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Who is responsible for HOA financial law enforcement?

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As the end of the year approaches, families all across the country are busy going though their finances to make sure that they can stay on budget for 2013, and preparing a spending plan for the new year. HOAs have also recently released their budgets to their members. At least, they should have.

Sometimes, however, some associations are not as transparent as they should be with their spending. In those instances, it is the right; indeed the responsibility of the residents to review the statements and make sure that everything is on the up and up. In most cases, it is a simple process to get your hands on the paperwork. Occasionally, things get more complicated than they need to be.

Q: I just came across your newsletter so I don't know if you have answered this question over and over again. It appears to be a common question among homeowners.

We live in a HOA and have been asking our Board and Management company to review our financials. For over a year they have ignored our requests. We recently sent a certified letter and were still denied full access to our financials. In the FL law it states we can fine the HOA a minimum of 50.00/day for failure to show us what we asked for after 10 days of refusal. We are past the 10 days. My question is who enforces this part of the law? The state, an attorneys letter, etc?

Thank you for your response.

Sincerely,

Candice Brown

A: First let's review the statute regarding inspection of documents in HOAs in Florida:

Section 720.303(5) F.S. has been revised regarding inspection and copying of records. The Official Records are now required to be maintained for at least seven (7) years and must be made available to a requesting owner for inspection or photocopying within 45 miles of the community or within the county in which the association is located, within 10 business days after receipt of the written request. Records may be made available electronically via the internet or on a computer screen and printed upon request. An inspecting owner must be allowed to use a portable device, including a smartphone, tablet, portable scanner or any other technology capable of scanning or taking photographs to copy the records if the owner so desires, without cost to the owner.

Section 720.303(5)(c) F.S. was revised regarding charges which may be imposed by the association to cover the costs of providing copies to an owner. The new provision adds to the costs of the copying such costs that are required for personnel to retrieve and copy the records if such time is more than one-half hour, and not more than $20 per hour. Such charges may not be imposed to provide 25 or less copies. The copy cost has also been reduced from $.50 per page to $.25 per page. The association may now only recover the costs of having copies made by an outside duplicating service, if a copy service is used, and may not charge the owner for costs to use association management company personnel in making copies. An appropriate invoice from the copy service is required to be in hand in order to pass such copy costs along to the owner.

So now that you have chapter and verse the law regarding document access what can you do to make sure that your rights are respected and adhered to? Although the legislative trend is to have HOAs administered under a division of the DBPR, it has not yet come to pass that you can file a protest directly to them as if you lived in a condominium. Therefore, you are first and foremost armed with the knowledge and under standing of the law. I would recommend that you make a proper request for inspection to both the management company and board (certified mail). Then if your request is not granted a second round of letters are to go out. One letter should go directly to the management company advising them that you will report them to the DBPR for non-compliance. Although HOAs are not regulated by the DBPR management companies are regulated, so put a bee in their bonnet. Let the management company recommend an inspection to the board as it will be in their own self interest. They don't want problems with the DPBR so if you have to make a problem for them. The board has but few masters whereas management companies have two (the board and the DBPR). Then I suggest that a similar letter go out to each and every board member advising them of their responsibility to govern as per statute. Next comes a serious decision, and that manifests itself in your determination to sue your own association in a court of law (expensive for everybody and a delight to the legal community). Think hard on this as there are many ways to approach this problem and litigation is the sport of kings.

I suggest you be relentless in the pursuit of your rights, and attend each and every board meeting. Be firm but not rude, but by all means have your rights respected. Document every action and letter you make in a diary .Perhaps even consider running for the board yourself to effect positive change in your community.

Best of luck

Mitch DRIMMER, CAM

The West Palm Beach HOA Examiner wishes to thank Mr. Drimmer and his staff at www.SnapCollections.com for their continued encouragement and support over the past few years.

Be sure to subscribe to this column, and stay abreast of issues involving you, the homeowners of Palm Beach County! If you've had any issues with your HOA that you'd like me to try and delve into, and possibly write about later, please let me know. Also, if you'd like to join the discussion on Twitter, you can find me at http://twitter.com/#!/faborplumbs. While you’re at it, please read my articles about local getaways,motorsports, elections, and restaurants.

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