By Elizabeth A. Lanham-Patrie / Published June 2021
Florida associations are accustomed to preparing for hurricanes, but disaster plans should also account for other catastrophic events where there is often less advance warning, such as tornadoes, active shooter scenarios, and now global pandemics. Relying on outside crisis experts for guidance is crucial to ensure that your association is prepared to handle an unexpected and dangerous situation, and boards and managers can work with law enforcement, the fire department, or security consultants to establish a plan specifically tailored to the characteristics of the buildings and even the demographics of the community. Regardless of the emergency, communication is key, and disaster plans should therefore regularly be distributed or posted on the website. The plan should include information regarding evacuation routes or procedures for sheltering in place; information on alarms, security systems, and fire protection equipment; shutoff locations for elevators, water, gas, electricity, water, sewer, and air conditioners; and phone numbers of potential service providers and other professionals the residents might need in the event of a crisis.
Further, boards should work with their attorneys to discuss these plans and what powers the board has when a state of emergency is declared. Sections 718.1265, 719.128, and 720.316 of the Florida Statutes all address the emergency powers of an association. These emergency powers were interpreted last year to be applicable during the COVID-19 pandemic; however, to clarify this, the Florida legislature is proposing legislation to amend these sections of the Florida Statutes. The legislation is expected to be approved and specifically provides that the association can rely upon the advice not only of emergency management officials but also public health officials to determine if any portion of the common areas or facilities would be unavailable for entry and whether the common areas and facilities can be safely inhabited and “accessed.” The provisions in these statutes, which address mitigation of further damage, are amended to include mitigation of injury and contagion. Associations should consider amending their governing documents to include these statutory provisions and expand these emergency powers so that the association and its members clearly know what powers the board has prior to an emergency.
Elizabeth “Beth” A. Lanham-Patrie
Elizabeth “Beth” A. Lanham-Patrie has been practicing law since 1993, and she has focused on representing community associations since June 2001. Beth provides a variety of legal services to condominium, homeowner, and cooperative associations and is a transactional attorney with extensive experience drafting and amending governing documents and preparing and reviewing contracts. Beth is also involved in resolving disputes between associations and owners. She has prepared educational materials and presented seminars on various community association topics for condominium, homeowner association, and cooperative board members, including new board member certification classes. For more information, visit beckerlawyers.com.