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Emotional Support Animals Leave Many Condo Associations Howling

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Over the last five years, one of the most significant areas of concern for Florida condominium associations, especially those with no-pet policies, has been the rise in requests by occupants for associations to provide “reasonable accommodations” in their rules and regulations by permitting an emotional support animal (ESA). Given the potential for legal repercussions in the event that a legitimate request is denied, associations and their boards of directors and property managers should seek expert guidance on how to address these requests.

The laws governing emotional support animals emanate from the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988, and its state and local counterparts. The act prohibits discrimination in the provision of housing to disabled persons, and it requires that a reasonable accommodation in an association’s rules and regulations be provided to a disabled person so that they can use and enjoy the property to the same extent as a nondisabled person.

Disabilities can take many forms: some physical and others emotional and/or psychological.  For emotional and/or psychological disabilities such as depression, there are rarely obvious, external symptoms.

The process for condominiums typically begins with a written request by an owner or resident notifying the association of their disability and asking for it to grant an accommodation for an emotional support animal. Such a request may or may not be accompanied by a letter from a treating physician or therapist. Since being disabled, as that term is defined in the law, is a necessary prerequisite to exercising one’s right to be granted a reasonable accommodation, the individual who is making the request will need to demonstrate a disability. The act defines a disability as a condition that impairs or substantially limits a major life activity, e.g., walking, working, attending school, exercising, etc.

It is imperative for associations and their directors to understand that simply because the disability is not readily apparent, but rather emotional or psychological in nature, does not mean that the request is illegitimate or deniable out of hand. For example, if the individual is being treated for depression, especially if they are receiving psychiatric therapy as well as perhaps also medication, it will be difficult to deny a doctor’s claim that the animal provides the emotional support that the requestor requires to perform even the most basic major life activities.

The owner/resident must be able to demonstrate to the association that the disorder qualifies as a disability under the act and the emotional support animal alleviates it. The accommodation must be deemed necessary to provide the disabled owner/resident with an equal opportunity to use and enjoy the residence, so they must demonstrate that the emotional support animal mitigates their symptoms.

Once a request for reasonable accommodation is made, an association must approve or disapprove the requested accommodation within a reasonable time period. Unlike with obvious physical disabilities, associations may request information regarding the nature of the psychological/emotional disability so that they can make a meaningful evaluation as to whether the request for accommodation is reasonable. They are entitled to inquire about how the disability affects major life activities and how maintaining the animal will assist the requestor in fulfilling these activities.

Once all of the requested information is received and reviewed by an association, it should render a decision and issue it in writing to the unit owner/resident. If the request is denied, the requesting member may then file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development or the Florida Commission on Human Relations, which would then investigate the complaint to determine whether or not discriminatory conduct has occurred.

The association will then be required to respond to the complaint and explain its position and reasoning behind the denial. If the investigating agency concludes that discrimination has occurred, the effected party would then be able to file suit against the association. Liability for such discriminatory conduct may be found against associations, managers and, in some cases, board members in their individual capacity.

While there are many legitimate psychological and emotional disabilities that benefit from the use of emotional support animals, it is also widely known that the rules governing ESAs are frequently abused in order to circumvent legitimate association pet restrictions, as well as travel restrictions for animals. In fact, a cursory search of “emotional support dog” on Google produced more than five million results and provided links to multitudes of kits with “emotional support dog certifications” for sale.

Given the growing popularity of requests for emotional support dogs and other animals for both legitimate and illegitimate purposes, community associations with pet restrictions should work closely with highly experienced legal counsel in order to avoid potential legal pitfalls stemming from denials of these requests.

By Michael E. Chapnick | UPDATEDFeb 22, 2018 at 10:03 AM

 

Thirteen Things You Need to Know About Florida Condominium Association Emergency Powers

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In Florida, condominium living is a way of life.  Many of the state’s condominiums are located in places where they can capture a view and typically that means they are close to the water.  In Florida, we also have hurricanes.  Hurricanes have largely shaped Florida’s construction industry in that the building code is shaped and modeled after the construction of structures that can withstand hurricane winds.  Sometimes, however the storm surge and winds can over-take these structures and can lead to a catastrophe to not only buildings but entire regions of the state of Florida.   When this happens, condominium associations are required to act and act quickly.

As a result, Chapter 718 provides for certain emergency powers for Florida Condominium associations.   The association’s emergency powers are located in Section 718.1265 of the Florida Condominium Act.  Sometimes additional association emergency powers are also listed in an association’s declaration so you may want to check those as well so it is important to have a full understanding of the condominium governing documents.

The board of directors, in response to damage caused by an event for which a state of emergency is declared pursuant to s. 252.36 in the locale in which the condominium is located, may, but is not required to, exercise the following powers:

(a)     Conduct board meetings and membership meetings with notice given as is practicable. Such notice may be given in any practicable manner, including publication, radio, United States mail, the Internet, public service announcements, and conspicuous posting on the condominium property or any other means the board deems reasonable under the circumstances. Notice of board decisions may be communicated as provided in this paragraph.

