General

How An Association Can Get Into Trouble Over Assessments – BOARD MEMBERS PAY ATTENTION!

With the volatile economy more and more associations are changing property management firms and law firms, but there are some problems which can arise and the association would probably be on the losing end of litigation.
Many owners contact me because their associations have made these changes and now they are unable to pay their assessments because the information regarding where to send payments is not timely distributed to the members.  When a member’s check or electronic payment is returned, this is a refusal of a tendered payment, which is not permitted by Florida law.  Should the association attempt to lien and foreclose, the member not only has a valid defense, but could also bring a counter claim for breach of contract.
It is imperative for associations to notify their members immediately of any changes to make sure payments are not being rejected.

What To Do If Your Condo Association Is Harassing You

I recently answered a question on avvo.com from a unit owner being harassed by their condo association (COA) because they were wanting maintenance and repairs done which were the responsibility of the COA.  I thought I should share my answer here.  This will work for HOAs too except the part about noticing the COA of your intention to arbitrate.  Currently the Dept. of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) does not have jurisdiction over HOAs.  Hopefully that will change July 1, 2015 if we can get a bill passed.

One other point to note, arbitration is expensive.  It’s not as expensive as litigation, but it still takes money if you want to be represented by a lawyer.  I don’t recommend arbitration without a lawyer and you will see why in my answer below, which is:

Unfortunately your situation is not unusual in Florida.  The associations have too much power to abuse and harass the owners.

First, document everything. Start gathering evidence.  You have a statutory right to inspect and/or copy the records of the association by submitting a certified letter, return receipt with your request stating you are exercising your rights under FS 718.111(12).  The association cannot ask you why you want to inspect the records and have ten (10) days to provide you access.  Use a smartphone or some other device to scan the documents so you can avoid being charged for copies.

You can also submit a certified written inquiry and ask the association questions. This right is provided for under FS 718.112(2)(a)(2) and is unique to condo associations.  HOAs do not have the same benefit.  The association has thirty (30) days to respond.  They have sixty (60) days if they send the request to the association attorney, but they have to provide notice of the request being turned over to the attorney within thirty (30) days.

Next, you should send a certified letter to the association outlining your dispute, the resolution you would like and your intention to submit a petition for the dispute to arbitration before DBPR pursuant to FS 718.1255 if the dispute is not resolved.

Finally, you can file a complaint with the Dept. of Business & Professional Regulation (DBPR) against the license of the CAM and the CAM’s firm, but you must be able to include proof of your allegations or nothing will be accomplished. The link is below.

While you can do all this without a lawyer, I don’t recommend it, especially for the arbitration, which has specific procedures for bringing an action.  If you decide to send the letters, you may want a lawyer to review the facts of the case and the letters first so you can make sure you are requesting things which will support your case.  If the request is overly broad you can end up getting nothing useful or nothing at all.

Change Your Address with the Association!!

All too often I am asked for advice on dealing with associations filing a lien or foreclosing on a home and the first statement the homeowner makes is “I never received a notice.”  Unfortunately, rarely will that work as a defense to save your home from being sold at a foreclosure auction by your association.

You have to give your association your address where you receive your mail!  It’s foolish to think if you don’t update your address to get notices and payment coupons a judge not order a sale of your home.  You have a duty to notify the association of your most current address.  You also have a duty to ask for the amount due if you don’t receive a notice or payment coupon.  The courts have ruled against homeowners consistently on these issues because if you live in a community that has a sign with the communities name on it at the entrance, you have notice your community is governed by an association and you pay assessments to that association.

Avoiding the mail or a summons does not work either.  All the association has to do is prove they mailed the notice to the correct address. If you avoid a summons the courts allow the associations to serve you by publishing a notice in some obscure small newspaper no one reads.  Its usually too late by the time you find out you have been served by publication because the court can then enter a default judgment against you.  Plus this just adds to the attorney’s fees you are required by state law to reimburse the association (that’s if you can come up with the money to pay off the demand or judgment and save your home).

The bottom line is don’t be foolish.  If you can’t afford to pay the association, call them and try to make payment arrangements.  The association can foreclose on your home quickly and faster than a bank because the association is the original creditor and not a third party who took it by assignment.

Brevard County Office in Viera – NOW OPEN!

Law Offices of Stage & Associates, P.A. - Viera Office

Our new office in Viera, Brevard County, Florida

We are proud to announce that our Brevard County office is now open in Viera. Conveniently located near the intersection of Murrell Road and Viera Boulevard. We look forward to working with you, Space Coast!

Announcing Our Expansion to Florida’s Space Coast – New Location Opening Soon!

Law Offices of Stage & Associates, P.A. in Viera, Florida

Viera, Florida Office Location

The Law Offices of Stage & Associates, P.A. is proud to announce the future opening of our satellite office in Brevard County, Florida in February of 2015.

Our firm has had the pleasure of representing clients and associations alike through-out the state of Florida. While centrally located in Orlando, Orange County, Florida, the Law Offices of Stage & Associates, P.A. has equally worked across the state in all of Central Florida, including Pasco County, Marion County, Volusia County, Polk County, Lake County, Hillsborough County, and many more. With the expansion of our firm to the Space Coast, we are looking forward to representing homeowners and associations alike in the cities that span along Florida’s east coast.

