In condominium associations throughout the state, it is common for there to be seasonal unit owners who leave their units unoccupied during portions of the year. For associations faced with periodically unoccupied units in multifamily condominium buildings, there are distinct legal issues worth considering in advance of problems arising.
Florida’s Condominium Act (the “Act”) does not require absentee unit owners to have their unoccupied units periodically inspected for damage or deterioration. To overcome the absence of a statutory requirement, associations may adopt amendments to their declaration of condominium so that such inspection requirements are enacted to avoid problems originating in unoccupied units going undetected and/or unreported for long periods. Additionally, while the Act authorizes associations to “operate” association-installed hurricane protections to guard against damage to the condominium property, it does not require such protection to be installed. Therefore, it may be prudent to require all unit owners, including but not limited to absentee owners, to install such protection. To incentivize compliance, Section 718.111(11)(j), Florida Statutes provides that the responsibility for damages not paid for by insurance proceeds is shifted from the association to unit owners when such damages result from the unit owners’ failure to comply with the association’s declaration or rules.
The Act provides associations with an irrevocable right of access to enter units when necessary to undertake maintenance of common elements, and as necessary to prevent damage to common elements or to a unit. Associations should ensure that their documents or rules require a working key to all exterior doors and/or that contact information for local persons caring for unoccupied units be provided to the association. It is not recommended for an association to wait until an emergency arises before first contemplating how it will gain access to unoccupied units.
Fortunately, this subject is one that most association law practitioners have addressed in one manner or another. Condominium associations that find themselves concerned about unoccupied units are encouraged to discuss this with legal counsel so that a strategy for dealing with such units may be developed.