(b)    Cancel and reschedule any association meeting.

(c)     Name as assistant officers persons who are not directors, which assistant officers shall have the same authority as the executive officers to whom they are assistants during the state of emergency to accommodate the incapacity or unavailability of any officer of the association.

(d)    Relocate the association’s principal office or designate alternative principal offices.

(e)     Enter into agreements with local counties and municipalities to assist counties and municipalities with debris removal.

(f)     Implement a disaster plan before or immediately following the event for which a state of emergency is declared which may include, but is not limited to, shutting down or off elevators; electricity; water, sewer, or security systems; or air conditioners.

(g)    Based upon advice of emergency management officials or upon the advice of licensed professionals retained by the board, determine any portion of the condominium property unavailable for entry or occupancy by unit owners, family members, tenants, guests, agents, or invitees to protect the health, safety, or welfare of such persons.

(h)    Require the evacuation of the condominium property in the event of a mandatory evacuation order in the locale in which the condominium is located. Should any unit owner or other occupant of a condominium fail or refuse to evacuate the condominium property where the board has required evacuation, the association shall be immune from liability or injury to persons or property arising from such failure or refusal.

(i)     Based upon advice of emergency management officials or upon the advice of licensed professionals retained by the board, determine whether the condominium property can be safely inhabited or occupied. However, such determination is not conclusive as to any determination of habitability under to the declaration.

(j)     Mitigate further damage, including taking action to contract for the removal of debris and to prevent or mitigate the spread of fungus, including, but not limited to, mold or mildew, by removing and disposing of wet drywall, insulation, carpet, cabinetry, or other fixtures on or within the condominium property, even if the unit owner is obligated by the declaration or law to insure or replace those fixtures and to remove personal property from a unit.

(k)    Contract, on behalf of any unit owner or owners, for items or services for which the owners are otherwise individually responsible, but which are necessary to prevent further damage to the condominium property. In such event, the unit owner or owners on whose behalf the board has contracted are responsible for reimbursing the association for the actual costs of the items or services, and the association may use its lien authority provided by s. 718.116 to enforce collection of the charges. Without limitation, such items or services may include the drying of units, the boarding of broken windows or doors, and the replacement of damaged air conditioners or air handlers to provide climate control in the units or other portions of the property.

(l)     Regardless of any provision to the contrary and even if such authority does not specifically appear in the declaration of condominium, articles, or bylaws of the association, levy special assessments without a vote of the owners.

(m)   Without unit owners’ approval, borrow money and pledge association assets as collateral to fund emergency repairs and carry out the duties of the association when operating funds are insufficient. This paragraph does not limit the general authority of the association to borrow money, subject to such restrictions as are contained in the declaration of condominium, articles, or bylaws of the association.

The powers authorized under the emergency powers section of the Florida Condominium Act are limited to that time reasonably necessary to protect the health, safety, and welfare of the association and the unit owners and the unit owners’ family members, tenants, guests, agents, or invitees.  The special emergency powers shall be reasonably necessary to mitigate further damage and make emergency repairs.  Any understanding of these powers is critical to the safety of the community.

by Christopher M. Cobb, Esq.

2018 Florida Legislative Session Update – Community Association Related Bills

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Florida’s 2018 Legislative Session is in full swing. Following a fairly busy Florida Legislative Session in 2017, there are again a number of proposed bills relating to community associations currently being considered in Tallahassee.   As is our yearly ritual, we are keeping a close eye on proposed legislation relating to community associations. If passed and signed into law, these bills would have a significant impact on community operations throughout the state.

To be clear, this list is not all-inclusive, and the bills will certainly change in number and substance before the end of the regular session scheduled for March 9, 2018.  However, below is a snapshot summary of the currently pending legislation which impacts Florida condominiums and homeowner associations:

HB 377  : Homeowners’ Associations

  • Increases minimum statutory damages for willfully failing to provide official records from $50 per day (up to 10 days) to $500 per day (up to 30 days) – a potential total of $15,000!
  • If a community manager or management firm is delegated with the responsibility of providing access to records, a member has a claim against the manager or management firm for the damages. Specifies that managers and management firms cannot be indemnified or otherwise reimbursed by the association for these damages.
  • Obligates HOAs to resubmit reports to the Division if there is a material change to the information previously provided under 720.303(13).  It is not clear what would be considered “material,” but presumably it would apply to the number of parcels governed by the community, and the amount of total revenues and expenses from the association’s annual budget.
  • Removes the ability for HOAs to file a lien against a parcel for fines exceeding $1,000.
  • Changes the requirements which trigger an obligation for a developer to turn over control of an HOA to non-developer members.
  • Provides that election and recall disputes are eligible for pre-suit mediation.  However, this appears to be in addition to the mandatory non-binding arbitration which is currently required by statute.
  • Provides that the Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) shall provide binding arbitration at the request of a parcel owner or HOA for disputes involving rules enforcement, maintenance, assessments, and official records.
  • Provides that the DBPR shall provide training and educational programs for HOA members, directors, and officers.
  • Provides that the DBPR has enforcement authority over HOAs for records access, financial management, and election infractions. In addition, the DBPR may also investigate any complaint made against an HOA to the DBPR.
  • Requires sellers of property subject to HOAs to provide a copy of the governing documents (including all amendments) and current operating budget of association to buyer at least 7 days prior to closing. Buyers may cancel sale within 3 days of receipt of documents.
  • Creates limited causes of action against developers, and prohibits developers from using association funds for non-association purposes prior to turnover.

