Question: I gave a friend, who lives down the hall in the same condo, a duplicate set of keys to my apartment. In the rare event that there might be an emergency, and I am not at home, the keys will be available. The management office has been informed. Now I have received a letter stuck under my door telling me that the arrangement is unacceptable and that I must give a key to the management to keep in the office for use in case of an emergency. Does the law require me to give them a key to my unit? Is not emergency access to my unit enough? _ Miami Beach
Answer: There is no law requiring you to furnish the association or its management with a duplicate key to your unit. However, association documents you read and signed when you bought the apartment may well have such a requirement. If there is an emergency (water leak, fire, bad odor, etc.), the lawful authority may have no alternative other than breaking down the door to find and correct the problem. The cost of the new door will be yours. What if your friend is away or cannot be reached in an emergency? I think if that is the way you want it, the board should go along with your desire, provided you sign whatever legal permission form might be required by its attorney. A note in its key box can tell whomever needs your key where to find it. So your friend will not face personal liability, you also need to give her your written permission for the management to use the key.
By law, the association does have access to your unit for the repair or replacement of common elements or to prevent damage to other units. Ninety-nine percent of the time, reasonable people can work with reasonable people to find the key and have this work done. My experience in 20 years of managing associations is that if the duplicate keys are submitted and kept in individually sealed envelopes, in a locked cabinet, in a locked office, there is very little chance of a problem. I recommend that course unless there is reason to believe that your management (volunteer or professional) is not to be trusted.
Getting roof repaired
Question: Ever since the last hurricane, off and on the roof of our condo has leaked. The management always sends somebody up to make some repair or recoat the suspected spot, but it again leaks. The ceiling and wall of my apartment are discolored by the water. I think it is time the condo paid a professional to come in and repair the roof and to fix my wall and ceiling. The management just says that the inside of my apartment is not the association's responsibility. What to do? _ Jupiter
Answer: The law generally holds that the maintenance, repair and insuring of the ceiling and wall finishes and coverings are the responsibilities of the unit owner. They are considered personal property. Florida Statute 718 says, "The word "building' does not include unit floor coverings, wall coverings, or ceiling coverings." So if they are not part of the building, the association has no obligation to keep them in repair.
Even though Florida law has generally insulated the association from liability for damage within individual units, when negligence can be established, the association can be liable for the cost of repairing the unit. A court finding specifically on this point was Bisque Associates vs. Quayside Towers 2, as reported in Florida Law Weekly, March 1994.
Your letter seems to indicate that the management of your condo has continually made repairs to the roof upon request, which is good. However, if those repairs did not solve the problems, the association may still be negligent for not having done more. Instead of filing an expensive lawsuit, I would first ask the association if it is willing to go through a mediation process to work together, privately and voluntarily, to get the roof fixed once and for all.
If they agree to mediate the dispute, the Bureau of Condominium, (800) 226-9101, will send you a list of mediators in your area to pick from. There is no cost to either party; these mediators are volunteers. They will work with each party to help identify the issues, consider the options available and reach a mutually acceptable agreement. If that does not work, the door is still open to solving the dispute by arbitration or through the courts.
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 in Tallahassee with your questions at (800) 226-9101 or (904) 488-0725. Or call the Tampa bureau at (800) 226-6028 or (813) 744-6149. Or write to the Bureau of Condominium, Correspondence Unit, 725 S Bronough St., Tallahassee, FL 32399-1033.