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Boards tries to act without vote

Question: A few owners in our homeowner association have tried aggressively to get our swimming pool heated. The proposal was defeated at a members' meeting. But now a few owners have gained control of the board and have taken the position that they have the power to install a $20,000 heating system without a membership vote. The association's attorney and the manager have told the board this is illegal. But these homeowners claim that another attorney told them that the membership need not be consulted, even though the documents clearly indicate that members must vote on capital improvements. Can you advise us?

Answer: Search your bylaws to determine whether you have the right to petition a recall vote of the directors. If not, your best action is to seek legal action, such as an injunction or other legal proceedings. Seek out a good attorney to guide you at this point.

Adult community status is jeopardized by developer

Question: We live in an adult community. Our deed restrictions prohibit children younger than 18 years of age. Even so, we have several families with very young children. We are not registered with the state as an adult community. Our association is controlled by the developer, who does not wish to enforce the deed restrictions.

Answer: Unless the developer begins to comply with the documents and the federal and state requirements, you will lose your status as an adult community. Notify the developer of the problem and demand that he begin to enforce the rules, register with the state and conduct the every-other-year census. If he doesn't comply, engage an attorney to press your cause. This is also a good time to seek an attorney's help in preparing for a proper turnover of the association from the developer to the homeowners.

Professional advisers can make board more effective

Question: Does the board of directors have the authority to hire a management company without the approval of the owners?

Answer: Yes. You elected your directors to operate and manage the affairs of the association. You elected them to represent you. They have the duty to determine the procedures required to operate the association. That gives them the right to engage professionals to assist. Management, accountants and attorneys are part of the professional team.

Some owners worry that their fees will rise to pay for professional services. Why would you expect a fellow owner to serve as a director and shoulder the fiduciary duties, the responsibilities and the workload of operating the association _ with no professional guidance? None of us are experts at everything, which is why we need professional help. Professional management and services can ease the workload and help the board operate the association more effectively, and, often, more efficiently. A lawyer or an accountant who is intimately familiar with condo or homeowner association law can save you from serious mistakes and even illegal actions, and may actually save you money. Your next step is to volunteer and to get yourself elected to a seat on the board.

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.

Readers may call the state Division of Condominiums Bureau of Customer Service at toll-free 1-800-226-9101 with questions or requests for materials. Access the Bureau of Condominiums Web site at www.state.fl.us/dbpr/lsc/index.shtml; or write to Bureau of Customer Service, 1940 N Monroe St., Northwood Centre, Tallahassee, FL 32399-1032.

Please note that this office provides no information about homeowners' associations. The state has no bureau or department covering those associations.

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