HB 841/ SB 1274: Community Associations

  • Specifies that certain documents must be permanently maintained in the official records of condominium associations from the inception of the association
  • Refines the list of documents required to be posted on condominium association websites, and limits the association’s liability for inadvertent disclosures of protected information
  • Provides additional methods and requirements for electronic notice of meetings
  • Provides a limit on consecutive years served by Board members
  • Further revises condominium recall procedures based upon the facial invalidity of written agreements or ballots used to recall directors
  • Clarifies the disclosure and approval requirements for conflicts of interest
  • Revises fining and enforcement procedures
  • Adds new budget and reserve requirements for homeowners’ associations
  • Clarifies that material alterations and substantial additions must be approved before they are made
  • Provides for the automatic removal of directors and officers that are more than 90 days delinquent to homeowner associations
  • Prohibits nominations from the floor of homeowner association elections in certain circumstances
  • Makes the laws applicable to bulk buyers permanent

HB 873/SB 1238: Homeowners’ Associations

  • Incorporates many of the legislative changes that applied only to condominiums in 2017, and applies the same to homeowner associations
  • Requires homeowner associations with 150 or more parcels to have a website, with certain official records and notices posted
  • Prohibits associations from hiring an attorney who represents the management company of the association
  • Requires copies of financial reports to be provided to owners, or within 5 business days of an owner request
  • Prohibits the use of debit cards for association expenses
  • Revises recall procedures
  • Creates new criminal penalties for officers, directors, or managers for soliciting or accepting “kickbacks,” as well as other violations
  • Revises fining and enforcement procedures
  • Provides additional conflict of interest provisions
  • Imposes board member term limits

HB 1061: Community Association Fire and Life Safety Systems

  • Requires high-rise buildings without fire sprinkler systems to be marked with a warning sign or symbol approved by the State Fire Marshal  
  • Allows high-rise buildings to opt out of Engineered Life Safety Systems (ELSS)
  • Extends opt-out deadlines for Fire Sprinkler and ELSS retrofitting until December 31, 2018, and extends actual retrofitting deadlines.

SB 266: Covenants and Restrictions

  • Revises the Marketable Record Title Act (MRTA) to streamline preserving and revitalizing covenants and restrictions
  • Permits non-residential property owners’ associations to preserve covenants and restrictions
  • Allows non-mandatory homeowners’ associations to revitalize covenants and restrictions that have expired

HB 625: Community Associations

  • Requires the DBPR to establish an Office of Community Association Hearings to employ community association hearing officers in lieu of arbitrators for certain disputes, with the authority to impose certain sanctions.
  • Allows DBPR to certify attorneys who are not employed by the DBPR to act as community association hearing officers under certain conditions
  • Revises the provisions related to alternative dispute resolution for condominium and homeowners associations.

HB 123/SB 1366: Bullying and Harassment in Community Associations

  • Creates the “Stand Up for Seniors Act” for communities intended and operated for occupancy by persons 55 years of age and older
  • Prohibits and provides definitions for bullying, cyberbullying, and harassment
  • Requires associations to adopt policies prohibiting bullying and harassment, with specific statutory requirements including association investigation and enforcement requirements
  • Requires policies to be reviewed every three years

SB 1400: Vacation Rentals

  • Creates the “Florida Vacation Rental Act”
  • Preempts all regulation of vacation rentals to the state and nullifies any local regulations
  • Requires vacation rentals to obtain a license
  • Specifies that vacation rentals are to be treated as transient rentals regarding certain landlord and tenant provisions
  • Grandfathers certain local laws, ordinances, and regulations, etc.

If these bills make their way through the legislative process and become law, they will significantly change the relationship between community associations and their members, and how community associations operate.  We will continue to monitor their progress as the 2018 Florida Legislative Session progresses.

by Editor | February 15, 2018 9:07 am

Source URL: http://communityassociations.net/legislative-community-association-related/

Tropical depression forms; will head for Gulf of Mexico

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By: FOX 13 News staff

Updated: Oct 04 2017 05:14PM EDT

– Tropical Depression 16 has formed in the southwestern Caribbean Sea and is expected to move north into the Gulf of Mexico, strengthening along the way.

It’s still too early to say for sure how the potential storm – which will be called Nate when it reaches tropical storm status – will affect Florida.  But most long-range models have the system making landfall somewhere along the Gulf Coast as a tropical storm or hurricane this weekend.

LINK: Track T.D. 16 on MyFoxHurricane.com

“Intensity and track will likely change in the coming days. There is no center of circulation for models to initialize on just yet,” FOX 13 meteorologist Lindsay Milbourne explained, warning about the still-warm water of the Gulf of Mexico.

