It's a truism that's been phrased many ways by many wise people: “A lack of transparency results in distrust and a deep sense of insecurity.” That's the case in any number of situations, but it's especially applicable to the administration of a condo, HOA, or co-op community. Lack of clear, forthright communication between boards, managers and unit owners is one of the top perennial complaints association members have about living in their communities, whether they're small, self-managed buildings or sprawling suburban developments. As far as residents are concerned. being transparent means having a board that’s open and honest, not secretive.
Not only do condo community residents like administrative transparency in their associations, Florida law actually demands it. According to that State Attorney General’s Office website, “Florida began its tradition of openness back in 1909 with the passage of Chapter 119 of the Florida Statutes or the 'Public Records Law.' This law provides that any records made or received by any public agency in the course of its official business are available for inspection, unless specifically exempted by the Florida Legislature. Florida's Government-in-the-Sunshine Law was enacted in 1967. Today, the 'Sunshine Law' establishes a basic right of access to most meetings of boards, commissions and other governing bodies of state and local governmental agencies or authorities.”
“Under Florida law, community associations have to be open to their owners with regards to the operations of the community,” says Michael Hyman, an attorney and shareholder with the law firm Siegfried Rivera Hyman Lerner De La Torre Mars & Sobel LLP in Miami. “In the Sunshine Law, there’s an openness policy that requires all meetings to be conducted in an open setting where all interested owners can come to the meeting and participate. The concept is that every owner has a right to understand how their community government is operating.”
In the absence of transparency, mistrust tends to flourish, say the pros. “When the association representatives are not effective in their communication, dissent among the owners tends to increase,” says Robert Kaye, managing firm member of Kaye Bender Rembaum in Pompano Beach. “When only those with negative messages about the association, the board, and/or management are communicating to the owners, and there is nothing from the association, owners may also tend to believe what they receive.”
To improve transparency and communication, the Sunshine Law has three basic requirements: meetings of public boards or commissions must be open to the public; reasonable notice of such meetings must be given; and minutes of the meetings must be taken, promptly recorded and open to public inspection.