Q: I am a unit owner in a small well-established condominium complex. It is run by longtime board members who do a good job maintaining the property, etc. It came to my attention a few weeks ago that a section of the covenant stipulates that each unit owner must turn over a key to one of the board officers. The person holding the bank of keys happens to be an 80-year-old retiree. I was told the purpose for turning over a key is so someone can gain access to my unit in case there is an emergency and I am not home (i.e. water pipe breakage or leak). There is nothing in the covenants that specifically states what constitutes an “emergency.” The problem I have with this rule is giving access to my condominium to a person I do not know. Plus, what if someone breaks into the key custodian’s condominium and steals all the keys or makes copies for later use? It is unclear how the keys are secured. And if the 80-year-old custodian is ill and in the hospital, how do the keys get retrieved in case of an emergency? It seems the board and the association are taking on a large legal/liability issue. My question is twofold: Is it proper or legal (although it is stipulated in the condominium covenants) that every owner be required to give a key to a board member for emergencies? And aren’t the board members and association taking on a huge liability/lawsuit, considering all the things that could go wrong with a board member holding keys to every unit?
J.K., Fort Lauderdale
Answer: The statutes do allow the board to enter into units for emergencies and necessary inspections and repairs with proper notice to the owner. If a unit owner does not allow entry into the unit, either by providing a key or entry in person, then that unit owner can be held responsible for additional damage and repairs. In such a case where the owner is absent and has not provided a key to enter their unit, the board should have the right to call a locksmith or break down the door — at the owner’s expense.
Although you will not find a definition in the statutes or your documents to clearly define an emergency, I will give you my answer: Any action or event that is life-threatening or could result in injury or death or a malfunction or failure to cause equipment or property loss or damage to such equipment. In other words, if a situation happens, one would need to evaluate the situation and take necessary action.
Your concerns are correct in that there is liability when the board keeps keys to units. But you must consider and calculate the gain-loss ratio to this situation.
It is fairly clear that each owner should provide the board with a key to enter and make sure that the board has a proper key policy.
Richard White is a licensed community association manager. He does not offer legal opinions; any other questions and comments concerning association operations can be sent to Richard White, 6039 Cypress Gardens Blvd., No. 201, Winter Haven FL 33884-4115; or email firstname.lastname@example.org.