“One thing for sure is we’ve seen how named storms can strengthen.  This is why October is a vulnerable month for Florida and southeast U.S. — water temperatures are still in the low- to mid-80s, which is plenty warm for storms to strengthen. Much of these waters have been untouched by named storms this season.”

As of the 5 p.m. NHC update, the system had maximum sustained winds of 35 mph, just short of the 39-mph threshold for tropical storms. A tropical storm warning was in effect for parts of Nicaragua and Honduras.

 

Officials: Flooding won’t close Interstate 75

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By: Jim Saunders, The News Service of Florida

Posted: Sep 14 2017 11:07AM EDT

– Hurricane Irma evacuees trying to return home can breathe a little easier. The Florida Department of Transportation said Thursday the state will not have to close a portion of Interstate 75 in Alachua County, as Santa Fe River flooding has started to recede.

“As of this morning, FDOT engineers and state meteorologists do not believe that the Santa Fe River will reach a level to make the interstate unsafe,” a news release from the Department of Transportation and the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles said.

State officials had warned Wednesday that they were watching a small bridge on Interstate 75 at the northern border of Alachua County because the Santa Fe River was expected to crest at “historic and unprecedented levels.”

If the interstate — heavily traveled even in normal times — would have been forced to close, it would have created a bottleneck for residents of South and Central Florida trying to return home after evacuating to northern parts of the state or to other states.

Also contributing to the potential problem was that parts of U.S. 27 and U.S. 41 in the area remain closed because of Santa Fe water levels.

The announcement Thursday about keeping the interstate open came as crews continued working to restore electricity across large swaths of the state and residents and businesses grappled with damage.

As of 9 a.m. Thursday, Duke Energy Florida said 569,853 customers — nearly a third of its customer base — lacked power, while electricity had been restored to 824,084 customers. Pinellas County had the largest number of Duke customers still out, 184,054, while Orange County had 97,178 out, according to the utility.

The Florida Municipal Electric Association also said 224,836 customers of municipal utilities remained without power and that electricity had been restored to about 600,000 customers. Duval County had the largest number of municipal customers without power, 79,398, while Orange County had 31,000.

Meanwhile, 85 percent of municipal-electric customers in Monroe County did not have power. Irma made initial landfall Sunday in the Florida Keys, part of Monroe County, before making landfall again in Southwest Florida.

Thousands of insurance claims from the storm also have started to be filed as homeowners and business owners see the damage inflicted by Irma.

Michael Peltier, a spokesman for Citizens Property Insurance Corp., said the state-backed insurer had received about 15,000 claims as of 8 p.m. Wednesday, with most coming from Monroe, Miami-Dade and Broward counties. He said the insurer does not have initial estimates of losses.

State Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier late Wednesday issued an emergency order that carried out a series of directives by Gov. Rick Scott. Among other things, Scott directed a 90-day “freeze” on proposals that could lead to increased property-insurance rates.

That will push back until December a decision by the state Office of Insurance Regulation about whether to approve a pending rate proposal by Citizens. The proposed effective date of the rate changes, which would include increases for many Citizens customers, was Feb. 1.

Peltier said Citizens officials are looking at whether the 90-day delay in a decision about the rate filing could push back the effective date of changes.

The Florida Department of Transportation says it is actively working with WAZE, Google Maps, the Georgia Department of Transportation and other transportation industry partners to route evacuees most efficiently.  They say Floridians should consult www.FL511.com for up-to-date information on road closures and travel routes.

FEMA: How it works and how to reach them

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– FEMA is offering individual assistance to victims of Hurricane Irma in counties covered by the disaster declaration. However, that does not currently include all counties in our Tampa Bay viewing area that took some of the hardest hits from hurricane Irma.

This is because FEMA is still in the early phases of assessing damage, and has not completed the surveys in some counties that serve as a precursor to determining eligibility for individual assistance.

The zone has expanded as FEMA inspects the region, and may continue to expand.

Meanwhile, FEMA does not yet have mobile disaster recovery centers in place, but people who need help can reach out to FEMA online or by phone.

MORE: FEMA offers help to Irma victims in some counties

People can register for help through DisasterAssistance.Gov or through the FEMA App. People who do not have Internet access may call 1-800-621-FEMA (3362). A disaster inspector will schedule a visit to properties in areas covered by the declaration. FEMA urges applicants to note whether the home is safe to enter.

“Please don’t wait for disaster recovery centers to open. Register for FEMA assistance now as soon as it is safe to do so,” said FEMA spokesman John Mills. “Damage assessments are ongoing, and additional counties based on those damage assessments may be added to the disaster declaration.”

LINK: FEMA’s disaster declaration for Florida
LINK: FEMA updates on the declaration and eligibility for individual assistance

Much of the damage inflicted by Hurricane Irma will be covered by private homeowner’s insurance or flood insurance. FEMA helps people who do not have insurance, or helps fill gaps for what insurance does not cover. It offers low-interest disaster loans, grants for home repairs, temporary housing support and other assistance depending on the extent of damage and circumstances.

