Robert L. Kaye, Esq., BCS | Legal Morsels
The Florida Legislature has revised the procedures for collecting delinquent assessments, which add additional steps and delays for the owner to pay before legal action can commence and/or attorney’s fees can be recovered. Senate Bill 56
has revised Sections 718.116 and 718.121 for condominiums; 719.108 for cooperatives; and, Section 720.3085 for homeowners’ associations. With these changes, the collection procedures for all of these types of communities will be substantially the same. The new laws are effective July 1, 2021.
Initially, the new provisions have revised the time for the notices sent by the association attorney for condominiums and cooperatives to 45 days for both the pre-lien first letter and the post-lien notice of intent to foreclose. (Homeowners’ associations were already at 45 days.)
The most important and significant addition to this statutory change is the addition of a new notice requirement by associations before they may refer a matter to the association attorney for collection and recover the attorney’s fees involved. This written notice is required to be mailed by first class mail to the address of the owner on file with the association. If the address on file is not the unit or parcel address, a copy must be sent there as well. The association is also required to keep in its records a sworn affidavit attesting to the mailing. The new statute contains a form for that notice which is required to be substantially followed.
As the respective statutory provisions now indicate, associations must incur a minimum of 120 days of collection efforts before a foreclosure action can begin, with a total of three (3) separate required statutory notices. This includes the: (i) initial 30 day notice of the intent to refer the matter to the association attorney (for which no attorney’s fees can be charged to the owner); (ii) 45 days for the pre-lien notice period; and, (iii) 45 days for the pre-foreclosure lien period. As such, in order to best protect the interests of the association, it is recommended that the first 30-day notice be sent at the earliest possible date in the association collection process. This will typically be when the governing documents indicate the assessment to be “late”. Careful review of the governing documents by legal counsel should be undertaken to determine whether there is a specific “grace period” indicated in the documents before the assessment is considered late. Once that determination is made, the board should adopt a formal collection policy that incorporates these new statutory requirements, which will also need to be mailed to all owners. A new provision has also been added that begins with “If an association sends out an invoice for assessments. . .” to unit or parcel owners, such notice is to be sent by first class mail or electronic transmission (email) to the respective addresses for the owners that are in the association official records.
Moreover, if the association wishes to change the method of delivery of an invoice, the new Statute creates specific steps that must be followed precisely in order for the change to be effective. Specifically, a written notice must be delivered to the owner not less than 30 days before the change of delivery method will be implemented. The notice must be sent by first class mail to the address on file with the association. If the address on file is not the unit or parcel address, a copy must be sent there as well. In addition to the notice requirement, the owner must “affirmatively acknowledge” his or her understanding of the new delivery method. The written acknowledgment can be sent electronically or by mail, and must be maintained in the Official Records (although it is not available for inspection by other owners). However, without this acknowledgment, the association may not change the method of delivery. The Statute does not presently include a time frame for the owner to provide that acknowledgment or offer any remedy to the association if none is forthcoming. This can be particularly daunting or problematic when the association changes management companies, when the new company’s procedures differ from the prior company.
Before the association attorney can commence any collection work for an association, it will be necessary for the association to provide all of the backup documentation of the compliance with each of these new statutory requirements, as well as the information previously required (such as a current account ledger). If any of the documentation is missing with the initial turnover information, there will be delays in the collection process, which can be detrimental to the association operation. It is therefore imperative that these new procedures are fully integrated into the association operation without delay.
We recommend that you contact your Association counsel with any questions on the new procedural requirements to ensure compliance.