On July 1, 2015, the law changed in Florida to allow the use of electronic voting for condominiums, cooperatives and homeowners' associations. The process must start with a board adopting a resolution advising members that online voting will be available and that the online voting system will comply with all statutory requirements as well as the Division Rules. Members must consent to use an online voting system and they do have the option to vote the old-fashioned way with paper proxies and ballots.
While online voting in community associations has been used in other states for some time, this new-found tool could represent a sea change for communities throughout Florida who have struggled for years or decades to encourage member participation in votes to elect directors, amend the governing documents, waive reserves, approve material alterations, etc.
For communities with significant out of state (and out of the country) owners, online voting will allow those members to be more engaged with their communities. Other benefits include fraud prevention, cost effectiveness and the ability to cut down significantly on the time it takes managers and boards to handle membership votes.
The Miami Herald recently ran an investigative series on association voter fraud uncovered in two Miami-Dade communities. In one condominium they had 115% voter turnout and in the other they uncovered more than 80 forged signatures on ballots. The reality is that if you do not have paper ballots, you do not have the ability to forge a signature or tamper with a ballot box. While online voting will not appeal to everyone it does represent the ability to use technology to overcome some of the problems which have plagued associations in Florida for far too many years.
I am pleased to announce the launch of my Firm's proprietary online voting system, BPBALLOT.
Please take a look and tell me what you think. www.BPBALLOT.com
Once upon a time, community associations passed rules which all but shouted that children were a nuisance. Rules were routinely passed which clarified that little Tommy and Tina couldn't use the pool, clubhouse, exercise room or other amenities without Mom and Dad in tow or some other adult guardian. The definition of a child in most association documents is defined as "under age 18".
Flotation devices in the pool (including those awkward pool noodles), balls in the halls, and anything with wheels such as skateboards and bikes could certainly not be ridden around the community.
Running, skipping, shouting and playing were banned in some communities and just frowned upon in others. Certainly there are valid safety reasons to control behaviors which can harm or injure people and damage property. However, it is time to reconsider whether children really pose more of a risk than adults do in your community.
There is no doubt that babies and toddlers are at significant risk of drowning if left unattended in or near a pool. However, an adult who cannot swim also can drown in your community pool. Babies and toddlers who are not toilet-trained present a very real risk of releasing fecal matter into the pool; so do incontinent adults who fail to wear the proper protective garments. Children often do not understand the risks associated with exercise equipment and can hurt themselves or others. However, an adult under the influence of drugs or alcohol can also underestimate safety risks and can pose a danger to themselves or others in the common areas. Even responsible adults can have unforeseen problems. Last year brought news of the sudden and tragic death of the husband of Facebook's COO, Sheryl Sandberg, while using a treadmill. While someone can be injured using a hover board or skateboard, a wheelchair or golf cart can also present problems for both the user and passersby in certain circumstances.
Why is it such a problem for associations to specify children in their rules? Doing so subjects a board to a potential discrimination claim as families with children are a protected class under both federal and state law. The reality is that both young and elderly populations often are vulnerable to the same health and safety issues and both young and elderly populations can pose the same types of problems and concerns to their neighbors.
In communities that are not age-restricted, rather than crafting rules with just one particular group of residents in mind, associations are well advised to work with experienced legal counsel to create reasonable rules that address safety concerns in a uniform and sensible manner. Rules are also just one part of the equation. Associations can and should post warnings on the common areas and obtain releases where appropriate in lieu of simply banning or severely limiting the use of an amenity due to one's age.
Many of you probably share my disappointment at some of the dialogue occurring in the presidential debates. It makes you wonder why candidates feel that attacking an opponent is a better path than extolling one's own virtues and clearly outlining a leadership path.
There are certain parallels between what we see occurring on the national stage and what we see each year when our shared ownership communities must elect a board of directors. In Florida, condominium and cooperative candidates are entitled to submit a one-page 8 1/2 x 11" candidate information sheet about themselves. HOAs in Florida which have adopted "condo style" elections follow the same protocol. The association is not responsible for the contents of these information sheets, but the hope is that the candidates will spend their allotted space limitations talking about what makes them the best choice for the board rather than why the incumbents or fellow candidates deserve to lose or worse, why they are horrible people.
Some communities host a "Candidates Night" where candidates can introduce themselves to the members. However, some candidates take it upon themselves to hold their own informational gatherings, post notices, send emails and generally behave badly.
The U.S. presidential candidates do provide a cautionary tale for association board members to heed. Here are the things you should do if you want to increase your chances of being elected to your board of directors:
Have a firm grasp of the facts. If you believe your community has overspent on certain services or has failed to maintain the common areas properly, be prepared to back those assertions up with real data and not just reckless accusations.
Don't make the annual meeting where you are running for the board be the first association meeting you have ever attended. If you plan on joining the Board you should have attended at least some of the board meetings in the preceding year.
Be courteous and polite. A Board candidate's response to questions, challenges and debate is typically a good indication of how he or she will handle membership participation at meetings, document inspection requests and more should he or she be elected.
Run for the right reasons; namely, to serve your community and not for ego, inside information or as a tool to pursue a personal agenda.
Lastly, when deciding what kind of candidate you wish to be, ask yourself how persuaded you would be by the kinds of campaign tactics you plan on using. Members need to cast their votes for someone or something and not simply against someone or something. The same holds true come November.