“FEMA has been a great partner,” said Governor Rick Scott. “What the president gave us with the major declaration is going to help our families get back to a normal life as fast as possible.”

Irma Sliding North Of Hispanola; Hurricane Watches Now Up For South Florida

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At 11AM Thursday, Irma remains a dangerous category 5 hurricane with winds of 175 mph. It’s moving WNW at 16 mph and is located about 120 miles SE of Grand Turk Island in the Turks & Caicos. Irma is expected to continue this general WNW motion over the next couple of days before making a northward turn as it nears the state of Florida. Hurricane watches are now up for all of South Florida.

irma-4

The time of that right hand turn is critical in determining the range of impacts felt across the state. The worst of the weather will be felt on Irma’s northern and eastern sides. Areas directly in front of and east of the center of the storm can expect sustained hurricane force winds for a time. While winds on the western side of the eye will be decreasing the further west you go. It’s still too early to pinpoint the impacts for an exact location, as a shift in track of just 20-30 miles could dramatically change who sees what. As of now, the entire Florida peninsula is in the cone of uncertainty and should be preparing accordingly. Mandatory evacuations are now in effect for the Florida Keys, as well as coastal portions of Miami-Dade, Broward, Brevard, and Martin counties. Heed warnings of local authorities.

irma-5 irma-6

Impacts across the northern Caribbean over the next couple of days will be quite extreme. Here is the latest advisory from the National Hurricane Center…

STORM SURGE:  The combination of a dangerous storm surge and the tide will cause normally dry areas near the coast to be flooded by rising waters moving inland from the shoreline.  The water is expected to reach the following HEIGHTS ABOVE GROUND if the peak surge occurs at the time of high tide…

Jupiter Inlet to Bonita Beach, including Florida Keys…5 to 10 ft

The deepest water will occur along the immediate coast in areas of onshore winds, where the surge will be accompanied by large and destructive waves.  Surge related flooding depends on the relative timing of the surge and the tidal cycle, and can vary greatly over short distances.

The combination of a life-threatening storm surge and large breaking waves will raise water levels ABOVE NORMAL TIDE LEVELS by the following amounts within the hurricane warning area near and to the north of the center of Irma.  Near the coast, the surge will be accompanied by large and destructive waves.

Turks and Caicos Islands…15 to 20 ft
Southeastern and central Bahamas…15 to 20 ft
Northwestern Bahamas…5 to 10 ft
Northern coast of the Dominican Republic…3 to 5 ft
Northern coast of Haiti and the Gulf of Gonave…1 to 3 ft
Northern coast of Cuba in the warning area…5 to 10 ft

Water levels around Puerto Rico should subside today.

WIND:  Hurricane conditions are expected to begin within the hurricane warning area in the Dominican Republic and Haiti today. Hurricane conditions are expected to begin in the southeastern Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands later today with tropical storm conditions expected within the next several hours.  These conditions will spread into the central Bahamas by tonight or early Friday.

Hurricane and tropical storm conditions are possible within the watch area in Cuba by Friday.  Tropical storm conditions are expected to begin within the warning area in Cuba tonight. Hurricane conditions are expected in the northwestern Bahamas Friday night and Saturday.

RAINFALL: Irma is expected to produce the following rain accumulations through Saturday evening:

Northeast Puerto Rico and the British and U.S. Virgin Islands… additional 2 to 4 inches, isolated 6 inches
Much of the Bahamas and Turks and Caicos…8 to 12 inches, isolated 20 inches
Andros Island and Bimini, Bahamas…12 to 16 inches, isolated 25 inches
Northern Dominican Republic and northern Haiti…4 to 10 inches, isolated 15 inches
Southern Dominican Republic and southern Haiti…2 to 5 inches
Eastern and central Cuba…4 to 10 inches, isolated 15 inches
Southeast Florida and the upper Florida Keys…8 to 12 inches, isolated 20 inches
Lower Florida Keys…2 to 5 inches

In all areas this rainfall may cause life-threatening flash floods and mudslides.

SURF:  Swells generated by Irma are affecting the northern Leeward Islands, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, the southeastern Bahamas, the Turks and Caicos Islands, the northern coast of the Dominican Republic, and should start affecting portions of the southeast coast of the United States later today and tonight.  These swells are likely to cause life-threatening surf and rip current conditions.

A Storm Surge Watch is in effect for…
* Jupiter Inlet southward around the Florida peninsula to Bonita Beach
* Florida Keys

A Hurricane Warning is in effect for…
* Dominican Republic from Cabo Engano to the northern border with Haiti
* Haiti from the northern border with the Dominican Republic to Le Mole St. Nicholas
* Southeastern Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands
* Central Bahamas
* Northwestern Bahamas

A Hurricane Watch is in effect for…
* Jupiter Inlet southward around the Florida peninsula to Bonita Beach
* Florida Keys
* Lake Okeechobee
* Florida Bay
* Cuba from Matanzas province eastward to Guantanamo province

A Tropical Storm Warning is in effect for…
* Dominican Republic from south of Cabo Engano westward to the southern border with Haiti
* Haiti from south of Le Mole St. Nicholas to Port-Au-Prince
* Cuba provinces of Guantanamo, Holguin, Las Tunas, Camaguey, Ciego de Avila, Sancti Spiritus and Villa Clara.

