It’s the Manager’s Fault…Or Is It?
Disclaimer: In January 2022 the The Division of Florida Condominiums, Timeshares, and Mobile Homes of the Department of Business and Professional Regulation issued an opinion which drastically alters the information provided herein. Please consult with an attorney of your choosing to obtain the latest guidance in this ever evolving area.
Few professions have more demands placed upon them than that of the Florida licensed community association manager (CAM). Depending on whom you ask, the CAM is the organizer, rules enforcer, keeper of secrets (meaning confidential and statutorily protected information not limited to the medical record of owners and attorney-client privileged information), best friend, the “bad guy” (a frequent misconstruction), and the first person in the line of fire when things go wrong; in other words, the one who takes all the blame and gets little credit when things go right.
When things at the association go wrong, what comment is most likely heard? “It’s the manager’s fault!” But, is it? Unless the manager failed to carry out a lawful directive from the board, breached a management contract provision, or violated a Florida statute, then in all likelihood, the manager has no culpability. CAMs are licensed by the State of Florida pursuant to Part VIII of Chapter 468 of the Florida Statutes, and there are statutory standards by which CAMs must conduct themselves.
Pursuant to §468.4334, Florida Statutes, “[a] community association manager or a community association management firm is deemed to act as agent on behalf of a community association as principal within the scope of authority authorized by a written contract or under this chapter. A community association manager and a community association management firm shall discharge duties performed on behalf of the association as authorized by this chapter loyally, skillfully, and diligently; dealing honestly and fairly; in good faith; with care and full disclosure to the community association; accounting for all funds; and not charging unreasonable or excessive fees.”
As set forth herein, statutory standards provide guidance to CAMs as to how they should conduct themselves. They must discharge their duties with skill and care and in good faith. They must act with loyalty to their association employer and deal with the association both honestly and fairly. They must provide full disclosure, which can be interpreted as both keeping the board informed of current events and providing disclosures of any conflict of interests. They must be able to account for all funds, too, which means both assessment income and expenditures; in other words, they must mind the budget.
Best practices for CAMs include becoming extremely familiar with the governing documents of the association (including the declaration, articles of incorporation, bylaws, and rules and regulations) and the financials of the association, walking the physical property, engaging with their team and residents, as well as providing weekly status updates to the board regarding all ongoing association business. If you are a CAM and do these things, then you have an opportunity to shine and stand head and shoulders above your peers and competition. This weekly status report is an excellent communication tool yet seems to be a rarity. CAMs should also make themselves available to owners. However, when an owner becomes offensive or insulting, the CAM should politely and firmly request that the owner communicate respectfully and in a professional manner. A CAM should always be financially transparent and should be extremely familiar with the management contract to fully understand her obligations and authority; for example, the limitation to spend association funds. Finally, the CAM should strive to keep a written record of her activities.
The two most obvious and biggest ways to get in trouble include committing acts of gross misconduct or gross negligence in connection with the profession or contracting on behalf of an association with any entity in which the CAM has a financial interest that is not disclosed. Disciplinary actions against a CAM fall under the purview of the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR). Section 455.227, Florida Statutes, governs grounds for discipline, penalties, and enforcement.
For example, the following activities constitute grounds for which disciplinary actions may be taken by the DBPR (this list is not all inclusive):
(i) making misleading, deceptive, or fraudulent representations in or related to the practice of the CAM’s profession; (ii) intentionally violating any rule adopted by the DBPR; (iii) being convicted or found guilty of, or entering a plea of guilty or nolo contendere (“I do not wish to contend”) to, a crime in any jurisdiction which relates to the practice of, or the ability to practice, a CAM’s profession; (iv) having been found liable in a civil proceeding for knowingly filing a false report or complaint with the DBPR against another CAM; (v) attempting to obtain, obtaining, or renewing a license to practice a profession by bribery, by fraudulent misrepresentation, or through an error of the DBPR; (vi) failing to report to the DBPR any person who the CAM knows is in violation of the laws regulating CAMs or the rules of the DBPR; (vii) aiding, assisting, procuring, employing, or advising any unlicensed person or entity to practice a profession contrary to law; (viii) failing to perform any statutory or legal obligation; (ix) making or filing a report which the licensee knows to be false; (x) making deceptive, untrue, or fraudulent representations in or related to the practice of a profession or employing a trick or scheme in or related to the practice of a profession; and (xi) performing professional responsibilities the licensee knows, or has reason to know, the licensee is not competent to perform.
