is three.

© 2018 Sondra Rochelle

Comments

Sondra Rochelle (author) from USA on April 12, 2020:

Previous years reports should always be made available at the annual meeting so that owners have a chance to view and possibly contest them.

Rob on April 11, 2020:

What is the allowed waiting time for the board of directors to issue the past years's financial repords? Our board released 2018 records in April 2020 we no indication when 2019 will be available.

Sondra Rochelle (author) from USA on April 05, 2020:

Any board member can be recalled IF owners have someone who is willing to replace him AND a majority vote either in writing or hand vote to get rid of him. Very hard to get a majority of owners to sign on for this, though. Next best thing is to vote this person out at the next election. This is a common problem that the state really needs to address.

Tania R. on April 03, 2020:

what do you do if the President of a master association with 2 towers (hoa;s) is a tyrant and abusing his authority. Targeting other board members who challenge him and has no transparency with his doings in the Master? How can a building with over 600 units remove this man that is certainly not acting in the best interest of of the unit owners.

Sondra Rochelle (author) from USA on March 31, 2020:

Not surprising.. They get away with these things because it is too expensive to fight them legally and getting cooperation from unit owners is almost impossible. I feel your pain, believe me.

Pat Atkinson on March 31, 2020:

Our property manager not only is breaking Florida Open meeting laws but also asks for votes from board members via Email which I just read is against the law.

Sondra Rochelle (author) from USA on March 11, 2020:

This is a question for an attorney to answer.

Kisty1 on March 11, 2020:

Original Declarations (1976)state that condo units are allowed to be rented. Updated Declarations(2009) state that condo units can not be rented. Can the board make a change to the Rules and Regulations that rentals are now allowed again? Maybe as a trial basis? Or does the Declarations need to be updated again?

Sondra Rochelle (author) from USA on January 04, 2020:

No! Boards theoretically are supposed to honor those votes, but rarely do because they don't have to do so!

Roberta P Hamilton on January 03, 2020:

If a paper ballot vote is taken regarding condo issues(heating a pool or paint colors) and both issues are defeated, is there a time limit before the issues/s can come up again for a vote?

Sondra Rochelle (author) from USA on December 05, 2019:

They have to mail the budget prior to the annual meeting. Since not all owners live year round in the community, this is the only way they can get the info. Many also travel. I believe it is a state law that it must be mailed, and for the reasons I just stated.

Janet waldman Janet.waldman@aol.com on December 04, 2019:

Do the association have to send the budget by mail or email? Is it a state law they have to mail out this document?

Sondra Rochelle (author) from USA on December 02, 2019:

You are so right, but it will take a huge number of people who are willing to work on this and pay their fair share to see it through as this can become very expensive. Florida lawmakers ought to be ashamed of themselves for allowing this to happen, but so should unit owners who think they can just sit back and let their neighbors do all the heavy lifting. It's not hard to get rid of a board if people are willing to join ranks to do it, but that's a really big "if".

Debra Kaye on December 02, 2019:

This is a true article, it's occurring for me. Almost 2 yrs. ago I asked to see my Condo Official records and was shown only old bank statements. I went to small claims court then sent to arbitration. I lost in arbitration because the arbitrator was afraid of the Attorney , in my case . I am the Plaintiff, so I had the choice to go back to court. Thankfully, my Judge understands my case and we caught the attorney lying on numerous occasions . After the DBPR Arbitraition I was sent an invoice for 17,800 . I wrote a letter to the Judge, he brought us back to ccourt and I have a trial in January. All because my condo cannot show me the "Official Records". For two years I had to answer motion after motion of a wild goose chase because the Attorney is covering for the board. Florida needs to REALLY look at this problem we have in regard to CONDO DICTATORSHIPS and fast. No one can sell in our building because it looks like crap. Whomever is reading this and lives in Florida please we must use our voices or what we have paid for all our lives will be taken away or worse be shunned like I am because I ask the questions. We were all enticed by condo living when the world was very different now, the greed and power (LOL) of being on the BOARD makes these people one wouldn't even have a conversation with now dictate to the residents. WE must be advocates and lobby for change.

Sondra Rochelle (author) from USA on December 02, 2019:

This same thing was going on in South Florida for several years but so many people complained that the state finally stepped in. The laws and greed are the problem, so the only answer is to get people to contact legislators to see if they'll do anything. It's a very serious problem but I thought it had let up. YouTube has some videos about this you should take a look at.

Terry cara on December 02, 2019:

Recently the condo members aquired majority ownership , and forced units owners to sell at low prices because the president was calling new buyers and scared them away by telling them his intention was to convert ownership of condos into private co which then will issue share to them !i stuck unable to sell it and the condo association bought it for 1/2 apprazals value that is in Indian rocks Clearwater fl !

Sondra Rochelle (author) from USA on May 23, 2019:

HOAs are different from Condos because you own your property individually in an HOA but not in a Condo. Therefore you need to make sure you have coverage for your home AND your property. Their insurance likely covers things such as the clubhouse, pool and other amenities. If those get damaged, the cost likely would be paid by all owners. If you live in a condo, you are responsible for interior damage and the association must pay for external damage. If they are not insured OR if the insurance is insufficient to cover damages, owners would have to jointly pay the balance due for repairs and replacement.

Pierre Jean-Charles on May 22, 2019:

My HOA has been without insurance for years who is responsible for damages to my unit?

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