TALLAHASSEE — Tampa-area lawmakers are seeking to protect hired managers of homeowners associations as the state Supreme Court decides whether some of their job duties constitute unlicensed – and thus illegal – lawyering.
State Rep. Ross Spano, R-Dover, held a press conference Thursday to announce the latest version of legislation designed to clarify what community association managers can do without having to hire an attorney.
Bills now in the legislature (HB 7037, SB 1466) would would spell out specific duties managers can perform and codify certain forms they regularly need to fill out. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, is sponsoring the Senate companion.
Roughly two million Floridians live in a neighborhood overseen by a homeowners or community association, according to Spano’s news release.
The Florida Bar, which regulates the state’s legal profession, has asked the Florida Supreme Court for an advisory opinion.
Attorneys say community managers are doing more things, like filling out legal paperwork, that rightly should be done by qualified lawyers.
Managers, and the homeowners they work for, counter that they should be allowed to fill out forms without the expense of an attorney, which is sure to increase association fees.
That kind of paperwork has gone up in recent years as areas have had to deal with recession-induced foreclosures, for one example.
“It’s important that these folks have clarity,” said Spano, who is an attorney. “We’re trying to provide a safe harbor in which they can operate.” The unlicensed practice of law is a third-degree felony, punishable by up to 5 years in prison.
In 1996, the state Supreme Court laid out what community managers couldn’t do, including drafting lien documents and deciding certain procedural questions.
The chair of the Bar’s real estate section requested an updated opinion in a 2012 letter, saying the court needed to include a list of added activities.
They include “preparation of a certificate of assessments due once a foreclosure against the unit has commenced,” “preparation of documents concerning the right of the association to approve new prospective owners” and “drafting of amendments to covenants, bylaws, and articles of incorporation.”
This year’s legislation, if passed, would expand what managers can do by putting such activities into state law.
A representative of The Florida Bar said the legislation still needs work, including adding a provision that association managers are legally responsible for their own mistakes.
Spano said his bill is set for consideration by the House Judiciary committee next week.
How to sound off
HB 7037/SB 1466 would protect hired managers of homeowners associations from unlicensed practice of law prosecutions.
To find and contact your own senator or representative, visit www.leg.state.fl.us. You’ll also find helpful tips at the Information Center there.