BRADENTON -- Do you know how to get four months of hot water free? Do you know who pays when a sewer line breaks and a condo unit is damaged?
Members and guests of the Federation of Manatee County Associations (FMCCA) do, and they learned a lot more than that last night when about 40 people crowded the large meeting room at the Manatee County public library in downtown Bradenton for the venerable group's monthly meeting.
Speaker Don Sayre, an FPL community outreach official, broke down the costs and the bills for the group's members and fielded questions on a dozen topics, including one from a board member who couldn't understand why his bill had fallen by almost two-thirds over the past four months. (In January, a fuel cost savings was passed on to customers, Sayre said.)
It costs $7 to run a fan for a month, Sayre said, and a costly but efficient heat or hot gas recovery system used with your air conditioner can produce big savings, he said. Bill Wheeler, one FMCCA member, told the audience his heat recovery system gives him free hot water for four months every summer. Sayre also said it's cheaper to wash dishes in a dishwasher than by hand, and that washing clothes with cold water instead of hot can make a difference in your electric bill.
Sayre pointed out that by comparison with every other utility in the state, FPL's average bill is the lowest at $95. By contrast, Fort Lauderdale bills average $177, according to a comprehensive chart he displayed on the library's movie screen.
The FMCCA meeting was also attended by new people from Manatee and Sarasota counties after a letter from the group's President, Jim Kaiser - acting on a suggestion by member Kay Duncan - appeared in the Bradenton Herald and Sarasota Herald Tribune pointing out that the organization has been helping homeowners deal with HOA (Homeowners Association) problems for many years.
The letter brought in a storm of telephone calls in the wake of recent publicity about a Lakewood Ranch woman who has been fined for having too many small objects decorating the base of a tree in her front yard. She videotaped the same kind of offenses at the homes of her association's board president and other board members, who promptly removed the offending tsotchkes.
Members heard a variety of complaints about condominium management companies, homeowners associations and owners themselves. In Heather Glen, for instance, homeowner's association President Bill Neville said, it's becoming hard to police homeowners who want to park several cars in their front yard. He was told that doing so violates a Manatee County environmental ordinance, and that the Manatee County department of neighborhood services, headed by Anne-Marie Harper, will use the code enforcement bureau team to help.
Another homeowner told of a covenant that seems to rule out a child's swing set in his home's backyard. The swings are a "structure," the covenant indicates, and indeed even the manufacturer's name for the set includes the word. He's gotten 93 of the association's 120 members to sign a petition to allow them, but he said the association board has cancelled the meeting where he intended to present it. He was told that the petitions, if not acted upon in a reasonable time by the board, would nonetheless have no effect since it would require a board votye to change the covenant.
Another complaint concerning slow production of minutes was resolved after several weeks, one owner told the group, but yet another member presented a scenario in which he had successfully recovered $650 from a homeowner's board that refused to turn over documents to which he was entitled. A state law allows an owner to recoup a fine of $50 per day when a board refuses or fails to respond to certified letters requiring action on the board's part. The enforcement, however, depends on the owner going to small claims court in most cases, and that in turn requires a $150 filing fee, he said.
An elderly woman told of a broken sewer pipe 60 feet from her condominium unit that had caused $1,100 in damages the homeowner's association refuses to cover. She was offered help by a volunteer letter writer, and several people assured her that the association's insurance is liable, not her, for anything that damages her unit from outside the unit.
For one woman, the problem was a demand from her association that all hot water heaters older than eight years be replaced. She was refusing to let a C&S Condominium Management employee into her unit to determine the age of her hot water heater. She was told that C&S, one of the larger management companies in the county, in acting to carry out decisions of the board, had a right to enter the property to verify the board's requirement.
She was also told the association had the right to keep a key to respond to emergencies when the owner was not at home. At the end of the meeting she joined the FMCCA and paid her $5 annual membership fee for individuals. Associations pay $1 per household to join.
The same woman also was worried about mold behind a wall that had been repaired by the management company's own employees. She admitted she had never seen the mold, and she didn't want the employees in her apartment. Her case could not be resolved without someone making a determination that the mold exists, she was told, which would mean having her own contractor come in to inspect. Some of the questioned repairs occurred five years ago, she said.
A man who was removed from the board of another homeowner association was told he could demand that C&S provide him with a detailed explanation of a purported 90-day delinquency which had fostered his removal. The delinquency was just $19.30, he said, and had never been explained.
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