Florida Condo Property Act Requires Website Access To Documents
(Second of two articles on condominium law.)
The tough, new Florida Condominium & HOA Act—the first state condo law to impose criminal penalties on violators—also requires large associations to post financial data on an Internet-accessible webpage, experts say.
“Florida condominium associations with 150 or more units now are required to publish financial reports on a web page that is accessible via password only to unit owners and association employees,” noted condo owner Sara E. Benson, managing broker of Benson Stanley Realty, and president of Association Evaluation, LLC, a Chicago-based real estate data-analytics firm.
“If it is proven that documents were denied to owners in order to hide fraud, those responsible could face felony charges under a condo-law clause that takes effect in July of 2018,” Benson said.
In Illinois, Section 22.1 of the state Condominium Property Act requires owners to provide various documents and records to owners and prospective buyers who request them. This includes governing documents, statements concerning reserve balances, litigation, and insurance and disclosure of anticipated capital expenditures, which could lead to costly special assessments.
Currently, Illinois law allows associations to charge sellers a “reasonable fee” for out-of-pocket costs for providing the information. Buyers, attorneys and real estate brokers often ask for extra documents such as meeting minutes and budgets.
Lenders also require a questionnaire to be filled out before granting a mortgage to condo buyers.
Often, sellers, brokers, attorneys, appraisers and lenders are referred to an on-line website portal to choose the documents they need, which are provided in an electronic format by a third-party servicer or management company for a hefty fee.
The sales of the documents are then recycled multiple times in a single transaction and each party requesting them pays the fee. A resale disclosure package, which includes documents listed in Section 22.1, could range in cost from as little as $200 to a whopping $1,250 or more for each party requesting the documents. Benson, who recently was charged $700 for a paid-assessment letter, is outraged.
“How is it legal for a for-profit management company to resell documents that belong to unit owners in a not-for-profit condo association?” Benson asked. “The money is not going to the condo association. It’s paid to the management company or third-party provider—entities that do not own the documents.”
Benson believes that providing documents should be included in the management contract’s scope of services. Also, governing documents and resale information should be posted on a password-protected website for all owners, so they can be shared with prospective buyers at no cost, she said.
Effective on July 1, 2018, the tough, new Florida Condo Act will require exactly that. “Upon a unit owner’s written request, condo associations with more than 150 units must provide the homeowner with a username and password and access to documents,” the act states. The protected sections of the Florida association’s website contain any digital copies of notices, records, or documents that must be electronically provided. Documents must include the recorded condo declaration, amendments, bylaws, rules, management agreements, annual budget and financial report, contracts, meeting agendas and notices.
The website must be accessible through the Internet, contain a subpage, web portal, or other protected electronic location that is inaccessible to the general public and accessible only to unit owners and employees of the association.
How can Illinois condo associations reduce the burden and cost of document fees on buyers and sellers?
Along with posting the documents on a password-protected website, consumer advocates suggest:
• Boards of directors should seek out property management companies that do not resell their association documents.
• Owners should save digital copies of governing documents, budgets and other association information they receive via computer, so they don’t have to order additional copies when selling their unit.
• Owners should ask their condo board to add the document fee schedule to the association’s rules and regulations.
• The condo board should negotiate new management contracts that require complete disclosure of any document fees.
• Owners should ask their condo association board to vote for eliminating document fees all together.
For more housing news, visit www.dondebat.biz. Don DeBat is co-author of “Escaping Condo Jail,” the ultimate survival guide for condominium living. Visit www.escapingcondojail.com.