1200 Park Central Boulevard South,
Pompano Beach, FL
954.928.0680

9121 North Military Trail, Suite 200,
Palm Beach Gardens, FL
561.241.4462

1211 N. Westshore Blvd., Suite 409,
Tampa, FL
813.375.0731

1200 Park Central Blvd. S., Pompano Bch, FL | 954-928-0680
9121 N. Military Trail, Ste. 200, Palm Bch Gdns, FL  | 561-241-4462
1211 N. Westshore Blvd., Ste. 409, Tampa, FL | 813-375-0731

Who Repairs the Incidental Damages Caused by the Association?

Rembaum’s Association Roundup | Jeffrey A. Rembaum, Esq., BCS | Visit HERE

Imagine: the association has just informed you it is set to begin a massive concrete restoration project. As part of the project, the contractor will need access to the rebar beneath the concrete slab connected to (or in legalese, “appurtenant to”) your unit’s balcony. To access the balcony slab, the contractor will have to remove the custom Italian tiles you just installed on your balcony. Who is responsible for the costs of the removal? Who is responsible to replace the tiles? The answers to these questions will largely depend on whether the governing documents of the association include an “incidental damage clause” and the specific circumstances of the situation, too.

In its most simplistic sense, an incidental damage clause in the declaration means that the association is responsible to repair any “incidental damage” caused by the association’s exercise of its maintenance, repair, and/or replacement responsibility. However, the existence or absence of such language is not always dispositive as to the repair responsibility. This is similar to “i” before “e” unless after “c” as there always seem to be exceptions.

For example, the repair and replacement obligation of the association may be limited only to damage caused to the unit and not cover any owner improvements to limited common elements, such as the balcony; or the obligation may be limited to damage to improvements only as originally installed by the developer, too. Whether the association or the owner will be responsible to repair the damage is highly fact-specific and will depend on the exact language in the governing documents of the association. Arbitration decisions of the Division of Florida Condominiums, Timeshares, and Mobile Homes (the Division), discussed below, provide some guidance as to when the association may be responsible for incidental damage and when the owners will be responsible to repair same. That said, bear in mind that such decisions are not precedential and in addition only apply to the parties in the arbitration that resulted in the Division’s order. However, it does provide a good understanding of how the Division may rule in a similar circumstance.

As discussed above, where the governing documents contain incidental damage language, and the association damages a portion of the unit while conducting its maintenance, repair, and replacement responsibility, the association is likely responsible for the repair. This is illustrated in Rock v. Point East Three Condominium Corporation, Inc., Arb. Case No. 99-0220, Final Order (September 29, 2000).

In Rock, the association removed a shelf located under a sink and several wall tiles in order to repair rough plumbing in the common elements. The association replaced the wall tiles but did not replace the shelf after the repairs were completed. The unit owner sought, among other things, to have the association replace the shelf. The unit owner also sought to have the association repair tiles in the dining room of the unit which had “popped up” as a result of an unrelated water leak. The association’s declaration of condominium provided that the association was responsible to repair conduits and rough plumbing and provided that “[a]ll incidental damage caused to an apartment by such work shall be promptly repaired by the association.” The arbitrator ordered the association to replace the shelf, holding that the incidental damage to the shelf was caused by the repair to the rough plumbing, which was the association’s duty to maintain. As such, the incidental damage language of the declaration applied to the shelf. However, the arbitrator held the association was not responsible to replace the tiles in the dining room, as the damage to the tiles was not incidental to any work the association performed to repair the rough plumbing.

Therefore, Rock clearly establishes that while an association is responsible to repair portions of the unit that are damaged as a result of the association’s exercise of its maintenance, repair, and replacement obligation, the damage must be incidental to the association’s work.

If the declaration requires the association to repair or replace incidental damage to the unit, the association will likely be responsible to repair and replace owner modifications to the units, too, unless the declaration provides otherwise. In Brickell Town House Association, Inc. v. Del Valle, et al., Arb. Case No. 95-0133 Final Order (September 12, 1995), the association was required to remove certain owner-installed alterations to the unit in order to access and maintain the common elements. The unit owners asserted that the association was responsible to replace the alterations in accordance with the incidental damage provision in the declaration of condominium. The arbitrator agreed, holding that the association was required to reimburse the owners for the expenses required to restore the units to the condition which existed immediately prior to the association’s reconstruction activities, including betterments which were added by the unit owners since the original construction of the units by the developer.