 This entry was posted in Daily updates by Tyler Eliasen. Bookmark the permalink.

CA Managed Communities Rank #1 & #2 as Tampa Bay’s Best Neighborhoods and Top 25 Nationally – Tampa Bay Business Journal

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Ever wonder which neighborhoods are considered the best in the area? Pittsburgh-based Niche evaluates neighborhoods based on more than a dozen factors, including higher education rate, housing affordability and availability, diversity, commute time and many others.

Tampa neighborhoods dominated the top of Niche’s state ranking in 2017, accounting for the top eight neighborhoods in Florida and 19 of the top 25.

VIEW SLIDESHOW 26 photos

Easton Park in New Tampa was the highest-ranked neighborhood in the region. Easton Park, with a population of 2,367, ranked first in the state and 19th in the country. Harbour Island also made it to the top 25 nationally at No. 24.

The top 25 neighborhoods in Tampa Bay were almost exclusively located in Tampa, specifically in South Tampa and New Tampa. Only one St. Petersburg neighborhood, Bayou Highlands, made Niche’s top 25.

The top Tampa Bay neighborhoods are not necessarily the wealthiest. While the median household income for all 25 was above the local average, it ranges from just over $60,000 to nearly $150,000. Median home value likewise had a wide range, from $133,878 to $672,904.

View the photo gallery for data on the top 25 neighborhoods in the Tampa Bay area. You can also explore the interactive map below to see where these neighborhoods are located.

Chris Erickson is Research Director for the Tampa Bay Business Journal.

http://www.bizjournals.com/tampabay/news/2017/06/08/see-the-top-25-neighborhoods-in-tampa-bay.html

The 2017 Fla. Legislature Returns To Condo Land

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June 1, 2017

Once again, after a one-year hiatus, the Florida Legislature has produced several condominium bills. Typically, the Legislature passes a single condominium bill into which other approved bills have been merged. This year, perhaps to make up for the failure to enact any condominium legislation, four bills were passed: CS/CS/CS/HB653 (HB653), CS/CS/HB1237 (HB1237), (CS/CS/CS SB398 (SB398), and CSSB1520 (SB1520) were passed by both houses of the Florida Legislature and are awaiting approval or disapproval by Governor Scott.

The HB653 and HB1237, as typical, run 69 and 51 pages respectively and deal with a potpourri of issues for Florida condominiums. SB398 deals only with estoppels and SB1520 deals only with condominium terminations which also appears verbatim in HB653. The principal changes are summarized below. HB653 and HB1237 share many of the same provisions and the references below to “both bills” are to these two bills.

Fire Sprinklers. There has been a long-running battle between older mid-rise and high-rise condominiums and the state and county fire marshals regarding installation of fire sprinkler systems. The fire marshals claim sprinkler installation is a life safety issue and will save lives while the older condominiums do not want to bear the substantial cost of installing new sprinklers. HB653 clarifies that an opt-out from fire sprinkler requirements is permitted with a two-thirds vote of the voting interests in buildings more than 75 feet high and that no requirement exists for fire sprinklers in existing buildings of 75 feet or less in height. It also moves the required outside date for sprinkler installation compliance from Jan. 1, 2020. to Jan. 1, 2022. However, if the building is three stories or more, this bill requires the installation of on-premises signage in a form approved by the state fire marshal warning of the lack of sprinklers in the common areas.

Condo Fraud. After a series of articles in the Miami Herald regarding improper elections, fraud and kick-backs by officers and directors of condominiums in Miami-Dade County, there has been a push to criminalize such improper conduct. Criminal penalties are imposed for forgery of election materials, embezzlement of condominium funds, destruction of condominium records and refusal to permit inspection of such records. Both bills specifically include “kickbacks” as prohibited conduct. Moreover, if an officer or director is charged with misconduct, such person is automatically removed from office and not subject to re-election unless he or she is ultimately cleared of the charges. Another way of describing this procedure is “guilty until proven innocent.” Criminalization had generally been opposed by the Condominium Bar on the theory that it is difficult to obtain volunteers to serve on the board of directors and the imposition of criminal penalties might make it impossible to fill a position which most people already think is a thankless one. Both bills also prohibit directors, managers and management company from acquiring condominium units in any proceedings to enforce the condominium association’s lien rights either at a foreclosure sale or by acquiring title by deed in lieu of foreclosure. The acquisition of title by one of the prohibited parties by deed in lieu is difficult to conceive unless accomplished in a two-step process in which title is first acquired from the association.

Access to Condominium Records. Currently only condominium owners have inspection rights over condominium documents. Both bills add to existing document inspection rights inspection by a designated representative of a unit owner and by a tenant. A tenant, however, has only limited authority to inspect and copy the association’s by-laws and rules. Both bills also provide that condominiums with 150 or more units will need to establish a website by July 1, 2018, to post the association’s governing documents: the declaration of condominium and articles, by-laws and rules of the association (together with all amendments), management and other agreements made by the association, budgets and financial reports, certifications supplied by directors regarding their familiarity with the Condominium Act. In lieu of other forms of providing notice of meeting, notices of meeting may be given by posting on the association’s website.

