Q. Our condominium’s rules include one that says, “No dog may be kept in, on, or about the premises”. The dictionary defines “kept” as a permanent state. Therefore, I contend that residents have a reasonable right to entertain their day guests and their pets. I have a dear friend who comes to visit me and brings her small dog. Last week, after a visit, I received a letter from the property manager saying that I was in violation of the “no-pet” rule. I hope that you can advise me whether or not I am within my rights to this defense that the rule is not clearly written?
S.M., St. Petersburg
I suggest that you are wrong. Without getting into interpretation of words, no pet means any pets in or on the property. It does not mean your pet or your guest’s pet. While it does not happen too often, some residents have a fear of dogs and that could be a major reason to live in a no-pet building and expect that the rule will be enforced.
I once managed a building that had a no-pet rule. One owner’s daughter would visit her mother and bring her small dog. As manager, I sent several letters such as the one you received. Living in the building was an owner who feared dogs. Unfortunately, the daughter encountered the lady in the elevator and the dog jumped on the fearful lady. She fainted, fell and had a fatal heart attack the next day. You can only guess the lawsuit that came about from her family. While the condominium and board (with manager) escaped major contribution to the claim because of the documents to enforce the rule, much time and legal costs were encountered.
Q. Our HOA bylaws contain the unusual provision of allowing tape recordings or videotapes of our board meetings. One of our members started to videotape our meetings and posted these on his public blog. Since our meetings discuss bids, contracts, budget and expense discussions, as well as degrading remarks against the board and manager, the board amended the bylaws to limit such recordings as well as public posting. What is your feeling about the legality of the restrictions on such recordings?
J.M., Bonita Springs
FS 720.306 says: “(10) RECORDING.-Any parcel owner may tape record or videotape meetings of the board of directors and meetings of the members. The board of directors of the association may adopt reasonable rules governing the taping of meetings of the board and the membership.” While you cannot restrict such recordings, you can establish certain rules such as not disturbing the meeting or using association electrical power for lights or camera. I am sure that very few agenda items are secret or controversial enough to cause damage to the association. If you operate your meeting in a professional way, you should have no worries if “outsiders” watch the video.
I caution the board not to amend the documents without legal guidance. A simple slip of the wrong wording can cause serious problems with the legal titles or operations.
Q. I have lived in our gated HOA for 17 years and we were one of the best-maintained communities, a showcase. Over the past five years our maintenance has decreased. The board has reduced the maintenance on the grounds and only cares for the homes at the front of the community near the main road, where the directors live. I live toward the back and do not receive as much care. Our trees and shrubbery looks like witch’s brooms. Since no members volunteer to be candidates, annual elections are never held. We do not receive any help from our manager and he does not enforce the rules. Are property managers and board of directors subject to any penalties for failure to enforce the rules and their failure to maintain the community?
I could give you many answers about the failure of the board and manager to properly maintain the community. There is no state agency to help homeowner associations except the courts. If you sued the board and manager, you would gain little, therefore you should only use the legal system as a last resort. Your solution is to get the owners and members to accept the duties and volunteer to become candidates. In other words, you must get the ball rolling to elect new directors. Why not try to get some of your neighbors to support your candidacy at the next annual meeting? Start knocking on neighbors’ doors and ask them how they feel about the operations and maintenance of the community. Ask them to volunteer to help or become candidates.