BY TODD PATON
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.
The law provides specific guidelines for condominium associations. In an effort to foster accountability and transparency, the legislation also governs how websites must be built and managed.
The legislation went into effect on July 1, 2017 and adds several requirements and prohibitions to the Florida Condominium Act and Florida Statutes Chapter 718 governing condominium associations. In a nut shell, the legislation mandates that boards become more accountable and transparent to their constituents.
While most of the thousands of condominiums in Florida are managed with integrity, some are not. The bill basically puts board members on notice that they can face felony charges if found guilty of specific breaches. There is a long 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 starts with a website, and the law clearly stipulates how these destinations must be structured. They must be secure and provide specific information. The Florida legislature clearly believes they must be much more than online brochures.
The bill requires that all condominium associations with more than 150 units must have a compliant website by July 1, 2018. It is one of the first steps in creating an environment that is transparent.
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. We read about these security breaches every day. They have time to select a website developer that is familiar with protocols related to security. Keep in mind that while attractive design and ease of navigation are important, there is nothing more important than protecting and securing valuable information. In short, information should only be available to those who are entitled to seeing it – residents of the condominium.
The new law stipulates that specific information must be updated in a timely fashion. Consequently, these sites should be easy to update so that the association remains compliant with the law. In addition, the new legislation maps out some very specific characteristics for a website. They include:
- Each owner must be provided a login and password
- The website must contain the various association official records including all condominium documents, rules and regulations, management and other agreements
- It must publish the annual budget and proposed annual budget, financial reports, board certifications, notice of any unit owner meeting and the agenda, including any document to be voted on, within the statutory time periods. They must be posted in plain view on the front page or a separate subpage labeled “Notices,” which is conspicuously visible and linked from the front page.
There are other requirements that may not directly relate to the website, but require the orderly sharing of information to all residents.
- Any information and documents which are restricted from being accessible to unit owners may not be posted on the website or, if posted, the protected information must be fully 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 the business world, they haven’t necessarily been part of the day-to-day operations of condominium associations. It is refreshing to see that these standards are being applied to the organizations, which in many cases govern the status of our most valuable assets – our homes. With the passing of this bill, the legal onus is now on the board of directors to follow these laws. The legislation is in the best interests of homeowners and the lines of open communications starts with a functioning and informative website.
Todd Paton is president and founder of Paton Marketing. It creates research-based dynamic websites and implements lead-generating Search Engine Optimization (SEO) campaigns. With offices in South Florida and overseas, Paton Marketing represents clients in a wide range of industries, including community associations, medical, retail, legal, financial services, hospitality and many others.