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Hardship exceptions in a 55+ community

Question: We are a 55+ community. Our bylaws state: "The board in its sole discretion shall have the right to establish hardship exceptions to permit individuals between the ages of 18 and 55 to permanently reside in the community."

Can you tell me what the words "hardship exceptions" mean?

Answer: HUD guidelines for 55+ communities say that one member of 80 percent of the households must be 55 years of age or older, so 20 percent could be under 55, and half of the other residents could be under 55. I can envision a situation in which, in a family crisis, unit owners must take in their adult children under 55 or their grandchildren. I am sure this is what your document means when it refers to "hardship exceptions."

Reserve budget procedure

Question: What legal recourse do individual owners have to avoid paying a statutory reserve assessment when it was not included as a part of the agenda at the general membership meeting? Such action should come before the general membership for a vote.

Our manager, association CPA and association attorney failed to inform our board to bring this before the membership for a vote. Now the board has taken it upon themselves to vote the assessment without giving the general membership the opportunity to vote.

Answer: Reserve budgets are mandated by FS 718.112. Your manager, attorney, and CPA advised your board correctly.

Your board is required to establish an expense budget and an adequate reserve budget. The board is required to vote on the budgets, not the owners.

The owners have a right to ask for a motion to reduce or eliminate the reserves at the annual meeting or to call for a members' meeting to vote on the reserves. The board does not have the duty to present the motion to the members without a request.

Enforcing a rule

Question: Our condo development consists of two-bedroom units. Can we pass a resolution limiting the number of inhabitants permitted in a unit?

Answer: You can pass any rule you like; the question is one of enforcement.

All the owners can agree that a rule is needed to restrict the number of residents occupying a unit. The board can ask its attorney to draft the rule and can properly vote and pass the rule, which is then recorded and becomes part of the official documents, but suppose that one owner has a change in his or her situation and takes in more occupants than the rule permits. What can the association do?

Here are things it cannot do: It cannot enter the unit and remove the individuals or take constraining actions or coerce the owner. It cannot deny usage of common areas or facilities. It cannot increase the maintenance fees.

What the association can do is send letters or talk with the owner and ask that the owner follow the rules. If their condo documents allow fines, the association can assess fines. The problem is collecting the fines.

In the end, the only way to collect fines or to enforce the rule is in court, where a judge will make the final ruling. So, yes, you can pass a rule on occupancy. You need to understand that any rule may have to be enforced by a judge.

Write to Richard White, 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 CAMquestionsatt.net. Please include your name and city. Questions should concern association operations; legal opinions cannot be offered. For specific legal advice, contact an association attorney.

To discuss provisions of the state condo/co-op acts, call the state Bureau of Condominium office in Tallahassee at (800) 226-9101 or (850) 488-0725 or call the Tampa bureau at (800) 226-6028, (800) 226-4472, or (813) 744-6149. Or write to the Bureau of Condominiums, Education Section, Suite 200, 4524 Oak Fair Blvd., Tampa, FL 33610. Please note that this office provides no information about homeowners' associations. The state has no bureau or department covering those associations.

You can access the Bureau of Condominium web site at http:// www.state.fl.us/dbpr/html/ lsc/copage.html.

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