Richard White: Rental program for storage area is recommended

Q. I live in a mobile home cooperative that has storage space for boat trailers, motor homes and several boat slips available to residents. The association does not charge for the use of these areas. However, there is a demand for the space and creating a demand. The board is talking about charging a special fee to use the area. The statute states that we cannot charge for the use of common areas unless our documents allow it or the members approve the charges. Can it be mandatory for us to charge for the exclusive storage use in this area? Are the members, who do not have exclusive use of the area, entitled to a reduction in their fees?

— R.J.

New Port Richey

A. If you think about the situation, the association is granting exclusive use of the common area space for one owner. This could be called a limited common area. There are maintenance costs for this space where the association must expense. Although small, each space will add up to a larger expense for the association. You may have lights to secure the area, insurance costs to protect the area, landscape costs, fencing repairs, and other expenses such as bookkeeping. I find that in such a situation, an exclusive use of the space does in effect deny other owners from that space. If the members agreed to allow rental fees for the use of the spaces, it would be included in the budget as an income. Thus it would reduce the total income amount needed in fees. It would be the same as an owner renting the clubhouse for a private party. I do suggest that you have a form, somewhat like a rental agreement, preferable drafted by an attorney. There are huge amounts of liability for the association allowing storage of RV, trailers, boats and other vehicles. For this fact alone, I recommend a rental program for the storage area and rental of the clubhouse and other common facilities.

Q. I am on the board of a condominium. We have an owner who has requested to have copies of the minutes for the past two years. Do we have to give to the owner copies of the minutes even if the board does not want to provide the minutes to him?

— L.N.

Miami

A. Minutes are official records and must be retained in a minute book for seven years like all other required official records. Any owner may request in writing to see the book. The board must schedule a time for the owner to see and read the book. If the owner wants copies, the board can charge a reasonable copy cost. If the owner would like to have the copies mailed, the association can charge for the postage. The section you need to read is found in the Condominium Act FS 718.111 under Official Records.

Q. As the surviving spouse of the deceased owner of a condominium, I am entitled to a life estate on said condominium. I pay maintenance charges and real estate taxes. Now the board is enforcing a big special assessment. Since I am over 90 years old, should I pay it or should it be paid by the estate or the remainder owners of the property?

— E.L.

Miami

A. Regardless of who pays, it must be paid. If you have a problem with the payment, notify the estate holders for help. Failure of paying the special assessment will result in the association filing a lien and foreclosing on the unit. Then the estate holders will lose title to the unit and you will be on the street. The final answer is to pay the special assessment.

Q. I am currently serving in the U.S. Air Force out of the country and will be transferred soon to the Tampa area. My wife and I have decided that we would like to purchase a condominium in the Tampa Bay area when we return. In the past, we purchased homes and used an inspector before purchase. How do I determine the condition of the association? What documents must be provided and what should I ask? What about reserves, special assessments, future repairs or unexpected expenses? Any assistance is appreciated or recommendations for material recommended.

— W.J.

USAF

A. Thank you for your service. Tampa is a great place to live and the state of Florida is a great state with great weather and things to do. The state has a Web page with information to help understand condominiums. Go to www.myflorida.com and search “buy a condominium” or something like that. They have several articles that you can access to study. My column does not allow me time or space to properly answer your very important question. One thing to keep in mind is our current economic situation. Many associations have too many delinquent owners, so you need to find out details of their financial positions. But, that is a good thing for buying as the market should allow you to buy at lower prices. I recommend that before you start looking, make a list of things you need or want. Such as a location near the air force base, near shopping, near a bus line, on the water, swimming pool, adequate parking for two cars, are pets and dogs allowed, and the list should go on with your preferences. As you are inspecting the properties, compare the list to the condominium before you sign an offer. It is critical that you obtain a copy of the current documents with any amendments. Read them to determine if there are restrictions you cannot live with such as listed rules. You need to have a copy of the current budget and financial statement. Evaluate the reserves to see that they are collecting adequate reserves. While the state requires reserves, they allow members to reduce or eliminate reserves. If you do find a condominium that you like and they do not have adequate reserves, reduce your offer to compensate for the loss of that value by not having such reserves. While it is difficult to determine if the association is properly operating, your inspection of the property should determine the better condominiums. Look to see how clean the halls and lobby are, if the landscape is green and crisp, and areas such as the pool deck restful. You should ask questions, if possible to a director or manager, such concerns as pending lawsuits, possible insurance clams, and past history of these events. I suggest that you use a real estate agent familiar with condominiums and an attorney to close the transaction.

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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