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ASSOCIATION’S LAW FIRM’S INVOICES BE MADE AVAILABLE TO ITS MEMBERS UPON WRITTEN REQUEST?

ASSOCIATION’S LAW FIRM’S INVOICES BE MADE AVAILABLE TO ITS MEMBERS UPON WRITTEN REQUEST?

  • Posted: Feb 20, 2018
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An association member wants to review the association’s lawyer’s bills sent to the association over the past year. As a result, the member submits a written request to access those records. But, is the member actually entitled to see them? Pursuant to the relevant sections of Chapter 718, Chapter 719, and Chapter 720 of the Florida Statutes, regarding condominiums, cooperatives, and homeowners’ associations, respectively, all members (or their aut

Art_Billing-450x253horized representatives) have the right to access their community association’s official records for inspection and copying. However, this right is not absolute as there are several official records which are exempt from member access.

Among these exempted official records are records protected by the attorney-client privilege, as described in section 90.502, Florida Statutes, and any record protected by the work-product privilege. Generally, the attorney-client privilege protects communications between a lawyer and the lawyer’s client; whereas, the work-product privilege protects, for example, a record prepared by an association attorney or prepared at the attorney’s express direction which reflects a mental impression, conclusion, litigation strategy, or legal theory of the attorney or the association and which was prepared exclusively for civil or criminal litigation or for adversarial administrative proceedings or which was prepared in anticipation of litigation or proceedings until the conclusion of the litigation or proceedings.

While these exceptions to official records access are expressly provided in the relevant sections of the Florida Statutes, questions arise as to whether or not a community association’s legal invoices are protected by the attorney-client privilege and/or the work-product privilege. Moreover, can the association redact its legal invoices to keep privileged information provided in the legal invoices from access by the member? You bet the association can!

This issue was decided in the arbitration case of Jandebeur v. Marine Terrace Association, Inc. (Arbo. Case No. 2014-03-5716) in which the association, in the end, was represented by Kaye Bender Rembaum, Attorneys at Law. (This case involved a cooperative under Chapter 719, Florida Statutes, which is substantially the same as Chapter 718, Florida Statutes. Arbitration is not applicable to Chapter 720, Florida Statutes.) The law firm took the case over from the association’s prior counsel who, on behalf of his client-association, advised the board not to provide access to his law firm’s billing to the association, claiming the entire bill to be privileged.

In this case, the member made written requests to inspect the association’s official records, including legal invoices from the association’s prior law firm. Upon the advice of the association’s prior attorney, the association refused to provide the owner with access to the requested legal invoices claiming that they were inaccessible, in their entirety, because they contained attorney-client privileged communications and attorney work-product.

In deciding the matter in favor of the member, the arbitrator held that refusing access to the entire legal invoices was improper; however, the arbitrator made it patently clear that “[i]f attorney work product is contained in an invoice, e.g. a description of work performed reveals the attorney’s thoughts, etc., regarding the litigation, that information may be redacted.” Therefore, the arbitrator in this case clearly and expressly opined that portions of legal invoices may be redacted to remove information protected by the attorney-client privilege and/or the work-product privilege.

Given the official records exemptions from member access as discussed above, the arbitrator’s decision in this case is in line with the statutory exemptions provided by the relevant sections of Chapter 718, Chapter 719, and Chapter 720 of the Florida Statutes. Therefore, do not be surprised if, upon a member’s written request to inspect the association’s law firm’s billing, invoices are presented only after significant redaction to protect both attorney-client and work-product privileges.

While arbitration cases decided by the Arbitration Section of Florida’s Department of Business and Professional Regulations, Division of Florida Condominiums, Timeshares, and Mobile Homes, do not create binding precedents on any other parties (meaning, the same issue could be decided differently in another case) and are not applicable to homeowners’ associations, they are often relied upon for guidance, as many community association attorneys do. Therefore, when presented with a written request for access to your association’s legal invoices, you may want to have your association’s attorney review the requested invoices to see if there is any privileged information which should be redacted to protect the privilege prior to the member’s inspection and copying of the official records.

Jeffrey Rembaum, Esq. of Kaye, Bender, Rembaum attorneys at law, legal practice consists of representation of condominium, homeowner, commercial and mobile home park associations, as well as exclusive country club communities and the developers who build them. He is a regular columnist for The Condo News, a biweekly publication and was inducted into the 2012, 2013 & 2014 Florida Super Lawyers. He can be reached at 561-241-4462.

 

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NEW PROVISION REGARDING FINING AND USE RIGHT SUSPENSIONS

NEW PROVISION REGARDING FINING AND USE RIGHT SUSPENSIONS

  • Posted: Feb 19, 2018
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NEW PROVISION REGARDING FINING AND USE RIGHT SUSPENSIONS

Prior to recent amendments to the procedures for fining and use right suspensions for non-monetary violations,  there was a gap in the Florida Statutes regarding the manner in which a community association’s board of directors and its fining and suspensions committee coexisted, meaning there was no clear guidance with regard to whether the fining committee would first meet and then the board would levy the fine or if the board would first meet, determine the amount of the fine and then the fining committee would meet to provide the offending owner his opportunity to appear. That said, it was clear that if the fining committee did not agree with the fine, then the board could not authorize its levy against the offending owner. Well, now there is great clarity as to the procedural requirements.

