As with much new legislation, a 2017 bill which amended Section 718.111 of the Florida Statute providing website guidelines for the operations of condominium associations with more than 150 or more units (which does not contain timeshare units) is going through some growing pains that boards must consider as they strive for compliance.
This is not a bad thing for a law geared toward paving the path for transparency and accountability between boards and the residents they serve.
While most of the thousands of condominium associations in Florida are managed with integrity, some are not. The new law basically puts board members on notice that they can face felony charges if found guilty of specific breaches. The bill included a laundry list of violations covering electoral fraud, forged signatures on ballots, conflict of interest, and misappropriation of funds, to name a few, but the one we are focusing on today is the law require website requirements for condominiums in Florida.
In today’s world, transparency and communication often starts with a website, and the law clearly stipulates how these destinations must be structured.
A compliant website is a first step in associations creating an environment that is transparent for residents. Most associations in Florida are well run, but due to the actions of a few bad apples, this legislation is meant to provide the framework paving the way for honest and open operations.
The first major change is that the deadline for compliance was changed to Jan. 1, 2019, representing a one-year extension from the original Dec. 31, 2018. However, compliance and potential penalties seem to have become a moving target without clear-cut policies as to enforcement.
But make no mistake about it – failure to post a required document on the condominium association’s website is a violation of the law and could result in a $10 to $30 per-unit penalty. However, since this law is relatively new, it is too early to know exactly how the Department of Business and Professional Regulations (“DBPR”) is going to enforce violations and whether the DBPR will immediately issue penalty’s or first issue warning letters.
Initially the law seemed to focus on guiding associations on how to improve operations. Historically, first offenders were simply sent a warning letter, requiring the association to fix the violations and helping the association to operate properly and in accordance with the law.
Recently, there have been reports that inspectors have gone straight to penalties in the event of violations. Keep in mind that every inspector can be different in terms of enforcement. However, the one common denominator seems to be that those penalized have failed to provide inspection of an association’s official records upon request from an owner. There are thousands of condominium associations in Florida. It is unlikely the DBPR is actively viewing websites, seeking violations. Rather, the process appears to be that the DBPR gets involved when an files a complaint, claiming either that the association has failed to give the owner access to records or that the association has failed to properly posted the required records on its website. It’s the “squeaky wheel” dynamic that sets the wheels in motion for what can be significant penalties.
Let’s take a look at some portions of the law and how it relates to websites:
- Specific information must be updated in a timely fashion. Each owner must be provided a login and password
- The website must contain the various condominium association official records including, without limitation, all condominium governing documents, rules and regulations, all contracts, management and other agreements to which the association is a party. This is not an exhaustive list.
- It must publish the annual budget and proposed annual budget, financial reports, board certifications, notice of any unit owner and board member meetings and the agenda within the statutory time periods. They must be posted in plain view on the front page of the website or a separate subpage of the website labeled “Notices” which is conspicuously visible and linked from the front page along with any document to be considered and voted on by the owners during the meeting or any document listed on the agenda, notices of board meetings and agendas within the statutory time periods.
There are other requirements which may not directly relate to the website, but nevertheless require the orderly sharing of information to all residents.
- Any information and documents which are restricted from being accessible to unit owners may not be posted on the website or, if posted, the protected information must be fully redacted.
- Condominium official records are expanded to include bids for materials, equipment and services.
- Annual condominium financial reports must be provided within five (5) days of request by a unit owner.
With the passing of this new law, the legal onus is now on the board of directors to follow these laws. The legislation is in the best interests of homeowners and the lines of open communications starts with a functioning and informative web site.
Lindsay Raphael, Esq., is Senior Counsel with Boca Raton-based Sachs Sax Caplan, P.L., a diversified law firm with a wide range of practice groups. Her practices specializes in Community Association Law. For more information, visit www.ssclawfirm.com.
Todd Paton is President/Founder of Paton Marketing, a digital marketing firm, which recently merged with BrandStar, a content marketing firm. Based in Pompano Beach, two organizations now combine efforts on a wide range of marketing initiatives for community associations, medical, retail, legal, financial services, hospitality, non-profits and many others. For more information, visit www.patonmarketing.com.