Richard White: Owner responsible for notification of address change, late fee payment

Q. My question is this. I may have forgotten to give my management company my forwarding address when I moved in 2005. Their invoice was apparently forwarded in 2006 as the dues were paid. I do not recall if the invoice had a place for a change of address to be noted. For whatever reason, I did not receive an invoice for 2007 and unintentionally did not pay the dues. I believe the post office would have returned the invoice to the sender with a forwarding address label and a note saying the time for forwarding had expired. If so, why was not my address updated at that time? My current renter forwarded me the 2008 invoice, which I promptly paid. Then I got a bill at my current address for past due fees and lien expenses. Believe me, I had no clue I owed this money. A For Sale sign was placed on the property with the agent’s phone number displayed. No attempt was made to reach either the agent or me. Am I liable for these fees? I am sure this type of thing happens to folks fairly often. — J.G., Tampa

A. I hate to tell you this but in truth you have the obligation to pay your fees without any notice by the association as long as they send information to the last known address. When you purchased your home, part of the title requirement was to comply with the documents. Those documents required you to pay your fees on time. Those documents did not say that your association had the responsibility to hunt or locate your new address although it is a good procedure to attempt to locate missing owners. You had the responsibility to notify the association of your current mailing address. The association does not have the responsibility to contact a real estate agent because they are not part of your agreement with the agent. What I would suggest is that you immediately contact the attorney and pay the past due fees and costs. Take it as a lesson on association ownership. As to the number of owners that move and fail to provide the association with their moving address is less than 1 percent, but there are some that think they will wait to pay as you did. Remember that you owe your fees and need to make payments on time.

Q. We had a unit owner file a lawsuit against the association. He lost the case after two years and some $30,000 in legal expenses. He vowed to get back at the association. He knows how to manipulate people and the system. To get back at the association, he ran for the board and after many cocktail parties won a director’s position on the board. As a board member, he made life difficult in every which way imaginable. His constant discussions delayed major projects and cost the association large sums of money. Once his term was up, he was not re-elected. He continued to complain to the state, fabricating stories about funds and procedures. The state’s investigation discovered that he had transferred title because he owes a high sum to the IRS in back taxes. Our attorney feels that we can do nothing since it does not involve the association. I do not understand how ownership can change without an approval from the association? What can we do to protect our association from future antics? — T.G., Miami

A. There is always one in every community. It is just that yours seems worse than others. I am sure that other communities have stories of challenging owners like yours. I would suggest if he is not in violation of any rule and is current on his fees, let him live his own life. Forget him and let him dig his own hole. Owners like this will live their life in distress, have high blood pressure, and be without friends. As to requiring your members to seek approval to transfer title, it would have to be in your documents. If you do not have a requirement for approval, then your association will need to amend your documents. Have your attorney guide you in the amendment.

Q. We located a condominium we would like to buy. They are older two-story buildings. An owner in our building last year had a concrete patio installed with a screened enclosure in the rear. We think this was constructed on common ground. If we buy the condo, do we have the use of the patio? By what right can he construct a private use of the common grounds or is the patio no longer common ground? — C.D., Ft. Lauderdale

A. I am sure the documents do not allow an owner to privately use the common areas. While there are several sections in the statutes addressing private use of common areas, Section FS 718.107 defines conveyance to a private use. The board of directors does not have the right to grant private use of the common areas but the owners can vote to allow the transition. A unit owner does not have the right to acquire common area private use without the members’ approval. That would be granted at a members meeting and a vote of the members. In my thinking, there are two major problems. The first is: Did the owner obtain construction permits issued by the county/city? If the county/city did issue permits, they should have received approval from the association. The second problem is with the board of directors. Did the board improperly grant approval or did they fail to act to enforce the documents? In any case, I would think twice about buying in this building as the situation indicates there may be other problems with operations and management. I would suggest that you find out if the matter was voted on by the members or why the board did not take action. It is important to find out if the county or city did issue a permit. Since you are not an owner, you must have the seller provide the answers for you. Request that the seller write the board a letter and request written communications with the answers. In addition, have the seller file a request with the county/city to confirm that they issued a permit and what were the details. You will want all answers in writing for your records.

Richard White is a licensed community association manager in Florida. Questions should be mailed to him at 6039 Cypress Gardens Blvd. # 201, Winter Haven, Fl. 33884-4415; e-mail CAMquestion@cfl.rr.com. To be considered, questions and comments should include the author’s name and city. Questions should be about association operations, not legal matters.

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