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Seasonal Residents: Stay Involved With Your Owners Associations

By Christopher Carter - Real Estate Broker Associate

June 29, 2023

Seasonal residents of Florida have long been referred to as "Snowbirds" because they come here during the winter months to enjoy our warm weather, beaches, and tropical lifestyle, then around this time of year they head back "up north" until next winter.

For this article, we are talking about owners of Florida properties in Association - Governed buildings or communities who only occupy their residences during winter months. This can be either a Condominium Owners Association (COA) building or a Homeowners Association (HOA) Community.

Staying informed while you are away is just as important as making sure the A/C is set properly, the water is turned off, lighting timers are in place, and all the other things you do when you won't be in your Florida residence for the summertime off-season.

One of the main reasons people buy properties in COA’s and HOA’s is so they can be away for extended periods while built-in security and shared common area maintenance continue during the time they are gone. This provides great peace of mind when owners will be away from their Florida residences for part of the year.

Property owners automatically become Association members when they buy into a Condominium Building or HOA Community. Each Association elects a Board of Directors to oversee the business of the Association, representing and protecting the owners' collective interests.

It is VERY important for seasonal residents of Florida Condo Buildings and organized communities to stay well-informed and current about what is going on year-round, not just during the time they spend here. Maintenance projects, administrative matters, and planning sessions come up in the summertime while things are slower than the busy winter season when more owners are living in their properties.

Some winter-only residents may not be aware that during July and August, parts of South Florida receive torrential rains just about every afternoon. Summer rains can cause water intrusion to houses and condos, along with localized flooding of yards, streets, common areas, community ponds and lakes.

On top of that, Florida's Hurricane Season runs from June through November, the months when most Snowbirds are not occupying their Florida residences. Storms can hit anywhere in Florida, from the Keys to the Panhandle, so it is very important to know how your Association prepares for (and cleans up after) rainy season and summertime storms. You have a sizable investment in your Association-Governed building or community, so be aware of what happens when you are not there.

Here are a few ways seasonal residents can stay engaged with their Associations while away from their Florida houses or condos:

• Request that your Board and Manager communicate Association business with you via email in addition to any statutory notification requirements. This will include dates and times for periodic meetings. You will have to opt-in to electronic notices.
• Attend Board and member (owner) meetings remotely via Zoom or other live video platform
• Speak with your individual Board members regularly, asking questions and commenting on Association operations, your Board of Directors needs owner feedback
• Become relatively familiar with your Association's Governing Documents, especially the Rules for Residents
• Read the online edition of a local newspaper to follow what happens in your Florida town or city
• Open and read every Association newsletter you receive
• Communicate regularly with other owners to discuss Association and property issues
• Understand the difference between a ballot and a proxy when voting on Association matters, and how each one is used

Condominium and Homeowners Association Boards have the ability to make certain decisions on their own without an owner vote. On the other hand, some decisions do require an owner vote, and just about ALL topics that come before the Board benefit from owner input and viewpoint.

Here is one of the most important reasons for seasonal residents to stay well-informed and participate in Association business:

For some topics that require an owner vote, COA’s and HOA’s are allowed to only count the number of ballots cast and proxies returned ("members present and voting") when calculating voting results. For other topics, the Association must use the total number of owners eligible to vote ("total voting interests") when calculating the number of owners in favor of that topic.

Depending on the matter being decided, it could take either a simple majority (51+%), or a 2/3 (66+%) majority for approval, two common standards for measuring voting results in Florida Associations. Those percentages can result in very different outcomes when they are applied to either all eligible owners or just the ones who felt like voting.

By not voting at all because you are a seasonal resident, you could be indirectly approving of something with which you strongly disagree.

Here are some hypothetical scenarios for seasonal residents to consider:

• What if your Board wants to spend Association money (owners' money) on something that you feel may not be in the best interest of all owners? Will you express a viewpoint or wait to find out the money has already been spent when you return next winter?
• Do you feel that some maintenance or repair needs of the building or community are being overlooked or postponed? Rainy summer weather in Florida can magnify all sorts of maintenance issues.
• Would you want to know that the possibility of a Special Assessment is being discussed because there may not be enough money in a Reserve account to pay for a large maintenance or replacement item?
• What if your Board is starting to discuss amending the Association's Governing Documents or changing some Rules for Residents? You will want to express your viewpoint and have as much time as possible to research the issues before a vote is scheduled.

Seasonal residents own their individual condo units or single-family houses just as much as full-timers own theirs. They have the same rights and are required to pay their Association's scheduled Assessments (dues or fees) whether or not they happen to be in Florida when the payment is due.

The main takeaway today is for seasonal residents to do everything they can to stay well-informed and participate in the operation of their Owners Associations, even in the off-season.

You are the year-round owner of your Florida Condo or HOA residence. Don't think of it as just a vacation timeshare. Stay involved with your Owners Associations.

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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