In accordance with the holdings in Brickell and Rock, if the governing documents provide that the association is responsible for incidental damage to the unit, the association will likely be responsible to repair any portions of the unit damaged by the association’s exercise of its maintenance, repair, and replacement responsibility, including alterations made by owners (unless specifically provided for otherwise).

On a different note, if the governing documents of the association contain incidental damage language which is specific to damage caused to units, then the association will not be responsible for incidental damage caused to owner modifications to the common elements or the limited common elements. Similarly, the association will likely not be responsible to repair any damage to any owner alteration to a unit where the declaration required association approval and the owner failed to obtain same prior to installation of the improvement.

In Continental Towers, Inc. v. Nassif, Arb. Case No. 99-0866, Summary Final Order (November 24, 1999), the association needed to conduct concrete restoration, waterproofing, and other repairs to the unit owner balconies. The unit owners had installed tiles on the balcony and argued that the association was responsible for the replacement of the tile because the declaration provided that the association was responsible for incidental damage to the unit. However, the balcony was part of the common elements, not the unit. Therefore, the incidental damage language in the declaration did not apply to the tile, and, absent any other agreement between the parties, the association had no responsibility to repair and replace same. The arbitrator concluded that:

…in the absence of an agreement between the parties or a controlling provision of the documents, ‘it cannot be said from the mere fact of association permission that the association has assumed the perpetual obligation to remove and replace the personal property when necessary to repair and replace the common elements.’ The arbitrator adopts the rationale articulated in the Carriage House case. Since the balcony is a part of the common elements, and the tile was not part of the original construction, the unit owners are responsible for its removal and replacement.

Further, where there are owner modifications which were not approved as required by the declaration, the association will likely not be responsible to repair notwithstanding the incidental damage requirement set out in the declaration. In Harrison v. Land’s End Condominium Association, Inc., Arb. Case No. 94-0298, Final Order (June 27, 1995), the association was required to remove an owner-installed balcony finish in order to effectuate repairs to the balcony slab. In this case, the balcony was considered part of the unit, and the declaration contained a provision requiring the association to repair incidental damage to the unit. The declaration also required the owner to obtain approval of the association before making any alterations to the bal-cony. However, the owner never obtained such approval. Therefore, despite the incidental damage provision, the arbitrator determined that the association was not responsible to replace the balcony finish because the owner did not obtain association approval as required by the declaration.

Therefore, if an alteration requires association approval and an owner fails to obtain such approval, the association will far more likely not be responsible to repair any incidental damage to the alteration notwithstanding the existence of incidental damage language.

Generally, the association’s repair obligation is limited to actual damage caused to the unit as a result of its maintenance, repair, and replacement obligation. If the unit owners are required to vacate their unit in order for the association to effectuate the repairs, the association is not generally responsible to reimburse the owners for the costs of same. However, as the Brickell case, discussed above, shows us, that is not always the case. In Brickell, the owners also argued that the association was responsible to reimburse them for the costs they incurred in vacating the unit for the repairs. In this case, the association chose to proceed with a method of repairing damage to common element pipes from the interior of the units, which required the unit owners in the affected units to vacate. The association did not explore an option in which the repairs could be made from the exterior, which would permit the unit owners to remain in the unit. The arbitrator agreed with the owners and ordered the association to pay for the costs the owners incurred in vacating the units. As you can glean, this case is very fact specific, which led to this outcome.

In an order denying the association’s motion for rehearing, the arbitrator in Brickell, reiterated its earlier decision that the board, within its business judgment, decided to proceed with a method of reconstruction that required the removal of the owners. Therefore, the expenses of those owners are a common expense to be borne by all owners. The important consideration in this case was the fact that the association proceeded with the repairs from the interior without exploring options to proceed from the exterior. The arbitrator notes that the order should not be construed to mean that an association would be responsible for accommodations for all unit owners in the event that the condominium building had to be tented for termites, or if a hurricane rendered the building uninhabitable. In those cases, all owners would be required to vacate the units, and there can be no other decision of the board. Additionally, in Brickell, if there was no way for the association to make the repairs that would allow the owners to remain in unit, the arbitrator’s decision may have been different. How-ever, as the association chose to displace certain unit owners to effectuate the repairs without exploring any other options, the association was responsible for the owners’ costs to vacate.

