Florida’s Sunshine in the Government Act, (“Sunshine Laws”) requires transparency and disclosure in government and business. Although the Sunshine Laws do not apply to condominium associations, the Florida Condominium Act (“Act”) found in Chapter 718, Florida Statutes, contains its own set of “sunshine” requirements for these communities, with transparency being the key to compliance. Issues generally arise in condominiums when there is or appears to be a lack of transparency between the board of directors and the association members.
First, boards need to determine which gatherings must be open to association members. While boards may desire to avoid certain topics in open meetings, the Act requires board meetings to be open to members; in fact members have a statutory right to attend such meetings. A “meeting” of the board occurs when a quorum of the board members is present. There are two statutory exceptions to the requirement that board meetings must be open to the members: 1) meetings with the association’s attorney to discuss proposed or pending litigation, if the meeting is held for the purpose of seeking or rendering legal advice, and 2) when “personnel matters” are under discussion. Personnel matters should be limited to discussions of specific issues pertaining to association employees. So, can individual board members meet or call one another to discuss association business as long as the meeting or phone call comprises less than a quorum of the board? Yes. However, remote meetings of a quorum of the board still constitute meetings that must be open to members. Notwithstanding the foregoing, the Act provides that members of the board of administration may use e-mail as a means of communication but may not cast a vote on an association matter via e-mail.
The second important “sunshine” law is the noticing of meetings. The requirement that meetings be open to members is of little benefit if owners do not know when or where the meetings are taking place. Under the Act, notice of all board meetings must be posted conspicuously on the condominium property for at least 48 hours before the meeting. However, certain meetings, such as meetings where non-emergency special assessments or amendments to rules regarding unit use are considered, require notices to be mailed, delivered, or electronically transmitted to the unit owners AND posted conspicuously on the condominium property not less than 14 days prior to the meeting. The notices also need to clearly identify the agenda items that will be discussed at the meeting.
The Act also provides owners certain rights at board meetings. Owners have a right to speak at all open board meetings on all designated agenda items. The right to speak does not mean that every unit owner is entitled to endlessly debate motions, but it does mean that the owners are entitled to be heard regarding matters the board intends to consider at the meeting. The association may adopt written reasonable rules governing the frequency, duration and manner of unit owner statements. Owners may also record or videotape such meetings.
What about committees? The sunshine laws also apply to committees that are empowered to take final action on behalf of the board, or committees that make recommendations to the board regarding the association budget. Under the Act, all committees are subject to sunshine requirements unless the association bylaws specifically exempt committees from the sunshine laws.
If you have questions about these laws and how to handle meetings in your community, contact your community association attorney.