Financial Reporting. Both bills eliminate the exemption of smaller condominiums containing less than 50 units from providing financial statements of the type prepared by an independent accountant but allow a majority of voting interests in such condominiums to waive such financial statement requirements. HB653 eliminates the requirement that an association cannot waive the statutes’ financial reporting requirements for more than three consecutive years. Both bills add an enforcement mechanism for owners to obtain financial reports of the association by allowing an owner to report such failures to the Division of Florida Condominiums, Timeshares and Mobile Homes. If the association fails to deliver the statements to the division and the owners it is thereafter barred from electing out of reporting requirements for financial statements. While well intentioned, such enforcement mechanism appears rather toothless. In addition, HB1237 requires associations to provide an annual report to the division of the financial institutions in which the association maintains accounts. It is not clear the purpose of such requirement but such reports do allow owners access to such information.

Assessments. HB653 requires that notice of a board meeting at which regular or special assessments will be considered must state that assessments are on the agenda and include the estimated amount and purpose of such assessments. While current law requires that notice of special assessments appear on a meeting notice, the requirements for regular assessment and the amount and purpose of such assessments is new.

Board of Directors. HB1237 imposes term limits for serving on the board to four consecutive two-year terms unless the term limit is waived by at least two-thirds of the total voting interests or there are not enough eligible candidates to fill the board positions. Furthermore, this bill also eliminates board certification of a vote to recall board members. It therefore appears that a board member being recalled cannot dispute the recall prior to removal but would need to contest by petition to the division after recall and perhaps replacement and apparently at his or her own expense. Conflicts of Interest. HB1237 contains extensive provisions dealing with conflicts of interest. However, some of these provisions are inconsistent with each other. One provision prohibits contracts with service providers if such a provider has a financial relationship with a director or officer or someone related to the director by blood or marriage. However, another provision appears to permit such contracts if the conflict is disclosed, the director recuses himself or herself on the voting for such contract and the board approves the contract.

Estoppel Certificates. Existing law contains a provision for the issuance of estoppel (or status) certificates by the condominium association. SB398, however, greatly expands the scope of this provision. The bill allows requests to be made by electronic means (i.e., email) and requires the association to designate an email address for such requests. It also specifies the contents of the certificate to be produced by the association which includes the date of the certificate, name of owner, unit number, any owned parking spaces, the association’s attorney if payments are delinquent, the charge for the certificate, the name of the person requesting the certificate, the amount of the periodic assessment with a paid through date, the date the next installment is due, an itemized list of charges, a list of scheduled additional or special assessment not currently due, transfer fees, open violations by the existing owner, whether board approval is necessary for a transfer of the unit and, if so, if such approval has been provided, whether a right of first refusal exists and, if so, whether it has been exercised and contact information for other associations governing the unit and for the association’s insurance carriers. The bill indicates an estoppel certificate remains effective for 30 days from issuance or for 35 days if mailed. The bill limits the charges for an estoppel certificate to $250 but permits an additional charges of $150 if the owner is delinquent and $100 for expedited service within 3 business days. Otherwise the bill requires delivery within 10 business days and prohibits any charges by the association for certificates delivered beyond such period. In cases where certificates for multiple units owned by the same party are requested, there is a sliding scale per unit starting at $750 for up to 25 units increasing to $2,500 for more than 100 units. If someone other than the unit owner requests the certificate and the closing for which it was requested fails to occur, the association has to return the fee. The bill also contains an adjustment mechanism to increasing the amount of permissible fees every 5 years based on increases in the Consumer Price Index.

Terminations. Perhaps the most controversial area in HB653 is the changes to the provisions allowing condominium terminations. These provisions also appear as a freestanding bill in SB1520. Since changes in the termination statute in 2007 permitting optional terminations, several hundred condominiums have been terminated. Most of these were as a result of the Great Recession where many condominium conversions, from rental apartments to condominiums, were reverted by termination to rentals. Although the great majority of these terminations were without incident, and in many cases resulted in an improvement of the property, there were a few high profile and well publicized terminations in which the concept of termination became an anathema. In these cases, homeowners lost their homes and wound up with a bill from their lenders as a result of the deficiency between their proceeds from the termination and the amount of their mortgages. Both of these bills were intended to make terminations of condominiums much more difficult. There is no doubt that the legislature has succeeded in this goal. The bills lower the threshold of voting interests needed to defeat a termination plan from at least 10 percent to at least 5 percent. They also require division approval of a termination plan but lacks specifics on the division’s standards for such approval. The bills also increase the waiting period necessary to resubmit a plan of termination upon failure to adopt a prior plan from 18 months to 24 months. Furthermore, they increase the lockout period for a termination from 5 years after the declaration of condominium was filed to 10 years. The bills also provide that any owner of homestead property objecting to a successful termination must receive at least his or her purchase price regardless of party from whom the unit was purchased. Existing law only requires such 100 percent recovery if the unit was purchased from the developer. The bills also change the disclosure requirements contained in a plan of termination. The definition of “bulk owner” for which special disclosures are required is reduced from 50 percent of the units to 25 percent of the units thereby increasing the pool of parties needing to make such disclosures. A requirement is added that the termination plan disclose “factual circumstances” that indicate that the plan “supports the expressed public policies of this section.” This is an amorphous standard at best. It is not clear what “public policies” would be supported if 100 percent of the owners decided it would be advantageous to them personally to terminate their condominium. Finally, the bills attempt to make the changes to the statute retroactive to apply to all existing condominiums. Such a provision in the current termination statute has previously been challenged in several cases which uniformly held that termination provisions could not be given retroactive effect based on constitutional restraints.

