Florida's 'Homeowners' Association Bill of Rightshas officially taken effect on Oct. 1, as a response to increased oversight of the state's HOAs. This legislation is seen as a critical step toward strengthening the oversight and governance of the state's HOAs.
Born out of necessity, the bill is Florida's proactive response to increasing reports of mismanagement and corruption in various HOAs. The spotlight turned to the issues surrounding homeowners' associations when the Hammocks HOA, in particular, found itself embroiled in a massive corruption scandal that reverberated on the national stage.
The law's passage can be traced back to the high-profile case of the Hammocks HOA, where leaders faced accusations of theft. "We had one of the most ambitious projects in regard to attaining more accountability and transparency for the HOA and the residents who live in these communities," state Rep. Juan Carlos Porras said. Porras, who sponsored HB 919, added that Hammocks Community's corruption scandal was a pivotal force behind this legislative move, noting, "The intent of the bill is still there."
Ana Danton, a Hammock's homeowner who played a crucial role in the arrest of five individuals from her H.O.A., expressed mixed feelings, "It was not approved what we expected." On the corruption in boards, she noted, "These corrupt boards have a corrupt system, with the vendors who assist them to stay in power." Danton believes the law should hold those in power accountable without necessitating lawsuits.
On the topic of consequences, Porras explained, "At the moment there is nothing higher than a misdemeanor, in the original bill we did have some felony charges but with certain conversations was the appropriate consequence at the time." The lawmaker also mentioned that understanding and support for the bill were sometimes lacking among legislators from Central and North Florida.
"There are two very important parts of the bill that were approved. One of them is the criminal penalties for election tampering and any sort of interfering that comes with an election," Porras highlighted.
The "Homeowners' Association Bill of Rights" includes several other critical aspects:
- Meeting Notices -All notices for homeowners' association board meetings must now identify the agenda items.
- E-mail Notices - The law revises the use of a member's e-mail for sending notices.
- Deposits - If an HOA collects a deposit from a member, such funds must be kept separately, and members can request an accounting of these funds.
- Kickbacks -Any officer, director, or manager accepting kickbacks faces monetary damages under s. 617.0834, F.S.
- Removal from Office - Officers or directors charged with certain crimes, including forgery, theft, or obstructing justice, must be removed from office.
- Conflict of Interest - The law now requires officers and directors, including those in developer-controlled associations, to disclose activities potentially posing a conflict of interest.
- Fines - The notice requirements for imposing and collecting fines have been updated.
- Voting Fraud - The bill introduces criminal prohibitions related to fraudulent voting activities, punishable as first-degree misdemeanors.
As Florida's communities grapple with these changes, only time will tell if the "Homeowners' Association Bill of Rights" succeeds in bringing transparency and accountability to the state's myriad HOAs.