Finally, even when there is no incidental damage language in the governing documents, the association may be responsible for damage to the units if the association fails to conduct necessary maintenance to the common elements, when the association knows that such maintenance is necessary. In Dibiase v. Beneva Ridge, Arb. Case No. 92-0210, Final Order (January 19, 1994), the association was aware that the common element parking area was consistently flooding into an owner’s unit. The association retained an engineer to conduct a drainage study, and the engineer recommended several remedial measures to address the drainage problem. While the association took some remedial steps, the association did not follow through on the study’s recommendations. The arbitrator concluded that the association was responsible for the owner’s costs to repair the unit caused by the flooding. The arbitrator explained that, while “[n]o association is required to protect the property against a 100-year storm…” the association was responsible to take those steps reasonably necessary to protect the condominium property.

As the association had an expert report that advised if the association did not take certain remedial measures, the damage to the condominium property would continue, the association had an obligation to make the repairs. As the association failed to follow the report, it was responsible for the damage caused to the unit.

In accordance with the decision in Dibiase, if the association receives a report from an expert advising that certain repairs must be performed, and the association fails to take action, the association may be responsible for the costs of any damage to the units caused by its failure to act.

As you have likely gleaned from the foregoing discussion, it can be difficult to determine who is responsible to repair and replace improvements damaged during the association’s exercise of its maintenance, repair, and replacement obligations. Given the complexities of the issue, your association should consult with its legal counsel with any inquiries regarding the association’s responsibility for incidental damage.

News from CAI | Condo Safety Legislation Passed in the Special Session

Per a May 26, 2022 email we received from CAI: This week the Florida legislature was in special session and condominium safety was one of three initiatives addressed. CAI Florida Legislative Alliance is pleased to announce that SB 4D – Building Safety Act for condominium and cooperative associations passed unanimously through both the House and Senate on May 24th and 25th respectively, after a powerful and heartfelt appreciation for the sponsors, Sen. Jennifer Bradley (R-5), Senator Jason Pizzo (D-38) and Rep. Daniel Perez (R-116) was expressed by Members in both the House and Senate. Governor DeSantis signed the bill on May 26th. This bipartisan legislation is the result of tireless advocacy by you, our membership; thanks to your determination, CAI Florida Legislative Alliance was able to work with legislators in both chambers to craft an effective condo safety bill that will protect Floridians. CAI representatives were in Tallahassee this week during the legislature’s special session and were the only ones to speak on behalf of the new bill.

The legislation includes a framework largely based on CAI public policy recommendations for:

  • Building inspections as structures reach 30 years old and every 10 years thereafter.
  • Mandatory reserve study and funding for structural integrity components (building, floors, windows, plumbing, electrical, etc.).
  • Removal of opt-out funding of reserves for structural integrity components.
  • Mandatory transparency—providing all owners and residents access to building safety information.
  • Clear developer requirements for building inspections, structural integrity reserve study, and funding requirements prior to transition to the residents.
  • Engagement of the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation and local municipalities to track condominium buildings and the inspection reporting.

Associations will have two years to comply with these requirements. CAI will be working closely with policymakers before the bill takes effect in 2024 to be certain the new requirements and directives are workable and practical for Florida’s impacted associations.

Since June 24, 2021, the tragic collapse of Champlain Towers South where 98 people perished and many others lost their homes, CAI mourned, prayed, and committed to doing whatever we could to make sure this never happened again. Following the collapse, CAI members and volunteers worked closely with Florida Sens. Jennifer Bradley and Jason Pizzo, as well as Rep. Daniel Perez to lead the efforts to pass this important legislation.

The comprehensive legislation makes certain that no matter in what county a condominium or cooperative is located, they will be periodically inspected with information shared with unit owners, local building officials, and prospective buyers. CAI will continue working with policymakers to make certain that associations have the time to meet these changes and that these new processes are practically workable for associations while making certain they are fiscally sound and physically safe.

