guest blog by Deborah Goonan
I can’t say I’m surprised, but I am thoroughly disgusted by the nature of HOA legislation that has passed the 2015 Legislative session, despite the fact that the FL House threw in the towel 3 days early. Given the hostile nature of other pending bills, it was probably a blessing in disguise.
Here are some highlights of what HOA-related passed and what failed:
CCFJ-backed SB 1308/HB 1263, the bill that would have authorized limited state oversight of HOAs similar to that available to condo owners, died before ever making it to a committee, for the second year in a row.
SB 611 / HB 736, a bill that would have limited fees charged for estoppels, and that was hotly debated and opposed by management, collection companies and Association law firms, effectively died when the session was dismissed early. That means business as usual. Fee gouging and hitting buyers at closing with last minute with extra closing costs will continue for at least another year.
HB 791 passed 98-17 in the House and unanimously in the Senate. The bill will extend the Distressed Condominium Act (DCA) for two more years, until June 30, 2018. The DCA allows investors to “bulk buy” condos for rehab and resale, but significantly limits bulk owner liability for construction defects and also allows investors to waive funding of reserves until each unit is sold. The DCA has played a key role in creating perverse incentives for investors to take over condo Boards and force termination upon remaining owners, who have in turn been forced to sell for a fraction of what they paid for their units several years ago.
The bill also specifies that official records now include only “written records,” effectively eliminating audio or videotapes among the records HOAs must retain for at least 7 years. Also in this bill: if you are a tenant, and your landlord owns multiple units, but owes any financial obligation pertaining to even ONE unit, the HOA may suspend your privileges to use the recreational amenities and common areas until the owner is current, even if your unit is not directly tied to a fine or delinquent assessment.
Also buried in this homeowner-hostile bill is a carefully crafted provision that will allow HOAs governed under Statute 720 to issue fines exceeding $100 per violation and $1000 in the aggregate if the governing documents allow it. There will be no absolute maximums that HOAs can fine owners, so long as the oligarchy that controls a supermajority of votes is able to amend the documents any way it sees fit. To make it even easier to accomplish a vote, the bill also permits proxies to be faxed or emailed, and will now allow for online voting.
And the standard priority of payment application for HOAs remains as follows: payments first apply to interest, then late fees, then attorney and collection fees, and last, but not least, the amount of the delinquent assessment. And HB 791 merely states that fines of less than $1000 may not become a lien against the home, implying that fines of $1000 or more CAN become liens that could then lead to foreclosure by the Association.
The topper for outrage in HB 791 is the fact that even if an Association fails to provide timely notice of an amendment to the CC&Rs, that will not affect its validity. In plain language that means that you can be penalized for violating a new covenant or amendment, even if you have no idea that it exists.
Attached are relevant links for any wonks out there that want to read the details.