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?
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.
Q: An owner in our building replaced her older windows with hurricane glass. The entire building has no tint on the windows and vertical dividing bars on the windows. This owner installed a window with tinted glass and a horizontal bar. The building has lost its uniformity, but the owner is claiming she can do it anyway. Can we force her to remove the window?
T.D., Treasure Coast
A: While the first question above discusses whether an owner can improve or change the common elements, this question deals more with whether an owner can change something that is already under his or her control – meaning the Association is responsible to maintain the exterior walls for the satellite dish, and presumably your condominium documents require the owner to maintain the windows. The analysis begins with whether the window change is a material alteration. The rough definition of a material alteration is whether the change creates a palpable or perceptive change in the use, function or appearance. There is an arbitration which concludes that changing windows from vertical to horizontal bars is a material alteration because it looks and functions differently while destroying uniformity of the building’s appearance.
Next, the analysis turns on whether, even if the window change is a material alteration, does the Board alone have the authority to approve or deny the request. The statutory default threshold requires 75% of all voting interests to approve a material alteration to the condominium unless the governing documents provide otherwise. It is worth noting that many condominium documents distinguish between unit owner material alterations and alterations initiated by the Association – meaning that the Board alone can approve material alterations under some documents where the owner requests the change, and the membership must approve alterations where the Association initiates the change. This is very document specific.
I would recommend you consult a licensed Florida attorney to determine whether the window is in fact a material alteration. If so, the Board should obtain an opinion on the condominium documents to determine whether the Board alone has the authority to approve the alteration or whether the membership must approve the alteration. If the unit owner replaces the window without the prerequisite approvals, you may consider an action for arbitration to compel the owner to replace the window with a confirming window. Finally, I should note that Section 718.113 of the Florida Statutes provides that owners may install hurricane glass based on specifications adopted by the Board. Thus, if you have not already done so, the Board should adopt specifications for hurricane glass to encourage owners to replace their glass while providing assurances that the replacements will be uniform.
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