Sincerely,
CAI Florida Legislative Alliance

Hurricane Season Preparedness

Michael S. Bender, Esq., BCS

As with each year, we hope for a season with no hurricanes coming our way. However, it is safe to expect that there may be at least one such event in the coming months and, at the start of the hurricane season, it is prudent to plan for that possibility. Some of the planning steps that should be considered include the following:

  1. Create a disaster plan and establish off-site contact information and meeting points.
  2. Establish evacuation routes and conduct building or community evacuation drills in the weeks leading up to and once the hurricane season has begun.
  3. Verify that emergency generators and supplies operate and that fuel, flashlights, batteries, water, and other necessities are available.
  4. Backup computer files and store information offsite, in case computers crash or systems fail.
  5. Secure the premises. Make preparations for routine lockdown of the building(s) or other facilities as a storm approaches, so the building(s) is(are) secure during the storm and safe from vandalism or looting if a hurricane strikes.
  6. Write a list of owners and employees. Have on hand a current, hard-copy reference list complete with the names of all property owners, emergency contact numbers, and details of second residence addresses, as well as a list of all association employees, with full contact details.
  7. Photograph or video the premises. Keep a visual record through video or photographs of premises, facilities, and buildings to facilitate damage assessment and speed damage claims in a storm aftermath. Consider having the premises evaluated by appropriate professionals to establish the conditions prior to any hurricane event. (see further details on this item below)
  8. Make a building and facilities plans. Make sure a complete set of building or community plans are readily available for consultation by first responders, utilities workers, and insurance adjusters following a storm.
  9. Check all insurance policies and agent details. Be sure all insurance policies are current and coverage is adequate for community property, facilities, and common areas and compliant with State Law; full contact details for insurance companies and agents should be readily available in the event of a storm.
  10. Maintain bank account details and signatories. Keep handy a list of all bank account numbers, branch locations, and authorized association signatories, and make contingency plans for back-up signatories in case evacuation or relocation becomes necessary.
  11. Prepare to mitigate damages. In the immediate aftermath of a storm, take the necessary steps to mitigate damages. This includes “drying-in,” which is the placement of tarps on openings in the roof and plywood over blown out doors and windows, and “drying-out,” which is the removal of wet carpet and drywall to prevent the growth of mold.
  12. Remove debris.Have a plan for the speedy removal of debris by maintenance staff, outside contractors, or civic public works employees should a hurricane topple trees and leave debris in its wake.
  13. Reach out to your professionals. Be in touch with your management team and legal counsel to assist in guiding you in making fully informed business decisions to best protect your Community

Rental Restrictions in Homeowners’ Associations

Robert L. Kaye, Esq., BCS | Legal Morsels

A large percentage of Florida residential property owners are subject to restrictive covenants on their property, be it by a declaration of condominium or declaration of covenants.  In addition to these restrictions, Florida Statutes contain additional restrictions that apply to these properties, some of which involve use restrictions.  For condominiums, the provisions of the statutes are of a heightened significance because but for the statutes, condominium ownership of property does not exist.  However, for homeowners’ associations, restrictive covenants have been in use for centuries, well in advance of the existence of such statutes.  As a result, certain statutory provisions may not apply to every homeowners’ association in Florida.

There is a restriction within both the U.S. and Florida Constitutions that limit the ability of the state to enact a law that will impair an existing contract or vested contractual right.  Use restrictions contained in declarations of covenants have been identified by Florida courts as existing contracts between the property owner and the entity that operates the community under the governing documents (the association). There is also case law in Florida that addresses whether a change in the statute applies to the community based upon if a particular phrase is included in the governing documents (commonly referred to as Kaufman language).

If the governing documents include  Kaufman language, any changes made by the legislature in a given year will automatically be incorporated into the governing documents and apply to that community.  Conversely, if there is no Kaufman language, only what is referred to as “procedural” changes made by the legislature will apply to that community.  An example of a procedural change would be a change in a notice requirement for elections.  Statutory changes that are “substantive” would not apply in that instance to that community.  An example of a substantive change would be requiring the association to take on all exterior maintenance of the residential dwellings (presuming the documents do not already provide for that obligation).  Without the Kaufman language in the governing documents, this latter statutory change would not apply to that community, as such change would likely be considered unconstitutional.

