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Florida Shared Ownership Statutes Continue to Catch up with Digital Age

Florida Shared Ownership Statutes Continue to Catch up with Digital Age

Given the significant percentage of Floridians living in all types of shared ownership communities, it is not surprising that each year we see at least a handful of bills pass which directly or indirectly impact those private residential communities and one primary association bill which contains both substantive changes and technical fixes needed to address glitches associated with the legislative changes from prior years.

2015 was no different. Florida’s 60-day Legislative Session recently ended (and abruptly with the House adjourning several days early) with another omnibus association bill, HB 791, having passed; that bill is now on the Governor’s desk awaiting his action. The Governor is likely to sign this bill into law and it will become effective on July 1, 2015.

Among other changes, HB 791 will help Florida condominiums, cooperatives and homeowners’ associations catch up with the digital age thanks to the following changes:

  • Electronic Voting (Condominiums, Cooperatives, & Homeowners’ Associations): The bill provides that associations may conduct elections and other membership votes by utilizing an electronic (interned-based) method. The bill also specifies the requirements necessary to establish an electronic voting method, including a board resolution. The bill requires that an owner consent to online voting, and if the owner does not consent, the owner is entitled to vote by paper ballot. While it is certainly easier to cast your vote from the comfort of one’s home or office, the real question here is whether or not communities are ready for this kind of change and whether or not the typical complaints of election fraud will increase or decrease once voting online is implemented.
  • Digital or Electronic Transmission of Proxies (Condominiums, Cooperatives & Homeowners’ Associations): The current law does not specifically authorize owners to transmit a copy of their proxy to the association (for example, by fax or a scan of the proxy sent via email). The intent of this language is to facilitate voting. Many owners are not able to attend meetings in person and may wish to bypass U.S. mail and send their proxy to the association in some other fashion. The proposed language is similar to language currently found in Section 607.0722(10), Florida Statutes, which governs corporations for-profit. The proposed language is being added to Section 617.0721, Florida Statutes, which governs corporations not-for-profit, and therefore, will also apply to condominium, cooperative, and homeowners’ associations. It is important to remember that this change does not allow someone to simply send an email stating how he or she wishes to vote on a particular matter; it requires an owner to actually scan or fax his or her actual proxy. Also, this change does not allow directors to cast votes at board meetings by email. Still, this change is well overdue-whatever can be done to make it easier and more cost-effective to relay one’s vote should be permitted.
  • Electronic Notice to Owners (Condominiums, Cooperatives and Homeowners’ Associations): Currently, in order to provide notice to owners electronically, an Association’s bylaws must provide for electronic notice and the owner must consent in writing. The bill removes the requirement that electronic notice be authorized by the bylaws which is a welcome change as some communities cannot easily amend their bylaws to include this language. Therefore, as long as the owner consents in writing, the association can provide the owner with electronic notice. Some ways to obtain such consent would be in the new owner approval package and as a separate consent form included with the annual meeting package. Speak to your association attorney about the easiest methods to obtain this consent from your owners.

It is encouraging to see that our statutes are changing to address the way Florida’s significant shared ownership population actually lives and conducts business. Now that we’ve made it a little easier for people to become involved in the voting process, let’s hope the numbers increase in terms of those who actually do participate.