Q. We have a board member who goes around to elderly owners to have them fill out proxies so they vote for him. This person also pays for 100 owners to have a dinner at the clubhouse to win votes. He has been doing this for years with no repercussions from the president or anyone on the board. Is this bribery legal? Shouldn’t the person be removed from the board? Please advise.
—Resident Who Thinks This Is Unfair
A. “Politics, politics, politics. It does make the world go around, and the world of community associations is no exception,” says Richard Larsen, the founder and Senior Attorney at the law firm of Larsen & Associates, P.L., located in Orlando, Jacksonville, Sarasota and Daytona. “But, is the solicitation of proxies and the wining and dining of association members to get elected to the board ‘illegal bribery’ under the law in Florida?
“The simple answer is No. Under Florida law, the type of activity this reader illustrates is not, from a legal standpoint, bribery—nor is it an activity that is against the laws of Florida.
“Under both the Condominium Act (718, Florida Statutes) and the Homeowners’ Association Act (720, Florida Statutes), association members, including current board members, have the legal right to solicit and collect proxies for any legitimate voting held by the association. In the case of homeowner associations, proxies may be used for voting on many things, from document amendments to elections, and the Florida Statutes simply do not prohibit this type of ‘wining and dining.’ Condominium members are prohibited by statute to elect the board by use of a proxy. However, like in a homeowners’ association, the Condominium Act does not directly prohibit the solicitation of proxies for other matters requiring a vote.
“Does this mean that there is no line that a member can cross when seeking election to the board? Absolutely not. While assisting the elderly to fill out a proxy or holding a ‘rally’ dinner is not crossing a line, committing a crime while soliciting does cross the line. For example, intimidation and physical threats against a person or property are crimes by themselves and certainly would violate the law.
“Finally, remember, we are talking about whether this activity violates Florida association law, which it does not. However, remember to carefully review your association’s governing documents relating to this issue. Although such provisions are rare, your documents may place some specific restrictions on certain types of proxy solicitation situations which are not contained in the Florida Statutes. Any such provisions found in your documents may be enforced in the same manner that you enforce other violations of your restrictive covenants.”