Condo Line

Key policy causes concern

Q. I am the unit owner of a small well-established condominium complex. It is run by long-time board members who do a good job maintaining the property, etc. It came to my attention a few weeks ago that a section of the covenant stipulates that each unit owner must turn over a key to one of the board officers. The person holding the bank of keys happens to be an 80-year-old retiree. I was told the purpose for turning over one condominium’s key is to gain access to my unit in case there is an emergency and I am not home (i.e. water pipe breakage or leak). There is nothing in the covenants that specifically states what constitutes an “emergency.” The problem I have with this rule is giving access to my condominium to a person who I do not know. Plus, what if someone breaks into the key custodian’s condominium and steals all the keys to every unit or makes copies for later use? It is unclear how the keys are secured.

Since the current board members are well entrenched, it is difficult obtaining a definitive answer as to how the keys are stored and secured. Not to mention if the custodian is ill or in the hospital, who retrieves the keys in case of an emergency. It seems the board and the association taking on a large legal/liability issue by requiring all owners to turn in a key.

Is it proper or legal (although it is stipulated in the condominium covenants) that every owner be required to give a key of their unit to a board member for emergencies? Are not board members and the association taking on a huge liability/lawsuit by requiring everyone to turn over a key considering all the things that could go wrong with a board member holding keys to every unit?

J.K., Fort Lauderdale

Your concerns are correct in that there is liability when the board keeps keys to units. You must also understand and calculate the gain-loss ratio to this situation. The board must establish a security key policy and only use the keys in an emergency. The statutes do allow the board to enter into units for emergencies and necessary inspections and repairs with proper notice to the owner. If a unit owner does not allow entry into the unit, either by providing a key or entry in person, then that unit owner can be held responsible for additional damage and repairs. In such a case where the owner is absent and has not provided a key to enter their unit, the board should have the right to call a locksmith or break the door, both at the owner’s expense. While you will not find a definition of an emergency in the statutes or your documents, my answer is that it is any action or event that is life-threatening or a cause that could result in injury or death or a malfunction or failure to cause equipment or property loss. I It is fairly clear that each owner should provide the board with a key to enter and make sure that the board has a proper key policy.

Q. In our condominium building we have one unit that the owners have not visited in eight or more years. They live in Canada. Recently there have been three instances in which a leak in their upstairs unit has caused damage to the unit below. They pay the repairs and their monthly fees, always on time. The issue is with the unit being empty for so long and not being checked on a regular basis — I feel this could be a hazard. After the first leak we had the water turned off. Then the air conditioning (HVAC) drain line backed up, and I have not heard what caused the third leak. What are our rights as neighbors to require the unit owner to maintain the interior of his unit in a livable condition? I suggested that we have the unit checked once a month for animal intrusion, have toilets flushed, faucets turned on, HVAC checkup twice a year and inspect for any damage. Our property management company said without the owner’s approval we would be trespassing and subject to arrest.

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