Q: Our condominium association conducted a vote many years ago to approve the lobby renovation. There is now a dispute over whether the vote passed or whether certain aspects of the renovation were disclosed. The association says they don’t have the proxies or notices. Is the association required to keep these documents?
A: The answer depends on the age of the documents. Florida Statutes section 718.111(12) provides that these proxies and written documents relative to the vote are official records and must be maintained by the association, but it also provides that “the official records of the association must be maintained within the state for at least 7 years.” More specifically relative to your question, the statute also provides that “ballots, sign-in sheets, voting proxies, and all other papers relating to voting by unit owners” must be maintained for 1 years from the date of the election, vote, or meeting to which the document relates. Thus, if the vote was years ago and the documents are relative to a vote of the membership, the statute only requires these documents to be maintained for 1 year.
Q: Our condominium has concluded the post-hurricane clean up and beginning to replace some of the landscaping vegetation. Some of the vegetation is different in species, age, size, and color. The membership did not approve this, so how can the Board do this?
A: This question hints at the concept of a material alteration. Generally, if the condominium association wants to materially alter the common elements or association property, it must obtain the membership’s approval. A material alteration is essentially a palpable or perceptive change to the use, function or appearance of the common elements or association property. Relative to the question above, lobby renovations may also be a material alteration depending on the nature of the renovations.
With landscaping, however, it is important to note that the relative arbitration decisions provide a significant amount of deference to the Board’s discretion on landscaping decisions. Largely, decisions on landscaping fall within the Board’s business judgment and the determination of whether plants should be replaced generally falls in the Board’s discretion without membership approval. This would also probably apply to moving shrubs or changing the species.
This discretion is not without limits. If the landscaping alterations change the landscape scheme, they may also constitute a material alteration. For example, if the current landscaping is a Tuscan theme, and the proposed replacement is a desert cactus theme, that may require membership approval.
Q: Our homeowners association is rewriting the governing documents. The Board appointed a committee that is meeting with the lawyer in private the membership has no input into the draft revisions. Is this legal?
A: This is an area of Florida law where the statutes governing homeowners associations is quite different than condominium associations. For purposes of this question, I will also assume that the committee is not comprised of Directors that would also constitute a quorum of the Board.
In your homeowners association, the statutes provide that a document committee is not required to notice meetings and allow membership attendance and participation unless that committee has final authority to decide on expending association funds. If the committee is merely reviewing drafts and making recommendations, those committee meetings would only require notice and membership attendance if your particular Bylaws require these formalities for all committees.
Thus, I would recommend you have the Bylaws and committee charter (if a charter exists) reviewed by a licensed Florida attorney to determine whether the committee is acting appropriately, but the general answer is that it would be legal.
Q: Our condominium association recently took control from the developer and we are very unhappy with our cable contract and feel we can do better. Are we stuck with this 15- year agreement?
A: Not necessarily. Florida Statutes section 718.302 provides a mechanism for the post-turnover membership to cancel long term agreements without penalty. Specifically, the statute provide that “any grant or reservation made by a declaration, lease, or other document, and any contract made by an association prior to assumption of control of the association by unit owners other than the developer, that provides for operation, maintenance, or management of a condominium association or property serving the unit owners of a condominium shall be fair and reasonable, and such grant, reservation, or contract may be canceled by unit owners other than the developer.” This means that your post-turnover Board of Directors can schedule a membership meeting where the membership can vote to terminate the cable agreement as a “contract made by an assumption prior to assumption of control of the association by the unit owners.” For a single condominium association, the threshold is seventy-five percent (75%) of the membership must approve the cancellation. If the membership does not vote to cancel, then you are stuck with the agreement until the membership votes otherwise.
I must also note that the same statutory authority to cancel as set forth above is not mirrored in statutes applicable to homeowners associations. Thus, if you are in a homeowners association, the primary requirement is that long term agreements must be “fair and reasonable.”
Q: My neighbors obtained approval from the homeowners association to install security cameras. I am worried that the neighbor is going to use these cameras to watch us or our children in our home. Can I prevent the neighbors from installing these cameras?
A: This is an excellent question and a very fact specific question. In a homeowners association, lot owners are generally permitted to install security devices and cameras for security purposes. The documents may require the association to approve the installation, but it can be accomplished.
That is very different from the relative privacy interests. As you can imagine, if the cameras catch you walking your dog down a sidewalk in the middle of the day, that is very different from a camera pointed at your bedroom. In the first example, you have very little expectation of privacy because you voluntarily walked out into a public space, and in the second situation, you have a very high expectation of privacy for obvious reasons.
If the HOA approves the camera installation, and unless the governing documents specifically address this, your dispute with your neighbor may be a private dispute between neighbors over privacy rights. You may have recourse, but I would recommend consulting a licensed Florida attorney and reviewing a copy of the HOA approval to determine whether the HOA addressed the location and direction of the cameras.