Q: Our management company has ignored several homeowner requests to review the financials for our homeowners association. Phone calls are transferred to an answering machine. E-mails, certified mail and normal U.S. mail are ignored. We have reason to believe financial wrongdoing by the board and understand reserves are being spent. How do we get access to such information, including the balance of each reserve fund?
A: Management is an agent for the association, engaged by the board. The board has all the responsibilities and may have instructed the manager not to respond to any correspondence. The HOA statute (as well as the condominium act) allows owners to inspect the records (FS 720.303). This section allows the board to establish certain rules for the inspections, but it cannot restrict or ignore a written certified letter. My suggestion is to find out if the board has any requirements as to the inspection of the records. But in any situation, send your request in a certified letter addressed to the board of directors. You may need to send to the manager's address but address the letter to the board of directors.
Deceased unit owner
Q: One of our unit owners was found dead in her apartment. She had no known heirs. The police retrieved the body but never contacted the association with any information. Which government agency will we have to contact to resolve matters?
A: I would advise that you contact the association attorney immediately for a search to find out if there are any heirs. Such sources as bank accounts may reveal the information. Though the association cannot ask for the bank for the information, the attorney may have the ability to get the information. Think of the different accounts that require relatives' names, such as the mortgage company or maybe the power company. Maybe this is a clue for the board that association records need to be updated to include emergency contacts.
Q: I am the treasurer of a homeowners association and I am working on the 2008-2009 budget. I would appreciate if you can give me any information in regard to the reserves.
A: There is no common percentage used to calculate the reserves. Here are the steps you should follow. First make an inventory of all property and assets (components) owned by the association. Then calculate the cost to replace or repair them in the future (beyond next year, as that would be included in the planned expense budget), and spread the cost over the appropriate number of years. Here is an example. You have a swimming pool. You expect the pool pump will last less than one year so that figure must be in the expense budget for next year, not reserves, along with chemicals and filters and service. Your pool will need resurfacing in three years and will cost $2,100 so your annual reserves must total $700. The state has a book on reserves called Budget & Reserve Schedules. Call for a copy: (850) 488-1122.
A life saver
Q: We live in a 55 and older homeowner association. Two years past, the members voted to purchase an automated external defibrillator (AED). Members were trained and government medical guidelines followed as required. Recently the board voted to have the AED removed as they felt the unit was a liability. It is a life-saving measure that has been taken from us. We are wondering what our next move should be.
A: Once you have an AED, taking it away could be considered a liability by not making it available. A new law state law, SB 564, encourages notifying local emergency medical services of the location of the device and states that properly trained persons may obtain immunity from civil liability from harm resulting in the use of the AED.
Why sue yourself?
Q: I am living in a homeowner community where violations have not been corrected. Can the residents do something to make the board and the management company enforce the community rules? Can the residents take legal action toward the board and management company?
A: To fine a homeowner for a rule violation, the board must follow strict requirements listed in the statutes and you must have the right to fine in your documents. Because of the complexities, I do not recommend this action. It would be best to turn the matter over to the association attorney for legal action to correct the problem. Yes, members can sue the board and management company, but is that the best way? It is like suing yourself, and you will be responsible for legal costs. In the past, I have recommended that you write the board a letter about your concerns. Recently I have come up with a different approach. That is to become involved in the solution and volunteer to work with the board. If you are as concerned as your question indicates, maybe it is time for you to try to work with the association to try to solve the problems.
Richard White is a licensed community associations manager. Write to him at 6039 Cypress Gardens Blvd., #201, Winter Haven, FL 33884-4115. 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.