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Proposed Legislation Intended to Provide Servicemen with Ease of Work and Living Creates Issues for Community Associations and Landlords

Senate Bill 184 is set to be presented to Governor Scott for his signature.  This bill, in part, addresses the rental of property to “servicemembers,” and applies to condominiums, cooperatives, homeowner associations, and landlords.  If signed into law, the bill would become Florida Statute Section 83.683.

The pertinent section of Fla. Stat. 83.683 requires a landlord, condominium, cooperative, homeowner association, or landlord to complete the processing of a rental application submitted by a servicemen within a specified timeframe. The Florida Senate House Message Summary, prepared by The Professional Staff of the Committee on Military and Veterans Affairs, Space, and Domestic Security, says that a landlord is required to process a rental application from a military servicemen within seven days of submission. Within that seven day period, the landlord must provide a written response of the approval or denial of the application, and if denied, the reason for the denial. If they do not provide a timely denial of the rental application, the landlord must lease the rental unit to the servicemen if all other terms of the application and lease are met.

It is not difficult for professionals experienced in the rental property and community association industry to see the pitfalls for their clients.  First, there is no requirement for the applicant to disclose they are a serviceman as part of the application.  So, unless a landlord or community association proactively requires that information as part of the application process, they are unlikely to know they are bound by the seven day processing period.

Community associations will have a difficult time adhering to the seven day timeframe even if they are on notice the applicant is a servicemember.  Seven days is unrealistic for a volunteer board – who at most only meets once a month – to receive, process and review a rental application in light of all the statutory and documentary procedural requirements in order to take appropriate board action.  For example, in a managed community, when the manager receives a rental application they often order a criminal background and credit check.  If an issue is spotted, the application goes to the board of directors to decide whether to approve or deny the application.  Clearly, seven days to accomplish all of this is unreasonable.

The language in the proposed legislation also raises questions regarding its potentially broad scope. The bill’s language refers to Fla. Stat. Section 250.01. Section 250.01(19) defines servicemember as “any person serving as a member of the United States Armed Forces on active duty or state active duty and all members of the Florida National Guard and United States Reserve Forces.” Section 250.01(13) defines the national guard as “the Army National Guard and the Air National Guard.” Finally, Section 250.01(2) and (6) define “’Air National Guard’ and ‘Army National Guard’ to mean that part of the National Guard of a state or territory of the United States, Puerto Rico, or the District of Columbia, active or inactive.”

Therefore, since the last phrase in the definition is not limited to “active duty” reservists, one can argue the bill applies to active and inactive duty reservists.  Potentially, the bill even applies to those members of the Individual Ready Reserve whose initial enlistment is 8 years.  It is doubtful the legislature intended this bill to have such a broad application.

With the legislation’s extraordinarily short compliance period and its potentially broad application, we anticipate numerous community associations and landlords will unwittingly fail to process a servicemember’s rental application within seven days resulting in approval of applications that would otherwise be legitimately rejected.

The bill has not been presented to the Governor just yet, so it is not entirely in the clear at this point. However, it is set to take effect July 1st. You can rely on us to keep an eye on this bill, and inform our readers of its progress.

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