Proposal could ban condos from assessing paying owners extra

Bill stops higher assessments to cover shares of owners in foreclosure

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With the Florida legislative session just two months away, lawmakers have already filed bills aimed at improving the financial stability and safety of shared communities that could significantly change the way condominium associations and HOAs do business.

Among them: A proposal banning condo associations from passing the burden of unpaid assessments to paying owners and another broadening the authority of boards to require hurricane protection.

The Florida session begins early this year — Jan. 10, the last day bills may be filed — and runs through March 9. And local lawmakers have gotten a jump on filing.

Senator Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale, recently added Senate Bill 706 to the mix, a measure disallowing condo associations from raising assessments on owners who pay their regular fees to make up for owners in foreclosure who are not paying their share of fees. The bill does not cover HOAs.

State law requires shared communities — including homeowners and co-operatives — to pay the bills that keep a community operating. That includes paying vendors, such as security, landscapers and cable companies, so it not uncommon for boards to raise regular assessments to cover the difference of owners who stop paying fees.

But Smith contends pushing the financial burden to owners already doing the right thing by paying their fees is unfair and reckless.

"My bill came from a Lauderhill constituent who is getting pummeled by these assessments because her community has a lot of foreclosures and vacancies," Smith said. "Those who are not in foreclosure are having to pay for those who are not paying assessments and the price is getting high on them."

Smith said he is open to other ideas from residents that would prevent paying owners from being indirectly punished in the pocketbook.

The most sweeping bill so far is House Bill 319, filed by Rep. George Moraitis, R-Fort Lauderdale.

Tucked among more than a dozen provisions in that bill is one that attempts to modernize the choices unit and home owners have when it comes to hurricane protection. For years Florida statutes allowed condo boards to retrofit common areas, such as clubhouses and gyms, with hurricane shutters and to assess unit owners to cover the costs. Boards could also require unit owners to install shutters — and only shutters — on windows and doors.

In May, lawmakers added wind-resistant windows and impact glass to the choices consumers could turn to to protect window openings. Moraitis' bill seeks to now add code-compliant doors to the options they can require in common areas and of individual units.

"We support that proposal," said Travis Moore, a representative of the Florida chapter of the Community Association Institute, an advocacy group that helps keep owners and board members informed about shared community law. "However, we think a few words should be changed to adequately define 'hurricane protection.' ''

Moore said the bill could mistakenly be interpreted to lock communities that have already installed shutters on windows into only using shutters on doors with a new upgrade.

The Moraitis bill also offers stricter guidelines for elections in condo and homeowner communities. One provision limits election result challenges by owners to 60 days after results are announced; another allows unit owners to petition for arbitration if a board refuses to host a meeting after a board member or members are presented with a recall notice.

dvasquez@tribune.com, 954-356-4219 or 561-243-6686.

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