Whether you recently purchased a new property in Florida or simply want to be treated equally and fairly in your community, the last thing a property owner wants to feel is helpless when having issues with their Association. Some good news is on the horizon in the Sunshine State. Both recent and existing property owners should be aware of new significant legal changes that could impact how to approach disputes with your Association and making them more accountable. Whether you are new to Florida or not, most property owners are unaware of their statutory rights. The purpose of this article is to make property owners aware of some of the new statutory rules of the road in Florida.
In 2021, the Florida State legislature passed overhaul changes to Florida’s Condominium Act (Chapter 718) as well as Homeowners’ Association Act (Chapter 720). One of the statutory rights given to every property owner in Florida is the right to access and inspect Official Records of the Association. So long as the request is written appropriately, a property owner can generally access written documents such as accounting records, a current copy of the management agreement, meeting minutes, and a current roster of all unit owners. The new law would end the Association’s ability to require a property owner to demonstrate any purpose or state any reason for the record inspection. While there are many procedural pitfalls as to how to make the request, the revised Florida Statutes have provided more specifics as to what a property owner can access. For example, a property owner can now inspect bids for work to be performed for at least 1 year after receipt of the bid. Additionally, a homeowner can now inspect ballots, sign-in sheets, voting proxies and other electronic voting records that are maintained 1 year after the date of the vote, election or meeting. All other official records must be maintained within the state for at least 7 years.
Perhaps one of the most significant changes involves a condominium property owner’s new tactical options to pursue pre-litigation claims against an Association. Previously, certain disputes such as the Association’s failure to properly conduct meetings required “mandatory nonbinding arbitration” against the condominium association. Nonbinding arbitration can not only be expensive but may not lead to a final decision unless all the parties agree. Now, Florida will be allowing the condominium owner to elect between nonbinding arbitration or presuit mediation. While presuit mediation can now be elected to resolve a significant number of disputes, election and recall disputes still require nonbinding arbitration. For property owners in Florida, presuit mediation is more cost-efficient and has a better chance of more immediate resolution through agreement.
Regardless of these new changes, all property owners need to keep in mind that each Association has its own rules of the road within the “Governing Documents.” These documents historically have included the following: 1) Articles of Incorporation, 2) Declaration of Covenants, 3) By-Laws, and 4) Rules and Regulations. With the implementation of the new Florida statute, the definition of “Governing Documents” will no longer include Rules and Regulations to homeowners. When you first join an Association, you receive these documents and should keep them in a safe place. The Governing Documents are critically important because you agree to pay Association fees in exchange for the Association to follow and enforce these rules. However, the Association cannot use the governing documents as a shield against the law since when the documents conflict with Florida law such as Chapters 718 or 720, the statutes prevail unless they say otherwise.
These statutory changes may go in effect as early as July 1, 2021. If you have any questions or believe you may have a dispute, we welcome you to reach out to us.