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Florida lawmakers vote to protect homeowners from unnecessary legal fees

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On Tuesday, April 29, the Florida State Senate voted 36-3 to pass a bill aimed at preventing homeowners from incurring legal fees for community association paperwork. The bill, which preserves competition in management services for Florida homeowners association (HOA) and condominium residents, was written in response to an effort by the Florida Bar to classify work currently done by licensed community managers as the practice of law. Had the Bar succeeded in their efforts, community associations would have faced significantly higher costs for simple services long performed by licensed managers.

“We commend the Florida Legislature for standing up for homeowners,” notes Associa’s Senior Vice President for External Affairs, Andrew S. Fortin, who represents North America’s largest community association management firm. “The action by the legislature assures that residents of HOAs will not be forced to spend extra money or time to use attorneys for routine, non-legal services.”

The issue initially began in 2012 when the Real Property, Probate and Trusts section of the Florida Bar petitioned to declare more than 14 activities, currently performed by licensed community managers, as the practice of law. Items on the Bar’s list included determining a simple quorum, sending a pre-lien letter and a pre-arbitration demand letter, which have been performed by licensed community managers without incident for more than a generation.

Because the Bar is considered part of the judiciary branch, it can petition itself, subject to court approval, on what work should be reserved solely for attorneys. Community association management companies and homeowners have strongly objected to the Bar’s seemingly self-serving effort for quite some time, and were able to effectively lobby their representatives in Tallahassee in both the House and Senate to quaff the lawyer's attempt to undermine the authority of their trusted property managers. The legislation now heads to the governor’s desk for signature.

“From day one we have noted that community association managers do not want to be lawyers,” says Fortin, “But at the same time, simple tasks like sending a form letter, counting days on a calendar and determining simple majorities do not always require the assistance of an attorney and our clients deserve choice in the market for such services.”

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