Alternate Dispute Resolution. HB1237 imposes additional qualifications for people to serve as arbitrators. It requires at least five years of Florida Bar membership and at least mediation or arbitration of 10 disputes involving condominiums and 30 disputes overall within the three years immediately prior to the application for certification. Alternatively one may qualify if certified in real estate or condominium and planned development law. The bill also mandates that an arbitrator conduct a hearing on an appropriate dispute, as determined by the division, within 30 days after being assigned by the division and render a decision within 30 days after such hearing. These requirements represent in a widespread dissatisfaction with the current arbitration process.

Voting Rights. HB1237 modifies the ability of the association to suspend voting rights for nonpayment of monetary amounts by requiring at least a delinquency of $1,000 and a 30 day notice prior to suspension. It also denies a receiver of a unit the ability to exercise voting rights.

Bulk Purchases. Part VII of the Condominium Act was enacted in 2010 with a limited life of 2 years. Adopted during the Great Recession, its purpose was to shield bulk purchasers of condominium units from potential developer liability thereby encouraging absorption of unsold units. This legislation has been largely credited with reducing the absorption of inventory originally estimated at 5 to 10 years to 2 to 3 years. Part VII was extended by the legislature several times and currently was set to expire on July 1, 2018. HB653 removes the sunset and Part VII will now be a permanent part of the Condominium Act.

These bills, as with previous condominium legislation, seem to have something for everyone. And, as in the past, appear to have provisions desirable to some constituents and undesirable to others. As we prepare for the 2018 legislative session, we can expect another annual tinkering with the Condominium Act with similar results and an expansion of a statute that already runs considerably more than 100 pages.

Bilzin Sumberg Baena Price & Axelrod LLPMartin A. Schwartz

http://www.lexology.com/library/detail.aspx?g=f8bcf954-2fc4-461c-b737-5dbf865e2152

Pinellas Unveils New Hurricane Evacuation Map And App

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June 2, 2017

With the beginning of hurricane season Thursday, officials in Pinellas County are encouraging residents to check what their evacuation levels are because they may have changed since last year.

Thanks to updated storm surge maps, some people are now either more or less likely to evacuate in a hurricane.

Sally Bishop, the director of Pinellas County Emergency Management, said more than 85,000 properties changed evacuation levels, with almost 75,000 now evacuating sooner than before.

In addition, another 20,000 properties changed from a non-evacuation zone to an evacuation zone.

“So it’s really critical that our citizens get online with our tools, call the office, use our interactive voice response system. There’s a multitude of ways for them to check their evac zones, but the fact that they check it so they know what it is for 2017 going forward,” Bishop said.

Bishop adds that the change means around 10 public shelters that previously were not in an evacuation zone are now in D and E zones – the last areas to evacuate when storm surge hits up to 28 to 35 feet.

“So you’re talking a major, major hurricane that requires a level D or E evacuation,” she said.

The county also rolled out its new “Ready Pinellas” app, which will help residents who would like to plan for hurricane season now.

The new “Ready Pinellas” app helps Pinellas County residents prepare for hurricane season and shows location-based evacuation information.

Credit Pinellas County Emergency Management

“I like to call it our ‘just in time’ app or your ‘plan in your pocket’ app,” Bishop said. “It’s location-based, so if you’ve got your location services turned on on your mobile device, it’ll tell you what the evacuation zone is at the location that you’re at.”

“If it’s an actual storm event, it’ll tell you if we’ve ordered an evacuation level and what level we’ve ordered,” she added. “It consolidates all these other tools on our website into a convenient mobile app so you can check your evacuation level there, you can go see how much storm surge would be expected at that location through our storm surge protector app.

“You can monitor social media through it. You can use our checklists while you’re out at the stores and be checking off, right on the app, that you’ve gotten those items done. ”

Pinellas County residents can find their evacuation zone by visiting www.PinellasCounty.org/KnowYourZone.

The new app can also be downloaded free for Apple or Android mobile devices by searching “Ready Pinellas” in your app store or by going to www.pinellascounty.org/emergency.

By Mark Schreiner

http://health.wusf.usf.edu/post/pinellas-unveils-new-hurricane-evacuation-map-and-app