New condo, association laws now effective

Jul 7, 2008

Changes address flags, religious object display


South Florida Sun-Sentinel–July 6, 2008

Homeowners who flew their American flags on the Fourth of July won’t have to wait until Veterans Day to fly them again. A new state law says they can fly their flags every day of the year — even if their association rules say they can’t.

Another new law says condo owners no longer have the right to put solar panels on the roofs of their low-rise buildings. Associations feared that without regulation, owners could damage the roof over everyone’s head. Now, they can only put up a solar panel if it is solely “within the boundaries of a condominium unit.”

Five condo and homeowner association bills approved during the two-month legislative session that ended in May have been signed by Gov. Charlie Crist and became effective on Tuesday. Some are considered so confusing, however, that they may be changed next year.

Crist on May 1 signed a major condo reform bill that is effective Oct. 1.It does several things, from letting owners display small religious objects, such as Jewish mezuzahs, on their doorposts despite association bans, to preventing owners who owe money to the association from running for the board.

Last week, Crist vetoed a homeowner association bill because it included a provision he said would have weakened state regulation of association swimming pools.

One of the five bills that Crist signed into law is considered especially confusing. It involves the rewrite of condo insurance law, and includes everything from the responsibility of unit owners after a hurricane to how a board must rebuild a building. The law appears to contradict itself and other laws.

Although they are on opposite sides of nearly every issue, attorney Gary Poliakoff and Cyber Citizens for Justice President Jan Bergemann agree about the confusion.

“I doubt that those who drafted the amendment, and those who voted for it, can explain the consequences of their actions,” said Poliakoff, whose law firm represents 4,300 associations.

Said Bergemann, whose organization seeks to protect owners from associations: “In this case I agree with [Poliakoff].”

The insurance law may accomplish something, however, said Yeline Goin, Fort Myers-based executive director of the Community Association Leadership Lobby, which represents boards in Florida.

She said that after recent hurricanes, disputes arose between associations and owners over responsibility for payment. The new law, she said, establishes a “fairly easy-to-follow rule, which is: if you insure it, you are responsible for repairing it after a casualty, and also for any shortfalls that arise because of a deductible.”

The law makes several other changes, such as giving a new name to the state agency that enforces condo law: the Division of Condominiums, Timeshares & Mobile Homes.

Here are other highlights:

• Foreclosures. SB 1986 says that a bank or holder of a foreclosed first mortgage may be liable to a homeowner association for up to 12 months of past due assessments or 1 percent of the original mortgage amount, whichever is less. This could help take the burden off owners who would be forced to make up for the foreclosed owner.

• Liens and receivers. Condo associations can’t file a lien against an owner without giving the owner 30 days notice, a change that prevents associations from filing a lien the day after it says a payment is due (CS, HB 1105). Homeowner associations are already required to give owners 45 days to pay a debt before a lien can be filed for unpaid assessments.