Q&A: Looking for Information

Q I own a condo unit and recently I asked to get a copy of my building's insurance policy. The board's management told me that they only give this information out when an owner is buying, selling or refinancing, none of which I am doing. Am I entitled to this information? If so, how can I compel my management company to allow my access to it?

—-No Access in Apopka

A “All three of Florida's housing statutes (Chapter 718 for condominiums, Chapter 719 for cooperatives and Chapter 720 for homeowner's associations) clearly provide that members of the association have broad and unconditional rights of access to the 'official records' of the association,” explains attorney Joseph Adams of Becker & Poliakoff in Naples.

“There are some limited exceptions to these rights (certain privileged legal information, medical records, unit owner private information, etc.) but none of the exceptions in the law apply here. In fact, all three statues specifically list current insurance policies as part of the 'official records'.

“If you are having a dispute with your association regarding your right of access to official records, I would suggest that before turning to legal action, you send a certified letter to the association requesting access to the records you wish to review. This way, there will be no doubt as to whether the association received (or should have received) your request. Please remember that the association is not obligated to send the records to you, but only make them available for inspection where they are kept. In connection with your inspection of association records, you also have the right to ask for copies to be made at a reasonable per-page cost.

“If the association does not provide you with access to records within ten working days after receipt of your request, a presumption arises that your legal rights have been violated. In the law, a presumption means that the association goes from “innocent until proven guilty” to “guilty” until proven innocent.

“An owner who has been wrongfully denied access to records is entitled to “statutory damages” of $50.00 per day, capped at $500.000. A unit owner or parcel owner who goes to court to enforce their right to access records is entitled to recover their attorney's fees if they are the prevailing party. Records access disputes, in the condominium and cooperative context, must first be pursued through the State's mandatory, non-binding arbitration program before going to court.

“Another option is to simply file a complaint with the Division of Florida Land Sales, Condominiums and Mobile Homes. I have found that the Division takes records access complaints very seriously and can often assist in convincing a recalcitrant association to comply with their legal obligation. While I am of the belief that state agencies are not a panacea for resolving internal disputes in most situations, they have proven to be effective in this arena.”

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