During the legislative session in 2021, Section 720.306 of the Florida Statutes was amended to add subsection (h), which provides, in pertinent part, that any amendment to a governing document after July 1, 2021 that prohibits or regulates rental agreements applies only to a parcel owner who acquires title to the parcel after the effective date of the amendment or to a parcel owner who consents to the amendment (with specific exceptions relative to short term rentals and limiting rentals to up to 3 times a year).  However, under the analysis discussed above, rental restrictions and the ability to amend governing documents are generally considered substantive vested rights.  As such, this new statute appears to  impair the existing contractual rights of many property owners in homeowner association communities.

The first step in considering whether this new rental restriction change applies to a particular homeowner association community is to check the governing documents for Kaufman language (this also assumes that the documents were not initially created on or after July 1, 2021).  Typically, Kaufman language is not included in original documents by developers of communities, but  many associations have added it by amendment after the developer was no longer involved.  If the Kaufman language is in the documents, the new statutory rental restriction provisions apply.  If, however, there is no Kaufman language, the new rental restriction statute would not be applicable to the community.  In this instance, the membership could still amend the governing documents to prohibit or regulate rentals within the community, which should be enforceable against all current owners, regardless of whether or not they voted in favor of the amendment.

The issue of whether or not this new statutory change regarding rental restrictions violates the Federal and State Constitutions has not been tested in the Florida or Federal courts as of this writing.  Before considering amending the governing document in a homeowner association community to create rental restrictions, it is recommended to consult with the association attorney as to the limitations that may apply.

Will The Association’s Denial Of An Architectural Request Withstand Challenge? Many Won’t—Find Out Why

Rembaum's Association Roundup | Jeffrey A. Rembaum, Esq., BCS

For many homeowners associations, a top priority is ensuring that the homes in the community are maintained in conformity with the “community-wide standard.” But, what is this subjective standard? How is compliance measured? What is the process to be judged when a request to the association’s architectural review committee (ARC) is made? The ARC is instrumental in ensuring that the community-wide standard is met. However, your association may run into a problem if the ARC denies a request from a homeowner if the association has not adopted specific, objective criteria and guidelines on which the ARC can rely.

[Read the Full Article…]

HOA Board Member Update

Informational recording from Kaye Bender Rembaum’s HOA Board Member Certification Course. Danielle M. Brennan, Esq., BCS leads this webinar.

Note: Viewing this video on-demand does not offer CE-credit, nor satisfy any requirements for licensed CAMS and Board Members.

Elections | Condominium, Cooperative and Homeowners’ Associations

Join attorney Allison L. Hertz for a one-hour webinar addressing election law and procedures for condominiums, cooperatives and homeowners’ associations, including eligibility requirements and terms of directors, best practices for remote meetings, vacancies between elections, and election disputes.

Note: Viewing this video on-demand does not offer CE-credit, nor satisfy any requirements for licensed CAMS and Board Members.

Securing Your Gated Community | Exactly Who is Allowed In?

Rembaum's Association Roundup | Jeffrey A. Rembaum, Esq., BCS

While living in a gated community can add peace of mind for the residents who live behind the gates, there are many important considerations for the association when crafting rules and regulations regarding who may and who may not be permitted to enter the community. In today’s gated communities, there are three entry control options: (i) live personnel to monitor the gate, (ii) a virtual gate guard where the gate guard who allows guests to pass through is off-site and monitoring electronically, or (iii) a simple call box.

Many associations adopt rules which require visitors to the community to present valid identification to ensure that the visitors are authorized by the association or a resident to enter the community. But, what kind of identification can an association require? Are there limits? In the end, the association must…[Read the full article]

Deconstructing the Construction Contract | A Plain English Explanation

Rembaum's Association Roundup | Jeffrey A. Rembaum, Esq., BCS

If your community association has engaged the services of a contractor, engineer, architect, or other construction or design professional to perform a maintenance, repair, replacement, or capital improvement project, you know the process can be overwhelming. No matter the mad rush to execute the contract as soon as possible, when beginning such projects, no matter how big or small, the board needs to ensure the contract adequately protects the association. Even the smallest of projects can have unexpected, disastrous consequences. A few of the more common provisions which every board member should understand follow. [Read the Full Article]

Elections Webinar Q&A Follow-up | November 4, 2021

Attorney Allison L. Hertz, from our Palm Beach Gardens office, returns to answer some of the questions submitted by our audience during the October 28, 2021 webinar, covering Community Association Elections.

Note: This video is for informational purposes only. Watching this video does not constitute legal advice, nor does it provide certifications and credits.