Q. Our upcoming election has resulted in what I call a fraudulent maneuver in our condominium. Two candidates have been soliciting illegal votes. They were knocking on doors of units with preprinted ballots that had been checked with certain candidate names marked. They handed the members an envelope and asked them to sign it and place the marked ballot in the envelope and seal it. They further directed the members to dismiss any other information received as this was their ballot. The interesting thing is that no ballots had been mailed by the board. Where do I go from here to report the issue?— E.T.
MiamiA. You need proof of this action. Then file a complaint with the state: Division of Florida Condominiums, Northwood Centre, 1940 North Monroe Street, Tallahassee, FL 32399. Their phone is 850-488-1122. It is not wrong for a candidate to go knocking on a door and ask the owner to vote for them. When they mark a ballot for someone else and then ask them to sign the envelope, you have a problem. Here is a quote from FS 718.112, "A unit owner may not permit any other person to vote his or her ballot "
Q. I would like to hire a structural engineer to verify if an owner has created a problem. He has dug a huge hole and filled it with stone at the corner of our condominium building. He did not have a permit or authorization from the board. Do I have a right to hire an engineer?— M.R.A. No owner has the right to encumber the condominium with an expense. This means that you cannot cause an expense that you expect the association to pay. If you decide to pay the cost of the inspection, what would you do if there are negative results? Only report the problem to the board and hope they correct the problem. I would suggest that you send a letter to the board and ask if they know of the hole and ask did they authorize the work. If the board is nonresponsive, then start calling the county's building and permits department and report the situation to them. The bad answer would be if the inspector finds problems and then fines the condominium. This is one example of a board that does not protect the common areas. As to the hole, my guess is that the owner had a rain drainage problem and was hoping to have the water drain into the rock filled hole. While that may solve his drainage, it can cause an undermining of the foundation of the building.
Q. Our condominium board has approved a special assessment to cover a shortfall in our budget. They say that items in the budget were underfunded when certain items needed repairs. They reported that the pool pumps failed as well as unexpected elevator repairs that were not anticipated. I have talked to several neighbors who claim that they are short on funds and cannot pay the assessment. How can the board approve an additional fee in times when the economy is so weak? Is there anything we can do to override the board?— K.E.
SarasotaA. The board is obligated to maintain the association and the common areas and cannot look at the economic situation of certain members. To do so they must assess the members to pay for such repairs and replacement in order to maintain and operate the condominium. They should develop an adequate budget with proper reserves. This must be done each year. It would appear to me that the budget did not have reserves. My feeling is that either the members voted for no reserves or the board has not adequately funded the reserves. In either case, if you have no reserves, the only way to pay for the necessary repairs is to have a special assessment.
Q. How does the owner/tenant ratio affect obtaining bank loans? Is there a set percentage across the board or is each community different? How do reserves fit into this picture? Does it matter if it is a condominium or townhome?— M.C.
ClearwaterA. The ratio is not a law but a policy enforced by the lenders. The ratio changes from time to time depending on the lender and the economy. The lender not only qualifies the buyer, the home/property, but the operations of the association. When most lenders place a loan, they plan to sell the mortgage to another lender or investor. Sometimes these mortgages are transferred several times. You can think of it as the mortgage company has a bundle of money that they can use to place mortgages. Once they use up their money, they cannot place any more mortgages. They find a secondary market that will buy all their mortgages and the mortgage company receives money to lend again. It is a circle that keeps the mortgage company in business. During the past two decades, the secondary market in the end would sell the mortgages to investors. Changes in the market allowed the mortgages to be collateralized. This means that "strips" of several mortgages would be sold as collateralized mortgage obligations (CMO) as well as other investments. You need to study how these CMO and the housing market failed and resulted in our current economy. Your question of the ratio does not involve condominiums or HOA. It involves the policy of the lenders. The same is true of the reserves. Some lenders require that the home/unit must be in an association with proper reserves and proper operations. Keep in mind it is not a law but lending policy established by each lender. In order for the mortgage to be sold, it is competitive and each lender would like to have the best package to sell. Thus, they place certain requirements and policies one being the owner/renter ratio.