Pursuant to the recent amendments to Chapters 718, 719 and 720 of the Florida Statutes, regarding condominiums, cooperatives and homeowners’ associations, respectively, the association’s board of directors must first levy the fine or use right suspension for non-monetary violations at a properly noticed board meeting. After the board of directors has levied the fine or use right suspension for non-monetary violations, the person who is to be fined or suspended must be provided with at least fourteen (14) days’ notice and an opportunity for a hearing before a fining and suspensions committee. The fining and suspensions committee must be comprised of other owners who are neither board members, nor persons residing in a board member’s household. The role of the fining and suspensions committee is limited to determining whether to confirm or reject the fine or use right suspension for non-monetary violations levied by the board of directors.

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GET IN LINE – ASSOCIATION ASSESSMENT LIEN PRIORITY

GET IN LINE – ASSOCIATION ASSESSMENT LIEN PRIORITY

  • Posted: Feb 19, 2018
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GET IN LINE – ASSOCIATION ASSESSMENT LIEN PRIORITY

At issue in today’s column is a subject we recently addressed regarding whether an association must record its assessment lien in the public records of the County in which the community is located in order for it to be effective and whether such lien relates back to the initial date of recording of the declaration. At least, as to a surplus that results from a tax foreclosure sale, the answer, in most circumstances, is that the association does not need to record its assessment lien in order to argue entitlement to the surplus, and the lien will relate back to the date of initial recording of the declaration, as was the outcome of a recent Fourth District Court of Appeal case, Calendar v. Stonebridge Gardens Section III Condominium Association, Inc., decided December 17, 2017.

In this case, Mrs. Calendar was the unit owner who lost her home as a result of a tax foreclosure. After the foreclosure sale, Mrs. Calendar asserted that she, and not the condominium association, was entitled to the surplus that resulted from the tax foreclosure sale. The appellate court disagreed and affirmed the trial court’s decision to award the surplus to the condominium association. In so doing, the appellate court cited section 718.116(5)(a), Florida Statutes (2016), which provides:

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LEGISLATIVE CHANGES Are you up to date in your Condo or HOA?

LEGISLATIVE CHANGES Are you up to date in your Condo or HOA?

  • Posted: Jan 22, 2018
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2017 LEGISLATIVE CHANGES

The 2017 Legislative Session was fairly active with respect to issues involving Community Associations. The following is a brief outline of some of the significant changes that became effective July 1, 2017.

Estoppel Certificates: Senate Bill 398: Applies to Condominium, Cooperative & Homeowners’ Associations.

Content and cost limits for estoppel certificates were issues attempted to be addressed several times in the past few years, but this year, SB 398 passed and substantially changed the content and procedure for responding to requests for information when a unit or property within the community is transferring, as well as setting up specific costs for the information. An “estoppel certificate” is defined to be a signed document establishing certain specific facts related to a particular transaction. In the past the estoppel certificate typically consisted of a basic statement of account, notifying the buyer/lender whether the account was current and identifying upcoming or ongoing financial obligations. The new law has the following affects: (a) reduces the time period for responding to a request for an estoppel certificate from 15 days to 10 business days, and if not delivered within 10 business days no fee can be charged for the estoppel; (b) the association’s website, if it exists, must contain the name and street address or e-mail address of the person to whom requests for estoppel certificates are to be sent; and, estoppel certificates must be delivered by hand, mail or e-mail on the date the estoppel is issued.

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APPELLATE COURT LIMITS ASSOCIATION ABILITY TO STOP OWNER POSTING OF NEGATIVE OPINIONS ON SOCIAL MEDIA

APPELLATE COURT LIMITS ASSOCIATION ABILITY TO STOP OWNER POSTING OF NEGATIVE OPINIONS ON SOCIAL MEDIA

  • Posted: Jan 22, 2018
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APPELLATE COURT LIMITS ASSOCIATION ABILITY TO STOP OWNER POSTING OF NEGATIVE OPINIONS ON SOCIAL MEDIA

Many community associations throughout Florida have experienced an owner who opposes the board and is vocally negative toward the efforts of the association representatives. With the development of social media and the internet, many have also experienced these disgruntled owners posting their opinions on the internet through blogs, website and the like. Quite often these owners are not expressing accurate information regarding the association and boards look for help from their attorneys to stop what they consider to be abusive and harassing conduct. The Florida Fifth District Court of Appeal has recently issued a ruling that identifies some limits that court action can take in dealing with such disputes and leaving questions regarding other actions that can be taken unanswered.

 

Read more on Legal Issues: 

REMBAUM’S ASSOCIATION ROUNDUP

 http://www.kbrlegal.com/rembaums-association-roundup/

 

In Fox. V. Hampton at Metro West Condominium Association, Inc., Case No. 5D16-1822 (July 21, 2017), the Appellate Court was presented the situation in which the Condominium Association had initially brought a legal action against the unit owner to obtain an injunction to stop the owner from what they claimed to be conduct that was harassing, intimidating and otherwise threatening to other owners, and for his on-going publishing of negative claims about the Association and/or the Board on the internet. No trial was held as the parties entered into a settlement agreement that was ultimately incorporated into a final judgment under which Fox agreed to stop certain actions. Soon thereafter, however, the conduct began again and the Association filed a motion for contempt and enforcement of the agreement, claiming that Fox had willfully and intentionally violated the terms of the agreement.

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