A large, seemingly trustworthy property management firm appears to have absconded with HOA money. How can HOAs protect themselves going forward?

NAPLES, Fla. – Question: Given the recent scandal of a local management company and their handling of condominium funds, can you outline a way to verify these property management companies? Are there membership associations to look at? Are there ways to view their competency? I reviewed a couple of state websites to no avail.

Answer: Excellent question. There are no management-specific objective rating services such as Martindale Hubble for lawyers or AM Best for insurance companies that I know of. General business rating services such as the Better Business Bureau are, in my experience, not much help in truly evaluating a management company.

So, when doing so, I would recommend you review the management companies and the individual manager’s license history through the Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR). This can be done at www.myfloridalicense.com. Both the management company and the individual manager need to have a license. You can also review the license complaint history.

However, when reviewing the complaint history, it is important to determine the outcome of the complaint. Unfortunately, oftentimes in my experience disgruntled owners will file unfounded complaints that result in a finding of no cause on behalf of the manager. So, the mere filing of a complaint is not dispositive of the manager’s quality or ability.

Next, you should check references and not just the references that the manager may provide you. There are several trade organizations that managers and other vendors that service the community association industry typically belong to, such as the Community Associations Institute. You can also consult Condominium Owners Managers Associates at www.comaofflorida.com.

Finally, ask the directors or officers of other community associations and your other professional vendors (CPA, lawyers, insurance agents and bankers) who they recommend.

Question: We had our condominium election recently. Many homeowners live out of the state and some out of the country. They did not receive their election ballots in time to return them for the election because of the slow mail. This seems unfair as many owner votes did not count. I think the election should be redone to allow time for people to vote.

Answer: This has always been a common complaint, but it has become more frequent because of the slow mail delivery lately. The Condominium Act and the HOA Act require the notice of the annual meeting and election be sent at least 14 days before the date of the annual meeting and election. Nothing prevents the association from sending the notice with more time such as 30 days in advance, but it is not required to do so.

The Condominium Act does provide that the notice cannot be sent more than 34 days before the meeting. So, in your case as long as the notice and ballot were mailed at least 14 days before the meeting, there is no violation of the law or code that would require the election to be done over.

In the future, in addition to sending the ballots with more time to return them, the board should consider adopting electronic voting. Electronic voting eliminates the mail delay problem and saves time and money counting votes, and eliminates common errors such as an owner failing to sign the outside envelope.

Richard D. DeBoest, Esq., is partner of the Law Firm Goede, DeBoest & Cross. The information provided herein is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. The publication of this article does not create an attorney-client relationship between the reader and Goede, DeBoest & Cross, or any of our attorneys. Readers should not act or refrain from acting based upon the information contained in this article without first contacting an attorney, if you have questions about any of the issues raised herein. The hiring of an attorney is a decision that should not be based solely on advertisements or this column.

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