Should condo manager have keys to units?

Q: Several of us are having a problem with the board of directors about the manager having a key to our units. There are a number of reasons we don’t want our keys in the office, security being one of them.

We understand the condominium association has the right to enter all units for safety and health. We are in an 11-story building and recently installed cut-off valves on the first-floor units in case there is a water leak. In case of fire I don’t think the fire department will need a key to enter a unit.

All of us have put multi-locks on our door and have given the manager several telephone numbers to call for the lock combination of the lock. We feel we have complied with the law. I would appreciate your thoughts.

E.H., Naples

A: This is a common question and a common concern. Boards of directors and managers should establish proper safety and security policy and control if they require keys to all the units.

There are other reasons to make an emergency entry into units other than just water leaks. If immediate entry is required into a unit for a safety or security issue and a key or entry is not available, the board has a right call a locksmith, call the fire department, and even break down the door. Any such expenses would be added to the unit owner’s maintenance fees and expenses.

Here’s the question that you need to answer: What would happen if you were not immediately available when the board or manager needed entry into your apartment for an emergency?

The board and manager need to establish a secure key policy that includes a key safe and who has entry into that safe. A log should be kept of when a key is used for entry, including the date, the reason and who used the key. I would further recommend that a two-person policy be required to open the key safe/locker and to use the key to enter the unit. In addition written notice should be given to the owner that the apartment was entered and why.

Say you do not provide a key and you’re not available to open your unit in an emergency, so the board must call the fire department to break down your door. Others now have access to your unit, so what have you prevented?

When I’m faced with an owner who’s concerned, I suggest they provide a key placed in a small sealed envelope that is marked only for emergency entry. Every few weeks they should come into the office to confirm that the key is still sealed.

I can give you many examples of when entry is needed. In one case, the owner made a short trip to the grocery store and left the coffee pot on. A neighbor smelled smoke and reported it to the office. If the key had been available, the manager and a board member could have entered and used a fire extinguisher to put out the small fire. Instead, the fire department was called and took more than five minutes to come to break down the door. In that time the fire spread to other rooms. What could have been a small fire resulted in a major claim.

Q: I am on the board of directors in a community that is governed by FS 719. A vote is coming up at our annual meeting regarding people who have rented in the community for two years. A segment of our community wants to limit people from renting more than two years. They feel that renters get too good a deal and that more houses will sell if people cannot re-rent.

First, is it legal to restrict rentals in this manner? It seems that this would be interfering with a vested right, the right to do as you wish with your property. Second, if this would happen to pass, could we go to 719.304 or to 718.110(13) and say that the new bylaw would not affect current owners unless they consent in writing?

C.M., Winter Haven

A: Did the board consult an attorney? Any time you modify your documents, have an attorney review and advise the board if the amendment is proper and can be enforced.

Any rental restrictions could act as a negative to a buyer. I feel the board is making a shortsighted decision. If the board’s intent is to increase unit sales, then they need to have fewer restrictions on properties and better maintenance.

You need to think about this from a buyer’s side. Would you have bought your property if you found that they have strict rental requirements? I’m sure that a majority of buyers do not buy their home with the intent to rent. However, one never knows what the future will bring — health reasons or family matters could force them to move. Then they have three options: to sell the home, rent it or leave it vacant. At present our economy is slow and such a restriction could cause major problems for an owner who had to move.

I do not believe that this modification will make the properties in your community more attractive.

Write to Condo Line, Richard White, 6039 Cypress Gardens Blvd., #201, Winter Haven, FL 33884-4115, or e-mail Include name and city.