By Bob Murrell
Woodward, Pires & Lombardo, P.A.
On June 13, Gov. Rick Scott signed into law three bills that will impact community associations in Florida; those were Senate Bill 440, House Bill 807 and House Bill 7037. All of them became effective on July 1. The law that impacts community associations the most is House Bill 807. The following are some of the highlights from this law.
The first of the highlights deals with abandoned condominium units and an association’s right to protect the common elements and other units of the condominium. Under the new law, in addition to the rights of access the condominium association previously had, the association may now enter an abandoned unit to inspect the unit, make any necessary repairs, remediate any mold in the unit, restore the utilities to the unit, or otherwise maintain, preserve and protect the unit and the surrounding common elements.
The new law provides a definition for when a unit is deemed to have been abandoned. A unit is presumed to be abandoned if it is the subject of a foreclosure action and no tenant appears to have resided in the unit for at least four continuous weeks without prior written notice to the association, or (if there is no foreclosure) when no tenant appears to have resided in the unit for two consecutive months without prior written notice to the association and the association is unable to contact the owner to determine their whereabouts after reasonable inquiry.
The right of the association to enter a unit is restricted by this portion of the law which would require that, except in the case of an emergency, the association may not enter an abandoned unit until after two days’ notice of the association’s intent to enter the unit has been mailed or hand delivered to the owner at the address of the owner reflected on the association’s records. This notice may be emailed to the owner but only to owners who have previously consented to receive notice by electronic transmission.
Most importantly, this adds what we were missing before, which is that any expense incurred by the association pursuant to this section is chargeable to the unit owner and enforceable as an assessment. This grants the association the right to lien the unit to collect the amounts due.
The new law also permits the association to petition a court to appoint a receiver to lease out the abandoned unit(s), and the rental income can be used to offset the association’s costs and expenses of maintaining the property, as well as late fees, interest, costs and reasonable attorney’s fees incurred by the association.
One of the glitch fixes contained in this statute is a fix to the insurance section. This fix clarifies that when condominium property is not damaged by an “insurable event,” the obligation for reconstruction, repair or replacement is determined by the condominium documents, not statute. This has been a confusing area for associations since the previous change to this statute. It is now clear that if there is not an insurable event, the responsibility for maintenance will be determined by the provisions in the association’s documents. This statute has been amended approximately every other year in trying to clarify this provision. It now appears clear that the association will not be responsible for damages caused by normal wear and tear, or age-related repairs, simply because the association is required to insure the item in question.
The new law also addresses a question regarding official records concerning directories and what information may be used by the association in establishing those directories. The legislature now has added the provision that the association may publish all telephone numbers for the parcel owner. In addition, the owner may consent, in writing, to the disclosure of other additional contact information, which would include the owners email address.