The Sun Sentinel's Town Hall meeting last night drew a big crowd of people looking for answers to fairly common association problems. I was very pleased to sit on a panel that was asked to listen to those questions and try to help.
Two issues were raised that directly pertain to my profession-lawyers! The first issue pertained to the association attorney's perceived support and loyalty for the board alone. Several audience members complained that attorneys representing their communities were (a) helping boards do bad things (b) wouldn't speak with them as unit owners and (c) were part of the problem and not the solution.
As an owner who is not part of the board's decision-making process, it can feel like the attorney represents the board and not YOU. In fact, association attorneys (the good ones at least) realize that they represent the association which, of course, is comprised of all the members. However, when representing any large organization, you can't take direction from several hundred masters and that is why the board is the liaison with the attorney.
I have seen association attorneys overstep their boundaries, become too attached to one or two board members to the exclusion of others, and not be forceful enough when they are cognizant that the board is operating outside the confines of their documents and the statutes. It's equally important to remember, however, that the boards who are most intent on operating outside those boundaries often do not get their attorney's advance buy-in for their agenda. Just because the association is represented by counsel, don't assume that the board has gotten the attorney's approval for a clearly unadvisable decision; chances are the attorney was never consulted.
The other issue raised regarding association attorneys is why 5 of them can give you 4 different opinions!! My first answer would be "it's the nature of the beast"! In all seriousness, however, most of what we do hinges on interpreting language that would make my English professors at Northwestern cringe. Sadly, many developers create awful governing documents and many of our laws are also very poorly drafted. Don't assume that all of the laws being written in Tallahassee are drafted by lawyers. Many times they are the result of lobbyists writing out suggestions on cocktail napkins!
When our laws and association documents are written in concise, plain English it makes it much easier to render useful and uniform opinions. Garbage in, garbage out or conversely, quality in, quality out!
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