In today’s digital world, the public’s view of an organization frequently comes with the click of a mouse, leading to a website. Thanks to a new bill governing the operations of condominium associations in Florida, these associations must abide by strict regulations regarding the characteristics of these online properties.
This became law in June with Gov. Rick Scott’s signature. It provides specific guidelines for how condominium associations must be run. To foster accountability and transparency, the legislation also governs how those associations’ websites must be built and managed to better serve residents.
The legislation went into effect July 1 and adds several requirements and prohibitions to the Florida Condominium Act and Florida Statutes Chapter 718. In a nutshell, the legislation mandates that boards become more accountable and transparent.
While most of the thousands of associations in Florida are managed with integrity, some aren’t. The bill puts board members on notice that they can face felony charges if found guilty of specific breaches. There is a laundry list covering electoral fraud, forged signatures on ballots, conflict of interest and misappropriation of funds, to name a few.
In today’s world, transparency and communication start with a website; the law clearly stipulates how these destinations must be structured. They must be secure and provide specific information. The Legislature clearly believes they must be much more than online brochures.
The bill requires that all condominium associations with more than 150 units have a compliant website by July 1, 2018. It is one of the first steps in associations creating an environment that is transparent for residents.
One of the major concerns with online commerce is that sensitive documents and personal information will somehow be compromised and shared with those outside of the association. Associations have time to select a website developer familiar with protocols related to security. In short, information should be available only to those entitled to see it – residents of the association.
The new law stipulates that specific information be updated in a timely fashion. Consequently, these sites should be easy to update so the association remains compliant with the law. In addition, the new legislation maps out some specific characteristics for a website. They include:
Each owner must be provided a login and password.
The website must contain various condominium association official records, including all condominium documents, rules and regulations, management and other agreements to which the association is a party.
It must publish the annual budget and proposed annual budget, financial reports, board certifications, notice of any unit owner meeting and the agenda within statutory time periods. They must be posted in plain view on the front page of the website or a separate subpage labeled “Notices” which is conspicuously visible and linked from the front page along with any document to be considered and voted on by owners during the meeting or any document listed on the agenda, notices of board meetings and agendas within the statutory time periods.
There are other requirements which may not directly relate to the website, but nevertheless require orderly sharing of information.
Any information and documents restricted from being accessible to unit owners may not be posted on the website or, if posted, the protected information must be redacted.
Condominium official records are expanded to include bids for materials, equipment and services.
Annual condominium financial reports must be provided within five days of request by a unit owner, and specific remedies and enforcement by the division are provided for failure to meet this requirement.
While these types of websites are voluntarily standard in business, they haven’t necessarily been part of day-to-day operations of Florida community associations. It is refreshing to see these standards applied to the organizations, which in many cases govern the status of our most valuable assets – our homes. The urgency is obvious since the vast majority of Floridians live in association communities.
The legal onus is now on boards of directors to follow these laws. The legislation is in the best interests of homeowners and the lines of open communication start with a functioning, informative website.
Paton is president and founder of Paton Marketing, which creates research-based websites and implements lead-generating search engine optimization (SEO) campaigns.