Unfair Florida Condo Laws That Need to Be Changed
Many who buy condominiums in Florida have no idea that state laws make it virtually impossible for owners to defend themselves against condo boards and management companies without an attorney.
The state supposedly provides protective laws, such as providing an attorney for those who cannot afford one. But for for condo owners there is no protection and no such justice.
One of the reasons for this is that the Bureau of Condominiums is not well funded. Currently there are only 53 investigators available to help the residents of more than one and a half million condo communities. Something is very wrong when a board or property manager blatantly and consistently violates state laws, and residents have only minimal recourse.
Boards have the right to manage the financials for their communities, but this should not mean that they can wantonly spend excessive and unnecessary amounts of resident money. Still, this happens consistently throughout Florida. As a result, people's finances are being badly damaged, and some are even losing their homes.
Recalling Board Members
When unit owners become unhappy with the way their board or some of its members are treating the community, the law says residents can recall the offenders.
This sounds great, but the devil is in the details.
In order to create a recall, more than half of the owners must be willing to sign a petition stating that they want these people removed from office. They also must find individuals who are willing and able to take the places of the recalled board members.
Finding enough people who are willing to sign their names to a legal document that disparages a neighbor is almost impossible to do, no matter how badly the board behaves. Furthermore, in large communities, the task of rounding up a majority of owners, in itself, can be overwhelming!
Imagine this scenario in a 300 unit condominium!
Worse yet, any board member who is recalled can turn right around and run for the board again in the future!
You may be thinking, “Who would elect them?”. The truth is that in situations where not enough people sign up to run for the board, these people don’t have to be elected. They can simply offer to sit on the board again, and they’re back wreaking havoc in the community.
There was a time when 10% of residents could do a recall, Once recalled, the board member could not serve again.
This law was changed at some point, and it has made doing a recall a waste of time.
Qualifying for Board Membership
If you want to become a condo board member in Florida, the only qualifications you need are to be alive, breathing and willing.
In some cases, you don't even have to be a unit owner to sit on a board!
Since all condominiums are nonprofit corporations, this is ludicrous.
The law is allowing people to sit on boards who may have no construction, business or finance backgrounds and who may not even have enough intelligence to know how to seek assistance with these matters!
Furthermore, they are asked to handle hundreds of thousands of dollars of resident money.
Property Management Companies are supposed to assist them with the financials, but it is the boards who set up the budgets. If they make bad decisions, it is owners who suffer.
For this reason it is extremely important that the state pass and enforce laws that require boards to ask for resident votes on issues that are going to cost more than 5% of their annual budget. They also should require boards to reveal potential costs before asking residents to vote on these issues.
Currently, the state does not address these issues.
Furthermore, board members should be required to take an extensive class on state laws and condo documents rather than the one day class they now take or the piece of paper they sign promising to follow the laws and rules.
Placing novices in positions of power and authority who know little or nothing is a recipe for disaster, yet the state sits by and ignores the problems that uneducated, biased and incompetent boards create.
Requesting to See Official Documents
In Florida, the law states that any resident has the right to access and investigate all official condominium records save those that reveal personal information or are part of pending or active litigation.
Sounds easy enough, but it can get dicey if boards decide they don’t want people nosing around in community affairs, which is often the case.
To gain access, an individual must
- fill out a form provided by the state,
- make the requests limited and specific and
- send it by certified mail to the board or its agent.
However, associations are not required to accept certified letters!
If they do accept the letter, within 5 days of receipt, the association is supposed to provide access.
Even if the association complies, they
- do not have to provide copies,
- will not allow you to remove documents temporarily,
- will give you only a limited amount of time to review paperwork and
- may (or may not) make copies for you.
You also will have to pay for any copies they print out for you.
If this access has not been granted within 10 days, you can then file a complaint to the state.
The state will then decide if it wants to investigate, but doing so can take quite some time.
If the board still refuses to comply, the individual requesting access can fine the board $50 per day for each day they have not provided access to the official records..
The catch, however, is that the resident must hire an attorney to help with this task, which can easily cost upwards of $250 per hour.
The individual can also request an arbitration hearing. This will cost $50 plus any attorney’s fees.
- If you lose, you may be required to pay for the association’s costs as well as yours.
- If you win, you still must find a way to collect because although arbitration will render a decision, it provides no way to collect what is due.
Thus, if a resident wants to see documents, and a board resists, his chances of doing so are almost zero, but his chances of spending a small fortune on attorney’s fees will be significant.
To remedy this situation, the state should pass a law stating that all copies of official records must be kept in an easily accessible place on the condo grounds so that residents can look at and make copies of them as they see fit. These documents should also be readable!
A copy machine should also be made available for this purpose.
Why should people have to jump through all of the above mentioned hoops just to access documents that they clearly are legally permitted to see?
Voting for Alterations
The state law says that a board is supposed to hold a community vote for any material alterations they want to make to the common element.
A material alteration is one that uses different materials or somehow changes the overall appearance of a community substantially.
However, it is up to boards to determine which alterations are material, and which ones are not (even though the latter may actually be material alterations).
The difference between the two comes in the community's ability to vote for them. If a change is not deemed material, the board can spend as it pleases and residents have no say in the matter.
So, when residents find changes unnecessary or too costly, there is nothing they can do about them other than to pay to go to arbitration.
If cost is the issue, the arbitrator sides with the board because the law states that cost cannot be considered when making such a decision.
Stating that cost should not be a consideration when it comes to making alterations is ridiculous. Of course cost matters, and of course cost should be a determining factor.
However, the state supports the board, because they assume the board is trying to do what is in the best interests of the community.
It's hard to figure out how forcing people into bankruptcy or foreclosure could possibly be good for the community!
As things now stand, unit owners who find themselves in this type of situation cannot even file a lawsuit because the state has given the board all of the rights!
For this reason, it is imperative that the state require boards to have a resident vote, as stated earlier, on all common element alterations that are going to cost more than a set amount.
While boards do have to maintain properties, there is no reason why they should be able to choose to pay top dollar when less expensive options that will do the same job are available.
This law must change!
The Laws Don't Benefit Residents
The Florida Legislature is made up of attorneys. They have set up the laws in such a way that they require condo owners become embroiled in expensive, lengthy and often fruitless lawsuits if they want to protect their rights.
There simply is no way condo owners can win when things go wrong for them because the cost of fighting problems is far too high once they involve lawyers.
There should be oversight from the state to make sure boards are behaving appropriately, fairly and legally. Currently there is none.
If you contact the state's ombudsman, he simply directs you to the capital to see if they can assist you. Usually they tell you to call a lawyer!
The state should provide ways, as suggested above, to help condo owners protect themselves without having to spend a fortune for legal assistance or jump through a bunch of meaningless hoops.
The laws should be protecting condo owners, not lawyers, boards and property management companies!
The Bottom Line
The laws discussed above are by far not the only ones that need to be changed.
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 boards and property managers.
The Florida Legislature must start reviewing and changing condo laws such that the state, not the individual, enforces them.
This will mean providing better funding, but it will be money well spent.
Do you think the laws cited in this article are fair to condo owners?
© 2018 Sondra Rochelle