New condo bills take aim at delinquent owners

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The Florida Legislature won't be in session for five weeks, but lawmakers and lobbyists are already drafting new condominium and homeowners reform legislation. The question is: Will the changes most wanted by condominium and homeowners also stand a chance of becoming law this year?

Readers have often suggested Florida needs more laws to protect associations from deadbeat owners who stop paying maintenance fees, especially at a time when condo and homeowners associations face financial problems due to foreclosures. There's a good chance lawmakers will try to offer Florida associations and owners more power here.

But it's too early to predict which laws will be passed, and which will be rejected. The best way for owners to protect their interests and rights is to stay on top of proposed legislation — and consider contacting state representatives directly to voice their opinions.

Several bills have already been introduced in the House and Senate covering dozens of proposals supported by formidable lobbying groups, such as the Community Association Leadership Lobby (CALL) and the Community Association Network (CAN). Both CAN and CALL are associated with the state's largest community association law firms, so they have a strong chance of making into the law books.

Some proposals aim to make homeowners association laws more on par with condo laws, disallowing convicted felons from serving on HOA boards, for instance, as they are in condo associations. Others seek to tweak existing laws. Last week Senator Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, introduced a glitch bill that largely attempts to clarify laws — or the language of the laws — that were passed last year.

For instance, Fasano's bill, which was drafted with the help of CALL lawyers, would amend statutes to permit owners to consent to the disclosure of personal identifying information. That will mean associations will for the first time be allowed to publish membership directories that may include names, addresses and phone numbers of owners.

Here are a few bills worth watching:

Rent collection from delinquent owners: CAN supports legislation that would clarify that condo associations have the right to collect the full rent from a tenant living in a unit of an owner behind in maintenance payments until those payments are current. Right now the existing law is vague, says CAB, and can possibly be interpreted to only allow the collection of a portion of the monthly rent.

Liens against delinquent owners: The law currently allows cooperative associations to file a lien if an owner does not pay fees charged by management companies and incurred by the association during the collection process. Fasano's bill seeks to add a similar provision to the condominium and HOA statutes.

No pools, Internet and cable TV for delinquent owners: Sen. Gwen Margolis, D-Sunny Isles, introduced a bill that adds teeth to a law passed last year allowing condo associations to stop owners behind in payments from using common areas. The bill seeks to specify that common areas include — but are not limited to — recreational facilities, pools, gyms, meeting rooms, as well as cable television service, Internet service and valet service.

Association employee records: The bill would specify that although personnel records of association employees are not available for inspection by owners, the owners will be permitted to inspect employee agreements and budgetary and financial records that indicate the compensation paid to employees.

If you are an owner in a condo or homeowners community that is governed by an association in Broward, Palm Beach or Orange counties — and want to recommend new laws or change existing ones, send an e-mail to dvasquez@SunSentinel.com or call 954-356-4219.

Daniel Vasquez can be reached at CondoColumn@SunSentinel.com or 954-356-4219 or 561-243-6686. His condo column runs Wednesdays in Your Money and at SunSentinel.com/condos. Check out Daniel's Condos & HOAs blog for news, information and tips related to life in community associations at SunSentinel.com/condoblog. You can also read his consumer column Mondays in Your Money and at sunsentinel.com/vasquez.

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