By Jane L. Cornett, Esq. / Published June 2023
In 2004 the east coast of Florida was struck in very short order by two significant hurricanes, Frances and Jeanne. While we learned many, many lessons from those hurricanes, one of the problems that we faced, over which we had limited control, was the issue of communication. While many clients did not have up-to-date email lists or phone numbers for several residents, even some residents who did have updated contact information could not communicate for up to three weeks as phone lines, cell towers, and electric service took that long to be restored. Even in the best of circumstances, communication was not possible for a week, making many owners and associations upset. Communication with local authorities was also disrupted. So, after 2004 we all learned to have a communication component in our emergency response plan, and most communities assembled multiple sources for the ability to “speak” to their owners, including cell phones, emails, relatives’ numbers, and websites.
After the recent Hurricane Ian that struck the west coast of Florida, the communication providers were, for the most part, able to restore service in fairly short order. So, communication for folks that had to relocate, since many folks were homeless, was less of a problem but still a challenge that most communities were prepared to address, having a disaster communication plan in place.
The communication issues that we have seen in 2022 relate to the need for communities to conduct votes. Condominium and homeowners’ associations, when faced with major significant damage, may have both the necessity and the desire to be able to get input from the owners who are scattered all across the country. One new, available solution for that problem is electronic voting. Conducting votes by electronic means is authorized by condominium, cooperative, and homeowner association law (see Sections 718.128, 719.129, and 720.317, Florida Statutes.)
A number of my clients who have faced significant restoration challenges have had the need, based upon their governing documents, to conduct votes of their membership. In other cases, even though votes were not legally required, the boards wanted to have input from the membership. Electronic voting very ably serves that need. Thus, while it may never have been a part of disaster planning, it is a great idea to have in place a methodology to conduct electronic voting and to have already acquainted your owners with the process so that it does not come to them as a big surprise in a time of crisis. There are some free services that will provide informal “polling” of owners, but most commercial electronic voting services also offer the opportunity to conduct information gathering by virtue of an electronic voting system. Along with all your other planning for a disaster, I recommend that you add to your list a non-traditional communication methodology, and that is electronic voting, whether required or just desired. If you need to conduct electronic voting to meet the requirements of your governing documents, then those systems must comply with the requirements of Chapter 718, Chapter 719, and Chapter 720 of the Florida Statutes. If you just want to get input from your owners, you would be able to utilize the free systems, and there are a number of those free systems out there on the internet. If you are not sure if a vote of the owners is optional or mandatory, your legal counsel can answer that question.
Each of the cited statutes requires advance preparation by the board in the form of an adoption of a resolution to offer electronic voting to the membership. If your community has not already adopted such a resolution, you should consult with your legal counsel about the process and content for that resolution. The adoption of the resolution should be a part of your disaster preparedness recovery plan. Since communication after a disaster is such an important concern, you should have your “toolbox” equipped with all possible alternatives, including electronic voting.
Office Co-Managing Shareholder, Becker
Jane Cornett concentrates her practice on representing condominium associations, homeowner associations, and golf course communities. She currently represents more than 325 associations in Martin, St. Lucie, Indian River, and Palm Beach Counties. She handles real estate transactions and is a title agent for Attorneys’ Title Fund Services and is also a certified circuit civil mediator. Ms. Cornett is one of only 190 attorneys statewide who is a board-certified specialist in condominium and planned development law. For more information, call 772-286-2990, email email@example.com, or visit www.beckerlawyers.com.