Q. I am a member of an advisory committee in my condo association. We walk the property on a quarterly basis, documenting violations by the owners and issues to be addressed in the common areas. Based on our findings, the board passes the names, with pictures, to the management company so that the management company can send out the appropriate notices. I requested a copy of the list that was sent to the management company so that the committee could use it as a check sheet when walking the property. Then I requested to see a copy of what the management company actually mailed out. The president of the board denied my requests. I am concerned about selective enforcement and that my committee might be wasting its time. Am I entitled to see these documents? — J.H.
A. Homeowners in a condo or homeowners association are entitled to see all records and reports related to the operation of the association, with only a few exceptions. The right to see these documents is part of the “Sunshine” requirements that govern associations. Most meetings are open to the members, and most records are available for inspection. Examples of documents that are not available to you include documents prepared by the association attorney, personnel records, information related to the approval of sales or leases and other personal information such as Social Security numbers and email addresses of other members. Here, provided the violations report you seek does not contain sensitive personal information that is protected by law, the report should be open for inspection (and photocopying) by the members. If the association fails to provide access to the report after you make written request, it could be liable for penalties and attorney’s fees.
Q. I am a new board member in my condo association. Other board members are telling me that I need to take an orientation course and that this is required by Florida statutes. If this is true, how can I find where these classes are offered? — C.M.
A. New board members are required to take certain steps to educate themselves within 90 days after election to the board. One option is to sign a sworn certificate stating that you have read all of the association documents and rules and that you agree to uphold those documents as part of your fiduciary duty. The second and more popular option is to attend a course provided by an approved condo education provider. This course will provide an orientation on the important condominium laws and will include tips on how to become an effective member of the board. Several law firms provide this service free of charge to new board members, including our firm. There are many opportunities this time of year.
Q. My association operates several amenities including a bundled golf club. Currently, the golf club does not charge tenants a greens fee to play golf. Greens fees are including with the monthly association fees. A large number of tenants are playing golf this time of year because it is free (if walking), resulting in a shortage of tee times. The board is considering an amendment to the documents that would allow the association to charge a greens fee for non-owners. Is this legal? — R.R.
A. In general terms, an association is not permitted to treat tenants any differently then owners without specific legal authority in the community documents. If the documents are silent on this issue, unit owners are free to delegate all of their property rights to their tenants, including the right to play golf without a greens fee. However, the membership is free to amend its documents to include reasonable restrictions on the rights of non-owners. For instance, an amendment can prohibit tenants from having pets or require tenants to place an additional security deposit with the association. It is a common practice in Southwest Florida for tenants to pay more for golf in bundled communities, but without specific authority in the documents, that practice is questionable. A properly drafted amendment approved by the membership will permit the association to change the fee structure for golf.
Q. Our association meetings are often interrupted by a few members who insist on attacking the board on just about every issue. At our last meeting, the board was discussing a special assessment, and one of the members raised his voice and shouted vulgarities at the president. The following day, that member went to the manager’s office and verbally harassed the community association manager. The management company and attorney have sent violation notices to these members, but that is not solving the problem. Do you have any suggestions? — W.G.
A. Your association can pursue relief in court, but that can be an expensive way to deal with the problem. Further, your association is not entitled to recover its attorney’s fees unless it files suit and obtains a judgment against these abusive members. We have seen some associations impose a special assessment against these owners, which may be an option in your case. One association in Palm Beach, Fla. passed a bylaw that gives the association the ability to levy a special assessment against an individual member(s) for expenses incurred due to conduct of a member(s). The bylaw states: “If an act of a member is prejudicial to the interests of the membership or board of directors and requires that the association take any action or incur any expense in order to protect the membership or the board, the association shall be reimbursed by the member, including reasonable attorney’s fees. If the member fails to reimburse the association within 30 days following written demand, the expenses shall be an assessment secured by a lien on the member’s parcel or unit.” Contact your association legal counsel for assistance in drafting a similar bylaw.