The Florida Administrative Code, in Rule 61E14-2.001, also provides standards for professional conduct which are deemed automatically incorporated as duties of all CAMs into any written or oral agreement for community association management services. A CAM must adhere to the following standards:
- comply with the requirements of the governing documents by which a community association is created or operated
- only deposit or disburse funds received by the CAM or management firm on behalf of the association for the specific purpose or purposes designated by the board, community association management contract, or the governing documents of the association
- perform all community association management services required by the CAM’s contract to professional standards and to the standards established by §468.4334(1), Florida Statutes
- in the event of a potential conflict of interest, provide full disclosure to the association and obtain authorization or approval; and
- respond to, or refer to the appropriate responsible party, a notice of violation or any similar notice from an agency seeking to impose a regulatory penalty upon the association within the timeframe specified in the notice.
In addition, during the performance of community association management services pursuant to a contract with a community association, a CAM cannot withhold possession of the association’s official records or original books, records, accounts, funds, or other property of the association when requested in writing by the association to deliver the foregoing to the association upon reasonable notice. However, the CAM may retain those records necessary to complete an ending financial statement or report for up to 20 days after termination of the management contract. Additionally, a CAM cannot (i) deny or delay access to association official records to an owner, or his or her authorized representative, who is entitled to inspect and copy the association’s official records within the timeframe and under the applicable statutes governing the association; (ii) create false records or alter the official records of an association or of the CAM except in such cases where an alteration is permitted by law (e.g., the correction of minutes per direction given at a meeting at which the minutes are submitted for approval); or (iii) fail to maintain the records for a CAM, management firm, or the official records of the association as required by the applicable statutes governing the association.
How do you know if your association requires a licensed community association manager? Pursuant to §468.431, Florida Statutes, if the association has 10 or more units or has a budget of $100,000 or more and the person is conducting one or more of the following activities in exchange for payment, the person must be a licensed CAM:
- controlling or disbursing funds of a community association
- preparing budgets or other financial documents for a community association
- assisting in the noticing or conduct of community association meetings
- determining the number of days required for statutory notices
- determining amounts due to the association
- collecting amounts due to the association before the filing of a civil action
- calculating the votes required for a quorum or to approve a proposition or amendment
- completing forms related to the management of a community association that have been created by statute or by a state agency
- drafting meeting notices and agendas
- calculating and preparing certificates of assessment and estoppel certificates
- responding to requests for certificates of assessment and estoppel certificates
- negotiating monetary or performance terms of a contract subject to approval by an association
- drafting pre-arbitration demands
- coordinating or performing maintenance for real or personal property and other related routine services involved in the operation of a community association, or
- complying with the association’s governing documents and the requirements of law as necessary to perform such practices.
However, a person who performs clerical or ministerial functions under the direct supervision and control of a CAM or who is charged only with performing the maintenance of a community association and who does not assist in any of the management services described above is not required to be licensed.
So, whose fault is it when things go awry? A CAM’s role is far different than that of a rental complex manager who often has decision-making authority. The CAM does not have that same type of decision-making authority. The CAM must take direction from the board and perform pursuant to the obligations set out in the management agreement and Florida law. It is the board of directors of the community association that actually makes the decisions. So, while the uninformed might blame the CAM, you now know that the buck stops with the board of directors. If you have further questions regarding a CAM’s responsibility, then please discuss this with your association’s lawyer.
(Reprinted with permission from the October 2021 edition of the Florida Community Association Journal)