Sunday, September 29, 2013

And the Academy Award goes to.....your community association?

As a movie buff, I love nothing better than seeing my favorite flicks time and again. As a blogger on community association issues, I can't help but draw some analogies between some of my favorite movies and what I do in real life-helping community associations. 
I started thinking about some of the ways Hollywood has depicted community life over the years. Let's take a look.

The Crucible: this was originally a 1953 play by Arthur Miller based on the Salem Witch Trials. The 1996 movie with Daniel Day Lewis and Winona Ryder does a great job of depicting a community beset with hysteria where the court (aka Grievance Committee) is treated to some testimony that is less than credible but consistent in terms of its targets. Miller's play has been re-staged countless times since its creation and was also made into an opera so obviously the "witch hunt" theme hits many nerves including with some modern day association members.

Rosemary's Baby:  who can forget Roman Polanski's 1968 horror film?  Was there ever a creepier cooperative board? Ever?

The Neighbors:  While Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi are best known for their pairing in the Blues Brothers, this dark comedy based on the book by Thomas Berger (no relation) portrays suburban warfare in its most paranoid incarnation.

Over The Hedge:  this animated film by Dreamworks is one of my favorites. Even though most of us love cute little animals, Allison Janney plays the voice of Gladys Sharp, the president of the Camelot Homeowners Association who is disgusted by the furry intruders into her community. Spoiler alert if you haven't seen the movie already-at the end, Gladys is arrested for using an illegal animal trap known as the Depelter Turbo.

And on the small screen, a new TV show starring Jamie Gertz also bears the name of The Neighbors. In this show, Debbie and Marty Weaver cannot believe their luck in buying into a beautiful, gated townhouse community in New Jersey at a great price until they find out all of their neighbors are aliens. Community members all dress exactly alike and patrol the community in golf carts.

If you have never seen the foregoing movies or haven't seen them in a while, check them out with a community association perspective in mind when you do. Also, ask yourself if Hollywood was going to depict your community on the big screen, what would that movie look like?  

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Condominium Association Could Pay Price for Failing to Comply with Division's Discovery Demands

The Division of Florida Condominiums, Timeshares and Mobile Homes began investigating the Heritage Circle Condominium Association, Inc. as a result of the association's failure to prepare annual financial statements and its failure to fund reserves. Unfortunately, the association continually failed to produce all of the documents requested by the Division throughout the course of its investigation which resulted in the Division filing a petition to compel compliance. 

The Division later amended its initial complaint to seek statutory penalties from the association. The Division's discovery requests were never fully met and finally, the trial court entered a default judgment, without a hearing, against the association. The Division requested and received liquidated damages in the amount of $25,000 and attorney's fees of $4,647.89.

The condominium association appealed and the Fourth District Court of Appeals reversed and remanded the case on September 18, 2013.  Whether or not the sanctions will stand remains to be seen. Still, this case clearly demonstrates how frustrated the trial court must have been with the condominium association as the striking of pleadings is a severe penalty which is used only in extreme circumstances. It is not an unfair question to ask why this association felt that failing to cooperate with the Division's discovery requests was the best strategic move. 

Sometimes the old advice to "stand up and face the music" are the words a wayward association needs to hear before making its errors even more complicated and more costly. There is simply no reason to believe that a regulatory agency is not serious about enforcing its requests and if a fellow board member, manager or lawyer tells you otherwise, get a second opinion!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Hanging on: directors who fail to turn over association records and property

We've all heard of folks hanging on to items after a personal relationship ends which can create resentment and a host of other troublesome issues. Now imagine what can ensue when an outgoing community association director refuses to turn over association records and property?

Over the years, I have had new boards lament about the fact that a director who was not re-elected to the board refused to turn over vital association information which had been in his or her possession. These items can include the association checkbook, keys to the association office, original plans and specifications for the building and a plethora of other information which the new board needs to successfully transition the community's operations. Whether this refusal to turn over association property is borne out of spite, pettiness or neglect is not important; the outcome of paralyzing the association remains the same.

While there is language in the Florida Condominium Act which requires recalled directors to turn over any and all records and property of the association within five (5) full business days of the effective date of the recall, there is no similar language which would require an outgoing board member to do so. My group, the Community Advocacy Network or CAN, will be seeking to close this loophole in the 2014 Legislative Session by requiring any outgoing directors to similarly turn over all association records and property in their possession.

Has your community ever been impacted by a previous director's refusal to turn over books, records and other association property? What did you do about it? Some communities threaten and some even sue but in the interim, association operations are impacted and often critically. The fact that outgoing directors can play games with records that are not theirs falls under the category of "There oughta be a law" and CAN intends to ensure that there is one soon.