The firm’s latest Miami Herald “Real Estate Counselor” column was authored by shareholder Nicole R. Kurtz. The article, which is titled “Condo Association Websites Can Help with Concerns Over Growing Budgets,” focuses on how the state-mandated websites for large condominium associations can become a very effective tool for allaying owners’ concerns over growing budgets and dues. Her article reads:
. . . By now, all Florida condominium associations with 150 units or more (excluding timeshares) should have launched a website that includes a password-protected subpage or portal for unit owners and association employees that is inaccessible to members of the general public. To comply with the state law, this subpage or portal must include, among other things, the recorded declaration of condominium and bylaws along with any amendments, the articles of incorporation filed with the state, and the association’s rules and regulations.
The website must also include a list of all executory contracts or documents to which the association is a party or under which the association or unit owners have an obligation; a list of the bids for materials, equipment or services received by the association within the past year; summaries of bids for materials, equipment or services which exceed $500 that were received from vendors during the past year; and the current annual budget, proposed budget, year-end financial reports, and monthly income or expense statements to be considered at a meeting.
For the many Florida condominium associations that are now contending with a heightened level of scrutiny from their members over proposed budget increases, making effective use of these websites can make an impact in mitigating and addressing owners’ concerns. Sharing documentation that supports budgetary increases could be essential to fostering trust and credibility with the membership, and maintaining such transparency may help to quell the rumor mill.
In addition to providing a platform for sharing statutorily required documentation and information with association members, some associations may find that the information contained within their websites can be expanded beyond the statutorily required scope to provide a more comprehensive tool for helpful information for their members.
For example, associations may consider including an FAQs page with answers to some of the latest and most common member questions. Proposed responses could be drafted by the treasurer, members of the budget/finance committee, other board members, and/or the property manager, as applicable, and they should be reviewed by qualified association legal counsel before posting. For communities that develop and distribute newsletters, this section and its future updates could also provide excellent content.
Financial statements, reports and budgets can be complex to review and comprehend, so associations, with the assistance of their accounting experts, may also wish to prominently feature helpful and informative summaries for these documents within their websites. These summaries could focus on highlighting revenues, expenses, trends, and any significant changes from previous years. For major expenses such as insurance premiums, landscaping, structural maintenance, amenities, and others, these summaries could include specific details to address anticipated member questions.
Communities that are undergoing major repairs or property improvements may also wish to consider using their websites to provide regular updates and status reports. The costs and funding for such projects may also be addressed and included.
For associations with committees, their hearings and matters of current concern could also be summarized and posted. Those communities that utilize a finance/budget committee would be especially well advised to highlight its work in considering and negotiating the expenses in the annual budget.
Associations may also wish to include a section within their website outlining efforts to safeguard the community against potential fraud, theft and abuse. By now, many larger Florida condominium associations understand they can become susceptible targets for unscrupulous fraudsters if they do not take necessary precautions.
Many are requiring two signatures on all checks, keeping the stockpile of blank checks securely locked away, conducting monthly reviews of all account and financial statements by multiple directors/managers, and maintaining adequate insurance coverage to protect against the loss of funds. Some are also conducting independent audits of all financial records by certified experts on a regular basis.
Without disclosing any potentially compromising information from a security standpoint, the website could reinforce the association’s dedication to the use of effective safeguards with the owners. This sends the message to the membership that the directors and property management are dedicated to maintaining the very highest level of integrity, professionalism and vigilance with respect to potential fraud, theft and abuse. . .
Nicole concludes her article by noting that with the heightened level of questioning that Florida condominium boards are experiencing from association members over necessary increases to the assessments, transparency and disclosure are becoming more essential than ever to maintaining community harmony and avoiding baseless dissent. She writes that by using community websites effectively, associations can take an important step to avert and address concerns over rising costs.
Our firm salutes Nicole for sharing her thoughts and recommendations on the effective use of condo association websites with the readers of the Miami Herald.