1. Archive

Crash course for a board member

Question: As a board member of our condo building, I need some help as to just what should be done to have our building cleaned on the outside. It looks seedy, and we have had bad leaks. To the best of my knowledge, the building has not been sealed or painted in the 18 years I have been here.

I am really not a complainer, but being on the board means I am responsible for having something done. _ North Palm Beach

Answer: It sounds as if the past directors at your association did as little as they could get away with, hoping that it would be the next board that would have to spend the big money to put the place back into repair.

Here's how to educate yourself to be a knowledgeable member of your board so you can deal with situations such as this:

Start by reading a year or two of the minutes of board meetings. Make a copy of your governing documents, tabulate and index the pages according to the information they contain, and place them in a three-ring binder for easy reference.

Get a copy of the latest condo law from the state Bureau of Condominiums. Ask for a copy of the condominium act; you'll get that as well as the administrative codes and the latest amendments passed last session by the Legislature. There is no charge. You can request this by phone by calling (800) 226-9101or (904) 488-0725.

I recommend a book written just for laypersons called Handbook of Condo Law, by Steiner and Solomon, available for $22.09 ($16.95 plus tax, shipping and handling) through Book World distributors; call (800) 767-7566.

Find out from your managing agent or association attorney when there will be another update seminar in your area, sponsored by an organization such as the Community Associations Institute, and plan to attend. (The Suncoast Chapter of the CAI can be reached at 521-3054 in St. Petersburg.)

"Special assessments' not so special

Question: Our condo bylaws give our board of directors authority to make off-budget expenditures in unlimited amounts and set whatever special assessments that are needed to cover the expense. Shouldn't there be some limit? If so, what would you recommend? We have a $2-million annual budget, not counting reserves. _ Miami

Answer: Your budgeting procedure must strictly comply with the Condominium and Co-operative Acts as well as those requirements set out in your governing documents. There are no limits set, but it is made quite clear that all estimated and anticipated expenses for the year must be shown in detail in the budget. It is also required that prorated assessments to cover those expenses must be shown.

It is not legal or proper for a board to keep the paper budget about the same, year after year, so that they can say, "Assessments have stayed the same at our condo for several years," and, at the same time, pay for unlisted expenditures by floating special assessments. In my book, the only acceptable non-budgeted expense (requiring an assessment) would be an unforeseen emergency or an expense that the entire membership had the opportunity to vote for.

Knowing that a few unexpected expenditures and emergencies can happen to the best of planners, a provision in the law now exists for you to budget a fixed-amount line item of operating expense to handle these contingencies. The law does not set any limits on the amount that can be in the contingency reserve, but property managers tell me that an amount equal to 5 percent of the operating budget is a good rule of thumb for community associations. For rental and other types of residential properties, 8 to 10 percent is suggested.

It's discrimination no matter how phrased

Question: Our board of directors has been faced with a situation requiring an important decision. Two of the apartments have been sold to senior Cuban refugees who do not speak a word of English, in spite of the fact that they have been in this country for many years. They have enjoyed our freedoms and employment opportunities but have never bothered to learn our language. The federal law against discrimination refers only to age, race, religion and ethnic background. It would seem to us, therefore, that we are entitled to use our own discrimination in deciding whom we want to live among us. I called the Bureau of Condominiums and was given a negative response. I think an association should have a certain amount of autonomy in making decisions of this nature. _ North Miami Beach

Answer: Don't even think of it! Discrimination based upon one's national origin is illegal, period. I don't care how you try to shore it up, the "difference in language" argument will not float.

Jack Holeman is a longtime condominium manager, owner and board member. He welcomes your questions. Write to Jack Holeman, Condo Line, The Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731. Sorry, he can't take phone calls or provide personal replies. You can call the state Bureau of Condominium office with your questions at (800) 226-9101 or (904) 488-0725 or write to the Bureau of Condominium, Correspondence Unit, 725 S Bronough St., Tallahassee, FL 32399-1033.