Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Would you know if financial fraud is taking place in your community?

I was recently contacted by a condominium client to discuss a growing distrust which had taken hold amongst the board members
and management related to financial functions, particularly with regard to the reconciliation of bank statements I asked my friend and national insurance expert, Joel Meskin, to weigh in on the best way to implement a system of checks and balances to deter and detect fraud. Joel is a fellow attorney, the Managing Director of Community Association Products for McGowan and a fellow member of the prestigious College of Community Association Lawyers (CCAL).

The following is an edited version of our conversation.

DB:    Is awareness of the potential for fraud in a private residential community more important for boards today?

JM:    With the current hyper scrutiny being directed at condominium associations, community association managers and boards of directors in Florida, it is imperative that all involved be very sensitive to the heightened demand and need for transparency.  This should particularly be the case with respect to financial records.

DB:    How do financial crimes occur in community associations?

JM:    Crime in community associations manifests in many ways.  Associations are soft targets and are often lulled into a false sense of security.  Most often, associations are victims of crimes of opportunity due to the failure to use simple checks and balances.  Whether committed by directors or officers, employees or community association managers, even the best can take advantage of unchecked opportunities.  As you know, we provide director and officers' liability insurance and fidelity/crime insurance to community associations around the country, including Florida. With respect to fidelity/crime insurance, it is all about the "Checks and Balances".

DB:    Do you have any recommendations for communities regardless of their size, their budget or their location?

JM:    One thing we have found to be absent from association governance and management is conducting a standard background check on all those who will be handling, managing or involved with financial transactions.  I do not believe that it will be a prohibitive cost and I believe it will be worth its weight in gold to help instill a sense of trust and transparency at this time.  Community associations are often lulled into a false sense of security and informality when it comes to those volunteers who help manage their association. Safeguarding against this false sense of security is simple and inexpensive.

As far as checks and balances go, it is imperative that no single person has control of protocols from beginning to end, especially those who reconcile should not be making deposits.  Many of us have friends or family members who work at banks and we know that they are required to take vacations for specific periods of time to run through oversight cycles. These checks and balances are deterrents more than anything.

DB:    What kind of first party insurance coverage should an association consider when crafting a solid anti-fraud policy?

JM:    You insure the money you have.  You add up all the operating and reserve accounts, add three to six months of operating expenses and that is the limit you need. A Board also needs to make sure it ahs the following coverage:

  • Forgery and Alteration
  • Inside the Premises, Theft of Money & Securities
  • Inside the Premises, Robbery & Safe Burglary
  • Outside the Premises
  • Computer Fraud
  • Funds Transfer Fraud-this is the biggest threat these days as this is when someone hacks into the association's account and then transfers money to another account without authorization.
  • Social Engineering and False Pretense
In my client's case, Joel recommended that the association engage its CPA firm to handle the bank reconciliations for the association rather than having a board member or the manager perform that function. He also recommended an annual audit even if not currently required by statute.

A big thank you to Joel Meskin for his insight and tips on how to prevent fraud in your community association.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

YOU ASKED AND WE DELIVERED! Florida High-Rises Achieve ELSS Opt Out Rights!


To all existing Florida high-rises who previously opted out of sprinkler retrofits only to be told by their local fire marshals that they still had to install....sprinklers, only this time as part of an Engineered Life Safety System (ELSS), I'm delighted to tell you that your Becker & Poliakoff Lobby Team delivered on a promise and a passion to ensure that your residents have the right to determine for themselves how to handle this costly issue in their buildings.

Thank you to all the high-rise communities who joined our ELSS Opt Out Lobby group and carried the water on this bill and a huge thank you to our Lead Lobbyist, former State Senator and B&P Shareholder Ellyn Bogdanoff.

Fire Sprinkler/ELSS/Bulk Buyer Bill, by Rep. Moraitis and Sen. Passidomo (HB 653 and HB 744)was approved by both the House and Senate and will be sent to the Governor for consideration. It will become effective on July 1, 2017. We are hopeful that the Governor will visit our friends on the Galt Ocean Mile in Ft. Lauderdale who have worked so diligently on the sprinkler issue for well over a decade to sign the bill personally.

 Among other items, the bill will allow high rise buildings to opt out of an engineered life safety system (ELSS). The required vote to do so is two-thirds of all voting interests. This bill also clarifies that non-high rise buildings (under 75 feet) are not required to retrofit with sprinklers or an ELSS. The new law will also require condominium and cooperative associations that operate a building of three stories or more that have not installed a sprinkler system in the common areas of the building to mark the building with a sign or symbol approved by the State Fire Marshal in a manner sufficient to warn persons conducting fire control and other emergency operations of the lack of a sprinkler system in the common areas.

 No other community association law firm in Florida was seen or heard on this issue. This success proves that targeted advocacy on significant community association issues by a capable team and engaged communities is possible. Please be sure to speak with your B&P attorney after July 1st to set up your ELSS Opt Out vote if you are inclined to do so. If your association has any questions regarding this new law or your options, please feel free to contact me at dberger@bplegal.com or by phone at 954-364-6031.