Editor’s note: Attorneys at Goede, DeBoest & Cross, respond to questions about Florida community association law. The firm represents community associations throughout Florida and focuses on condominium and homeowner association law, real estate law, civil litigation, estate planning and commercial transactions.
Q: Can condo associations and HOA’s use volunteers? We have several members of our community willing to tackle small projects for the community. Our insurer says that we already have insurance that would cover this, however, our attorney advised against it because of the chance someone would get hurt. With so many other non-profits utilizing volunteer labor, is there any viable way to have volunteers conduct basic unskilled manual labor that wouldn’t require a permit or license? A signed liability release, perhaps?
-D.A., Palm Beach
As anyone who has ever lived in an association can attest to, it costs a lot of money to keep things running smoothly. While associations are required to maintain budgets each year, depending upon what unexpected events happen over the course of the year, the association can still face major shortfalls. Depending on the work that needs to be performed, using residents as volunteer labor may appear a good way to go. As you alluded to in your question, the downside of using volunteers is that it could lead to the association assuming certain duties that it would not ordinarily be responsible for and, as a consequence, create exposure that would not otherwise exist.
You did not mention in your question what types of volunteers your community was considering, but volunteer roles can certainly take on many different forms, some of which could lead to either the volunteer injuring himself or herself, or worse, cause injury to others. If that happens, the association may be held liable for that volunteer’s negligence. Your association needs to take a close look at the tasks that you are considering using volunteers for and evaluate whether it is worth the potential risks. Additionally, without reading your insurance policy, I cannot give you advice on coverage, but be aware the insurance carriers will generally find ways to avoid paying a claim. In other words, you may think you have coverage for certain things, when you actually may not. You also mention “other non-profits” using volunteers, but that does not mean that those non-profits do not face the same liability that we are discussing. Nor does the fact that the non-profit is doing “humanitarian” work necessarily shield it from liability.
Without additional specifics, I cannot provide you with a more direct response your question. But, if your association does want to use volunteers then, you should speak with a qualified attorney about preparing a waiver of liability for the volunteer to sign. Although not an ironclad shield, a well-drafted waiver of liability will provide you with some level of protection, which is better than none at all.
Q: Recently our Board voted to approve the installation of a Direct TV antenna on a resident’s home. The request was properly channeled through our Architectural Review Committee, who recommended approval, but, was not on the agenda, but the Board voted for it. Is the Board allowed to vote on anything, even items not on the agenda as it does not give proper notice to the residents? At the same meeting they voted to approve the installation of four generators for four residents. This item was on the agenda but did not give the names or addresses of the applicants. The ARC recommended approval, but again it was not properly noticed on the agenda. Were these votes legal and proper?
-Rick, Vero Beach
A: Thank you for your question. Because you referenced a “resident’s home”, I will assume that you are in a homeowner’s association as opposed to a condominium. As you probably know, Chapter 720, Florida Statutes, covers the law regarding HOAs. Under Florida law, an HOA does not technically require agenda, therefore, based upon your question, it does not appear that the Board was in violation of the law. Conversely, Chapter 718, Florida Statutes, which controls condominiums, does require an agenda and there are time requirements for how far in advance of the Board meeting that the agenda must be posted. We generally advise our clients that it is generally advisable to post an agenda, even when one is not technically required as we consider it to be “best practices” to communicate with owners so that they know what is going to be discussed in advance of a Board meeting and have opportunity to attend and speak on the agenda item. Although we have not had the opportunity to review your HOA documents, there may be a self-imposed agenda requirement contained therein that would be specific to your association. In short, based upon the parameters of your specific question, there probably is no violation. However, as mentioned above, you may want to have an attorney review your documents for any specific language.
Harris B. Katz, Esq., is Managing Partner, Boca Raton of the Law Firm Goede, DeBoest & Cross, PLLC. 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, 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.