Sunday, November 11, 2012

Living in a Florida Community Association for Dummies

That's the name of the book I would like to write one day, but it seems time is in short supply and I would have to retire to find the time. That's not happening any time soon -- I like what I do.

Since that book may be a long time off, let's go over some basic rules.

First, board members -- try not to be a bully!! It's all in the approach. If you attack people, they will get defensive. It's human nature. Do not pick on your neighbors to boost your own self-esteem. You will soon become the most hated person in your community and might get your association in legal trouble. Once the lawyers get involved things tend to get unpleasant for a long time. There are times when you do have to be tough. Everyone has to pay their assessments and there are always those that just refuse. Everyone has to obey the restrictions, but there are always those that refuse. Don't confuse these people with the ones that are just not aware of the rules! A friendly letter first rather than a threat gets more done. Save the threats for those that do not respond or refuse to comply. Then there are the ones that just want to argue and cause trouble no matter who is on the board. These people have usually been victimized already by a HOA, maybe not yours. There is a legitimate diagnosis called HOA Syndrome that is a form of post traumatic stress disorder. I'm not telling you to go out and coddle you neighbors, just try to understand the situation before jumping in with both feet.

Next, homeowners -- the rest of these are for you so you can live in your community and hopefully stay out of trouble.

1. Read, read, read. Education is the best defense against oppression! At least in an association.


2. Read your Declarations, Bylaws and Articles of Incorporation. Yes, they are for the most part boring, but make sure you understand the rules. Not everything in those documents is legal, so if something doesn't seem right, check it out. You can find great information about Florida associations on websites such as CyberCitizens for Justice (www.ccfj.net), Avvo (www.avvo.com) or the websites of law firms representing the associations. Many of the association firms have blogs that are an excellent source of information. I read them daily myself!

3. Read the Florida Statutes governing your association if you can. Don't worry if you can't understand it all, but see if you can understand the basics, like the notice requirements for meetings. Condos are governed by Fla. Stat. 718, homeowner associations by Fla. Stat. 720, mobile home park lot tenancies by Fla. Stat. 723. All of them are governed by Fla. Stat. 617 if they are non-profit and Fla. Stat. 607 if they are not or Fla. Stat. 617 and 718,720, or 723 are silent on the issue. If you are not sure if you live in a condo association or a homeowners association, look to the first page of each governing document for a statute or a definition of the legal name of the association.

4. Go to meetings!!! The biggest problem in associations are the owners who become complacent and do not attend meetings or votes. Then they want to complain when their constitutional rights are taken away by rules and restrictions in the documents and amendments to the documents. Those documents are subject to amendment! The more owners paying attention to what is going on with the association, the less likely the board members will evolve into bullies. Board members are not paid (or shouldn't be) and volunteer their time. It takes a lot more time than anyone can imagine. Over time even the nicest board members can become cynical when the owners do not care enough to be involved in the association.

5. When you approach your association with a problem, try to have a solution to offer. That goes for board members and anyone else too. It's easy to complain, but you get more cooperation if you can help solve the problem.

6. Ask for those copies of the financial reports. Each year the association is required to either distribute the reports or send you a notice the reports are available. Get a copy and look at them. No one can waste the assessments or even embezzle them if there are people watching. Do not count of the property manager to be the guard. They often do not have enough time to watch as closely as they should or they may think the waste is okay.

Finally, for everyone -- just try to have some common sense and consideration of your neighbors. One of the best classes I ever took was during my Disney days and was called "inclusive communication." It was all about listening to what the other person is saying and trying to understand their point of view. It works! If it doesn't try the other Disney mantra -- put a smile in your voice. People have a hard time being rude and nasty if you don't return the same attitude.

Good luck and best wishes for community living.

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