Friday, August 14, 2015
The State of Florida was kind enough to enact a long and detailed Statute (The Condominium Act) that spells out how condominiums shall be formed and run. You can read the entire Statute here. Each individual condominium also has a Declaration and By Laws detailing governance and use restrictions for that condominium. Condo owners are advised to read and understand the Declaration and By Laws for their association. Note that the separate Rules and Regs issued by your Board may not be legal nor enforceable.
With all the legalese of the governing documents, it can be confusing as to exactly what rights owners and Boards have. Not surprisingly, Boards and management companies routinely act in ways that violate the Act. Often unintentionally, sometimes not.
I saw a Cocoa Beach condo board run a sales contract through first right of refusal when no first right existed. In that case it was a misunderstanding not an illegal conspiracy. I have seen a management company insist on offering a contract out for first right contrary to the procedure in the Declaration. That case was also a misinterpretation not intentional misbehavior.
Now on to outright conspiracies. There is a condo in Cape Canaveral that has for years tried to keep sales contracts secret from owners who have first right of refusal. This has gone on with cooperation from the management company. They recently stepped up their illegal activities and skipped the first right process altogether in clear violation of their Declaration. Another Cocoa Beach oceanfront condo added an illegal use restriction to it's Rules and Regs and backdated the document to make it appear as if it always existed. They should have made sure there were no former copies still in existence. Busted.
The incident that prompted this post occurred at an otherwise beautiful Cocoa Beach condo that just happens to have a particularly nasty management company. The management company has been a fairly constant source of grief for owners and tenants and I have heard many stories over the years. The Board tolerates the manager's actions and possibly supports it. I was sent a copy of one letter from the manager threatening to fine an owner. The threat was not illegal, but the manager did not have the authority to levy a fine. That is a clear violation of the procedure spelled out in the Act. Hopefully, the Board will follow the law if they start following through on the manager's frequent threats of fines. If not, and no one stands up to them, the grief will continue.
The Condominium Act is very clear about fining procedure. Neither the management company nor the Board can fine an owner or a tenant without first issuing a 14 day notice of a hearing before a committee of owners who are NOT Board members nor residents of a Board member's household. The committee can either confirm or reject the fine. The Board can't levy a fine without following this procedure and receiving the committee's confirmation. If you receive notice of a fine absent the procedure, inform the Board and manager that they have violated procedure and do not pay it until procedure has been followed. Your non-Board committee members may stand up to a bullying Board or manager and reject the fine. Not all fines are undeserved nor are all Boards and managers bullies. The procedure is there to give some check and balance to the fining process. Use the privilege wisely should the chance arise. As always, knowledge is power.
From the Florida Condominium Act Chapter 718.303 (b):
A fine or suspension levied by the board of administration may not be imposed unless the board first provides at least 14 days’ written notice and an opportunity for a hearing to the unit owner and, if applicable, its occupant, licensee, or invitee. The hearing must be held before a committee of other unit owners who are neither board members nor persons residing in a board member’s household. The role of the committee is limited to determining whether to confirm or reject the fine or suspension levied by the board. If the committee does not agree, the fine or suspension may not be imposed.
"If you smell something, say something." __Jon Stewart