Q: Our roofs are original construction. Following Hurricane Irma in 2017, we did not see any noticeable damage and so we did not file an insurance claim. We just spent a lot of money repairing water damage stemming from the roof and the contractor indicated that the roof may be compromised. Is it too late to file an insurance claim?
A: No, it is not too late, but time is running out. Many of our clients suffered severe and noticeable damage immediately after the storm and were able to immediately file an insurance claim. Others immediately filed a claim, but the insurance companies are denying coverage or at least challenging the scope of coverage or the scope of damage. Like you, we have also seen a rush of phone calls in recent weeks by condominiums that did not immediately file a claim, but now have evidence or an opinion that the roofs, windows or other components of the building were damaged by Hurricane Irma and the high winds associated with the storm. Often times, the neighborhood right next door may have had noticeable damage and received millions of dollars to repair their buildings. In other words, you endured the same winds and may have sustained significant damage from the storm, but that damage may not have been immediately noticeable.
If you believe there is damage, it is critical that you file a claim with your insurance carrier within three years of the storm, or by September 2020. There are other deadlines which may be applicable and therefore you should consult with your legal counsel on your specific situation, but there is a limitation period.
Our firm has a team of attorneys and staff that have been working almost entirely on Irma related claims and litigation since 2017 and there are a number of other public adjusters, contractors, attorneys and professionals that can provide guidance concerning your rights under your policy or Florida law in general. Because the Board has a duty to maintain, repair and replace the common elements, you should consult with professionals and legal counsel to ensure that you are receiving benefits under your policy that may be rightfully owed and triggered as a result of Hurricane Irma.
Q: I am a new Treasurer to our condominium association and we have a few owners who have not paid the third quarter assessment from 2019. This is my first time dealing with a delinquency on the Board. Do you have any recommendations?
A: Following the financial crisis roughly ten years ago, many of our clients had exceptionally high delinquency rates and some as high as fifty percent. Thankfully, in recent years, many of our clients have zero delinquencies or very few as the economy has improved. That being said, we learned a lot during those tough years on how to effectively manage collection accounts and where to expend resources.
First, you need to check your governing documents to determine when an assessment is “late” as this can vary from community to community. Because the third quarter was due October 1, the payment is almost certainly “late” as of the date of this publication. Many of our clients provide friendly reminders, or courtesy reminders, or reach out to the delinquent owner to see if there was an error with their bank. At some point, however, you will need to take further action in the collections process.
The statutes provide that the condominium has a lien for unpaid assessments, interest, late fees, attorneys’ fees’ and costs. In a condominium, the lien is essentially second in line and therefore superior to most all liens except first mortgage holders. The statute provides that the association must provide at least 30 days’ notice prior to recording a lien. Then, if still unpaid, the Association should provide the owner with a copy of the lien and provide another 30 days to pay updated assessments, interest, late fees, attorneys’ fees and costs. If the owner has still not paid the Association, then the Board would consider initiating a lien foreclosure action.
One of the biggest lessons we learned in recent years is that information is critical. Because Florida law provides a number of different means to collect unpaid assessments, the Association may react different if the unit is rented as opposed to being vacant. If the unit has mold damage, the Association may take a different approach than if the unit is clean. The Association may pursue an owner with multiple units and living in Florida differently than an owner that has a single investment property and lives in Europe. Thus, we recommend that the Board determine when it is appropriate to engage legal counsel in the collections process, and then work with your management team and attorneys to create a specific plan of action for each account.
Q: A unit owner in our building mounted a satellite dish to the side of the building and it is unattractive. I was told owners can’t do this. What is the law on this?
B.C., Marco Island
A: The answer is that residential condominium owners are entitled to have a satellite dish of a certain size, but the owner can’t mount the dish to the exterior of the building without the Association’s approval. Generally speaking, the exterior walls of the building are common elements and the Board has the obligation to maintain, repair and replace the exterior walls. This also includes the ability to prevent owners and their contractors from drilling holes into the sides of the buildings.
A few notes, owners are permitted under federal laws to keep a satellite dish on a tripod in an area controlled by the owner. This usually means that the unit owner can place a satellite on a tripod in the limited common element lanai or balcony, but not physically mounted to the building. Additionally, the Board could nevertheless allow the owner to install the dish on the side of the building depending on the language of your specific condominium documents.
Thus, assuming the Board did not lawfully approve the installation, the Board here could likely require the owner to remove the satellite dish from the exterior of the building.
John C. Goede Esq. is co-founder and shareholder of the Law Firm of Goede, Adamczyk, DeBoest & Cross, PLLC. Visit our website at www.gadclaw.com, or to ask questions about your issues for future columns, send your inquiry to: firstname.lastname@example.org. The information provided herein is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. The publication of this article does not create an attorney-client relationship between the reader and Goede, Adamczyk, DeBoest & Cross or any of our attorneys. Readers should not act or refrain from acting based upon the information contained in this article without first contacting an attorney, if you have questions about any of the issues raised herein. The hiring of an attorney is a decision that should not be based solely on advertisements or this column.