Q: Recently one of our board members used association keys to enter units to deliver packages or check on suspicious noises, all unknown to the unit owner. When members heard about this, they were concerned that board members might use the association keys to let themselves in at any time. Would this constitute trespass? What should the policy be for entering units?
A: Uncontrolled entry is never a good idea, and a board member is at high risk entering a unit alone without permission. If you must enter, go in pairs.
Most documents do allow entry for repairs and inspections — for example, when water is leaking into the unit below, or smoke is emanating from a unit — but the board must take care not to abuse the rights.
I recommend that owners be contacted before a director enters the unit. That may require a letter, e-mail or phone call, and written authorization from the owner. The board should craft a policy defining when and how entry is authorized and should emphasize the security of the keys to units.
Think twice before you try too hard to be helpful. What's to stop an owner from claiming that valuables were missing from the unit after a director let himself in? It's his word against yours.
Expenses can be paid
Q: I'm the treasurer and corresponding secretary for our homeowners association board. My duties include retrieving the mail from our post office box, a round trip of 20 to 30 minutes, and driving to the bank to make deposits. I understand that board members are not compensated for their services, but can I request reimbursement for fuel costs, in light of the high cost of gas? Is there a standard or a set amount per mile? Can the board approve such a request or must this go before the membership?
A: The board can authorize the refund of out-of-pocket expenses, which could include a gas allowance. Maintain a log with the date, mileage and purpose of the trip, and submit a voucher. You might use the IRS mileage allowance, which is currently 50.5 cents per mile for business travel (14 cents in the service of charitable organizations). Or you could agree on a flat reimbursement, say $5 per trip or the cost of one gallon of gas. The board should discuss and vote on this at a meeting so it's on the record and the members are aware of it.
Plan for problems
Q: Is there a state law requiring that condos have a disaster plan? Does it include a bank line of credit? What other particulars should we be aware of in establishing a disaster plan?
A: There's no law, but you shouldn't need a law to prepare for emergencies. They include not only hurricanes but fires, floods and security problems. It's still up to owners to make their own emergency preparations for their units. But the board should create a plan and communicate it to the members. It should include protecting common areas, storing outdoor furniture or equipment that could become missiles in high winds, preparing the pool, and readying an evacuation plan in case power goes out and elevators are disabled.
The board should establish where and when they will meet after the emergency to survey the damage. Another task: Compiling an up-to-date list of owners' names and out-of-town contact information, including cell phones, so you can reach owners who evacuate.
It would also be helpful to post on bulletin boards the locations of local shelters and a list of recommended emergency supplies.
Richard White is a licensed community associations manager. Write to him c/o Community Living, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731. Sorry, he can't take phone calls or provide personal replies by mail, but you can e-mail him at CAMquestions@cfl.rr.com. Please include your name and city. Online: talkwithcam.com.