As anyone involved with Florida community associations will tell you, trying to keep up with the changes in rules and laws that impact the operation and management of condominium and homeowner associations can seem like a full-time job. Actually, that is our job, and the primary motivation for this article. We know how daunting it can be to keep yourself on the cutting edge of new information, and if we can make that task easier for our readers, it is time well spent.
One of the lesser discussed statutory amendments made in 2020 changes the registration requirements for 55+ communities under the Florida Fair Housing Act (“FFHA”). As general background, the FFHA makes it unlawful for any housing provider to discriminate against any person in connection with the sale or rental of a dwelling, or in the provision of services or facilities in connection therewith, because of race, color, national origin, sex, disability, familial status, or religion. To further the underlying goals of the FFHA, the Florida Commission on Human Relations was created as a resource for Florida residents, and to help promote and encourage fair treatment and equal opportunity for all persons.
As our regular readers know from previous posts, there are a number of ways the FFHA can impact Florida’s condominium and homeowner associations. One of the more common is the application of the FFHA to communities intended for persons 55 years of age or older. Under FFHA, housing for older persons is defined as any housing intended for and solely occupied by persons 62 years of age or older, or, if occupancy is by persons 55 years of age or older, at least 80 percent of the units are occupied by at least one person age 55 years or older. In order to remain qualified for the exemption, the housing facility or community must also adhere to senior housing policies and procedures and comply with rules developed by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development pursuant to 24 C.F.R. 100.
Prior to the passage of House Bill 255, 55+ communities were required to register with the Florida Commission on Human Relations, renew such registration every two years, and pay a $20 fee for registration and renewal. However, despite this registration requirement, the Commission had not charged a fee to register or renew 55+ communities since 2015. Perhaps more importantly, whether a community fulfills its registration requirements does not determine whether it actually qualifies for the housing for older persons exemption under the FFHA.
Fortunately, the Legislature recognized the existing registration requirements for 55+ communities was not providing significant value to Florida residents, and instead was creating an unnecessary expense and administrative task for these communities. In response, the registration and 2-year renewal requirements for 55+ communities have now been deleted – including any associated fees and fines. (The legislation also deletes language requiring the Commission to create procedures and set registration fees for communities claiming the exemption, given the registration requirement was being deleted.)
From a practical standpoint, it is important for association directors, officers, and managers to understand that the actual occupancy and community policy requirements that entitle 55+ communities to be exempt from discrimination claims have not changed, it is only the registration and renewal requirement that has been removed. Association representatives must still be vigilant to maintain and confirm entitlement to the exemption – they just don’t need to go through the added time, hassle, and expense of registering and renewing with the Florida Commission on Human Relations. However, given the complexity of FFHA regulations, associations would be well served to discuss these amendments with legal counsel before changing any standard operating procedures.