What You Need to Know About Florida's Condo Laws
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.
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!
This article explains more about this issue.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- Residents must either call a member meeting or have residents sign paperwork stating that they want board members removed.
- More than half of the unit owners must agree to do this.
- 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?
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
Do you think that the State of Florida needs to end its bias against condo owners?
Questions & Answers
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?
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.
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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?
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.
© 2018 Sondra Rochelle