Tentatively opening on February 15th, 2015, our new location will be centrally located in Viera, Florida to expand our services conveniently to the residents of Viera, Suntree, Rockledge, and Melbourne, as well as all residents ranging from Titusville to Palm Bay and in-between. Our attorneys will be able to meet with clients at this satellite office on an as-needed basis and will be staffed full-time with a paralegal and notary for our client’s needs. Our new location is also conveniently located within miles of the Moore Justice Center as an added benefit.

We look forward to working within the various communities that make up our Space Coast. Please check back soon for all further information.

Pre-Suit Mediation? Or Not?

Pre-Suit Mediation or Not?

A homeowner asked the question on avvo.com if moving from the community would mean he no longer needed to provide his HOA with an offer of pre-suit mediation.Moving would not circumvent the pre-suit mediation requirement because the suit would, I assume, be based on acts that occurred while you were a homeowner.  Pre-suit mediation is not just for homeowners either.  It covers members, vendors, invitees, licensees, and guests.Not all disputes require pre-suit mediation.  FS 720.311(2)(a) provides:

Disputes between an association and a parcel owner regarding use of or changes to the parcel or the common areas and other covenant enforcement disputes, disputes regarding amendments to the association documents, disputes regarding meetings of the board and committees appointed by the board, membership meetings not including election meetings, and access to the official records of the association shall be the subject of a demand for presuit mediation served by an aggrieved party before the dispute is filed in court.

A dispute over a financial obligation or enforcement of a settlement agreement are not subject to pre-suit mediation.  Also, any dispute in which a party seeks an emergency injunction is not subject to pre-suit mediation.  It is important to note that what you may think is an emergency is usually not one in the eyes of the court.

I don’t recommend going to pre-suit mediation without a lawyer.  The HOAs usually have veteran lawyers who are very good at bulldozing over unrepresented parties.

Revitalization Q & A

Revitalization Question

Today I answered a question on avvo.com regarding the revitalization process and I think it is important to post the question and my response in this blog for those who do not or have not visited the Avvo website.Question:

Our HOA’s CC&R’s have expired and an attempt is being made to revitalize the Declaration. In the interim, I am told we are a voluntary association and a not-for-profit corporation governed under FS617.
Can the previous Board simply “take over” the corporation and run it without ratification by the owners? There is no confidence in the current Board and their continuing possession of documents, control over Management Company and bank accounts is regarded as hostile. Do owner/shareholders have a right to reorganize under any law?

Response: 

Here’s a crash course on the Marketable Record Title Act (MRTA) and revitalization process governed by Fla. Stat. 720.403 – 720.407:

1. It is possible for the Declarations to be valid against some lots, but not all. The Declarations can be preserved by being specifically referenced in a deed by the Official Record Book and Page Number or by reference to a plat that has the deed restrictions recorded on the plat. An analysis of each lot is required to determine if the deed restrictions have been extinguished by MRTA against that lot because the last reference is more than 30 years old.

2. Revitalization can be used to breathe new life into the Declarations if they have ceased to govern one or more lots.

3. The Declarations have no force and effect against those lots where the deed restrictions have expired and there is no duty to obey the restrictions or pay assessments. If the Declarations are revitalized they are not retroactive — meaning the HOA cannot go back and collect assessments for the period of time between expiration and revitalization.

4. It takes at least a majority of the homeowners to approve revitalization. It could be more if the Declarations require more than a simple majority to approve amendments to the Declarations.

5. Revitalization is a very strict process which requires the HOA to appoint an organizing committee and to have a court reporter present at a meeting to vote on revitalization. While written consents can be used to gather the votes, if the bylaws and articles of incorporation do not provide for written consent the HOA is required to hold a meeting so homeowners can vote in person or by proxy (if proxies are allowed).

6. If revitalization is approved by the homeowners the HOA has to apply to the Dept. of Economic Opportunity (DEO) for revitalization and, if granted by DEO, re-record the Declarations, index them against each lot and deliver a copy of the revitalized Declarations to each homeowner. The revitalized Declarations cannot be more restrictive than the original Declarations, although there are a few exceptions in the statute.

To answer your question, in the interim the HOA still has bylaws and articles of incorporation which must be honored, including having elections and annual meetings.

The revitalization statute was recorded in 2004. My opinion is this statute presents a constitutional issue on property rights and contract impairment for anyone who purchased their property before the statute was enacted. Statutes cannot be applied retroactively to change existing contracts and the Declarations, bylaws and articles are contracts between the HOA and the homeowner. This issue has not, to my knowledge, been litigated.

If you feel your HOA is not following the procedures for revitalization properly you should consult with a HOA lawyer for an opinion. If revitalization is granted by DEO and you feel the HOA did not follow the procedures in the statute and any requirements in the Declarations, bylaws and articles (which is required by the revitalization statute), you have a very short period of time to petition DEO for an administrative hearing to challenge the revitalization.