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Education: The 1st Step In Becoming An Association Board Member

By Christopher Carter - Real Estate Broker Associate

October 5, 2023

Running a residential Owners Association in Florida is a business, not a social function. Condominium and Homeowners Associations are corporations structured similarly to well-known public and private companies in which the Board of Directors has specific responsibilities and obligations. Your Board is an elected group of owners responsible for making decisions which protect the interests of the Association as a whole.

Holding such a position of trust and responsibility requires specialized education and training in order to competently fulfill the duties attached to being a Director of the Association.

(This is a by-request resend of an article from earlier this year. In recent months, the number of comments and questions from readers regarding their Association Board's function have noticeably increased. Proper education for Directors significantly increases the effectiveness of Board function, reducing owner questions and complaints.)

For an introduction to Board function and responsibility, take a look at this article: Fiduciary Duty - Mandatory For Florida Association Board Members:

When running for a seat on the Board, it is a good idea for candidates to compose a 1-page outline of their qualifications, previous experience, skills, and motivation for being part of Association leadership. Before the election is held, management sends these to all voting owners so they can get to know the candidates.

At this point, potential Directors are not yet familiar with their: required fiduciary duty to all owners, obligation to oversee building and grounds maintenance, and administration of a corporation with a large annual budget and high-balance bank accounts.

It is NOT an easy job...and Directors do not get paid for their time or effort.

Florida's Condominium Act (Florida Statutes Chapter 718) and Homeowners Association Act (Chapter 720) both require that each newly-elected or appointed Director "shall certify in writing to the secretary of the association that he or she has read the association’s declaration of (condominium or covenants), articles of incorporation, bylaws, and current written policies; that he or she will work to uphold such documents and policies to the best of his or her ability; and that he or she will faithfully discharge his or her fiduciary responsibility to the association’s members" within 90 days of being elected or appointed.

Both Acts go on to say: "In lieu of this written certification, within 90 days after being elected or appointed to the board, the newly elected or appointed director may submit a certificate of having satisfactorily completed the educational curriculum administered by a division-approved condominium education provider within 1 year before or 90 days after the date of election or appointment."

Here are a few observations and discussion points on how the Florida Statutes address Director education:

• Under the "self-certification" method, it is unlikely that any incoming Board members are able to accurately interpret and apply what is written in COA or HOA Governing Documents. They can be notoriously confusing, even after reading them multiple times.

• Neither the Condominium Act nor the Homeowners Association Act requires new Board members who "self-certify" to read any parts of either Act, which are the highest levels of jurisdiction and regulation (State laws) over Florida residential Owners Associations. Both Acts only require new Directors to say they have read their own Association's Governing Docs. (I am NOT making this up.)

• Directors' self-certification statements and class attendance certificates become part of the Association's Official Records, though it is very rare for anyone to ever follow up on whether they were received. The "penalty" for non-compliance (only determined after 90 days has elapsed) is limited to suspension from the Board only until a self-certification statement is given to the Board Secretary.

• Any self-certification or class completion certificate is good for as long as the Board member continues to be re-elected or unchallenged at term expiration, and wants to remain on the Board. Since 2018, the term limit for COA Directors stands at 8 consecutive years. There is no term limit for HOA Board members. (Yes, really)

• There is NO requirement for re-certification or Continuing Education at any time during a Director's term in office for either a Condo or HOA.

• Florida's statutory Board "education" requirements are embarrassingly insufficient. Association Directors oversee financial accounts containing hundreds of thousands of dollars in owners' money, are responsible for maintaining the Association's common elements and areas, and must adhere to State laws and the Governing Docs at all times. Sitting through a 2-hour class (or just signing a paper saying they read something) is just the start of preparing new Board members to make decisions that affect all owners in the building or community.

Without properly guided initial education, newly-elected Board members don't know what they don't know.

How can interested owners prepare themselves to be competent, effective Association Directors?

• Do NOT even think about "self-certification." Trying to read through your Association's Governing Docs on your own will raise countless unanswered questions, frustrating you even further. Current Board members, Property Managers, Real Estate Agents, Pickleball partners, or other owners CANNOT explain Association Governing Docs to you. Only Florida-licensed attorneys can interpret and explain Florida Legal Documents to others. (Yes, Governing Docs are Legal Documents.)

• Before running for a Board seat, attend a Director Certification Class offered for free by quite a few very good Law Firms throughout Florida. They are presented in person and via Zoom. The attorneys teaching these classes are specialists in Condominium and Planned Development (HOA) Law, classes last about 2 hours, there is time for questions at the end, and you will receive a completion certificate along with a written class outline. (Be sure to list the class completion on your candidate qualifications sheet mentioned above.)

• Wherever you are in Florida, if you would like a referral to an attorney-conducted Board Certification Class, send me an email. I am not affiliated with any Law Firms, though do communicate regularly with many of them.

• After you take the initial class and are elected to the Board, pursue your own Continuing Education even though it is not required. There is always new information about Florida COA and HOA governance. Stay in touch with the Law Firm who presented your initial certification class and sign up for their newsletters on COA and HOA issues.

When you actually know what you are doing, this Director job gets MUCH easier!

Regrettably, ongoing education for Association Directors is NOT required by Florida Statute. In my opinion, this is one of the more disturbing omissions in our State's Condo and HOA Laws. There is the potential for Directors to remain in office for 8 years (in a COA) or even longer (in an HOA) without ever attending a refresher class or being aware of new legislation. This circumstance inevitably leads to "stale" and inefficient administration.

Remember - Continuing Education for Board members is FREE, just like the initial certification classes. There is no excuse for Directors not to continue learning while they serve on the Board.

Many of us involved with Association governance topics in Florida are still trying to have State Representatives and Senators address some of the weaker spots in the Condominium and Homeowners Acts, one of which is Mandatory Board Member Education.

We would like to see mandatory initial and continuing Board education classes be made part of the Florida Statutes, and "self-certification" removed completely as an option. As stated at the top of this article, the huge majority of problems that occur within COAs and HOAs are preventable through competent, informed administration. FAR too many Directors (both newly-elected and experienced) still try to wing it.

Today's article has been a collection of discussion points urging owners and Directors to address the business of running their Associations and be more aware of the need for proper Board Member education, both initial and continuing. Please forward it to anyone you know who is involved with Owners Association governance issues - your Board, other owners, Management Company, State legislators (especially legislators).

Editor's Note: Christopher Carter is NOT an attorney. He does not give legal advice. For interpretation and application to specific circumstances of anything you read in this article, you must speak with a Florida-Licensed attorney.

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