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Is there a way to appeal my tax bill and other unit owners in my condominium?

Q. I am concerned that the property tax bill for my condo unit and others around me is not adjusting to the severe reduction in market value. How can I challenge the tax assessment for my unit and is there anything my board can do on behalf of all owners? – S.A.

A. As a property owner, you have the right to appeal the tax bill. Unfortunately, many taxpayers have not seen their taxes decline in accordance with the decline in market values. Foreclosures and an increase in supply of homes have not helped the problem. Fortunately, Florida law does allow community associations to appeal on the behalf of all owners. The property appraiser’s staff will meet with your board on an informal basis to review appraisals and other evidence showing that the tax assessment is too high. If that meeting is not successful, the County’s Value Adjustment Board will set your case for hearing in front of a special magistrate. The filing deadline differs in each county, so be sure to call the property appraiser’s office to confirm the deadline for your appeal. The notice of proposed property tax or TRIM notice is typically mailed out to property owners in mid-August. Once you receive your notice and a significant number of unit owners wish to challenge the valuation, your board should take prompt action to ensure a timely appeal. Typically, there is only a period of 25 days between the mailing of the TRIM notices and the appeal deadline. This process allows the board to protect the appeal rights of unit owners who may not otherwise know about the appeals process. It also protects unit owners who do not live in the building at this time of year. Unit owners, who do not wish to participate, can opt out of the appeal.

Q. With hurricane season upon us, I am concerned that my condo association is not prepared to react properly in the event our buildings or common areas are damaged. What steps should we follow if we sustain damage from a storm? – P.S.

A. Having just dealt with heavy rains and flooding from tropical storm Debby, you are doing the right thing for your community by being proactive. Surprisingly, many community leaders have no idea who to contact if the community is damaged by a tropical storm or related flooding. The first thing we recommend is calling your insurance agent immediately. If necessary, to protect the residents or any common areas, your board should authorize temporary repairs to prevent further damage. Finally, it is important to save all receipts from temporary repairs and your board should avoid authorizing permanent repairs until an insurance adjuster has inspected the damage.

Q. Fortunately, some of the older delinquencies in our community are being resolved through short sales. Unfortunately, our board is asked to negotiate and reduce the association’s payoff for each short sale closing. We have compromised on a few occasions, but I am interested in your thoughts on how to properly negotiate these payoffs. – J.W.

A. Our experience is that a firm and consistent approach is generally the best when dealing with short sales. Your association is not obligated to waive any assessments or fees. In fact, Florida law prohibits the association from waiving any assessments unless the assessment is waived for all owners. If the sale closed without payment of all charges shown on the association’s estoppels, the new owner will be responsible for those charges. Often, a Realtor or short sale negotiator will try to get the association to accept a reduced payoff on the premise that the association will only collect 12 months of assessments if the property is foreclosed. While this is a possible result, our experience is that associations can recover all or a significant portion of the outstanding balance in a short sale by staying firm in negotiations. Before entering into any negotiations on a short sale, we advise our clients to request copies of any lender approvals and also the latest draft of the settlement statement for the closing. Those documents will tell the whole story for the transaction and allow the association to make a more intelligent decision in any negotiation.

Q. I am on a board with two other directors. It seems that the other two directors vote against me on every agenda item. They have made decisions that I feel are not in our best interests and not financially responsible. I have made my objections in the minutes, but it is getting to the point where I want to resign because I do not want to expose myself to liability. Is there a safe way to continue serving on the board? – S.C.

A. You can safely serve on your board provided you are qualified to serve as a board member and continue to make decisions in good faith and in the best interests of the association members. That is your fiduciary duty. If you feel that you or any other director lacks the experience to serve on the board and operate the association, you should educate yourself and ensure that all board members have completed a board member certification course approved by the State of Florida. Ignorance of the community documents or inexperience will not excuse board members from liability. Regarding your board meetings, we believe it is better to continue attending and voting clearly on the record rather than being absent from the meetings. If you cannot attend, you can insist on the right to attend by telephone, which can help ensure a quorum. If you are absent, you can only be held accountable for actions taken by signing the minutes from the meeting. However, it is better to be present and voice the reasons for your opposition and insist that your vote be clearly reflected in the minutes. At the next meeting, you should also remind your fellow board members that all discussions and decisions regarding association business should only be done at open board meetings that are properly noticed. If these two directors are running the association informally and not following proper Florida Open Meetings or Sunshine Law meeting procedures, you do not want to be associated with that and should openly warn against it.