Steve spoke with Gary Singer, a real estate law expert and member of both the Broward Attorneys Real Estate Council and the Florida bar. Gary is often quoted or referenced by Steve’s weekly real-estate roundup guest, Terry Story.
Gary, whose weekly “Ask a Real Estate Pro” column is nationally syndicated in about 400 newspapers throughout the country, also co-hosts “Legal News and Review,” a radio segment that runs every Monday at 3:30 p.m. on WSBR 96.9 FM. This week, Steve spoke with Gary about lessons that every homeowner needs to learn.
Lesson 1: Forget About The Legal Stuff – Stop The Damage!
When your home is damaged, don’t stop to worry about the legality—the first thing is to stop the damage! If there’s a hole in the roof, put a tarp over it. If there’s a cracked or missing window, cover it. Do whatever you need to do to stop current damage from getting worse. You can always deal with compensation or reimbursement later. Your first goal is to minimize the damage and thereby minimize the necessary repair costs.
Insurance is, of course, the best means of dealing with home damage. This includes flood insurance. While a lot of people think flood insurance isn’t a must, it can’t hurt. And if you’ve been watching the news lately, then you’ve seen that a lot of people who didn’t think they’d need flood insurance suddenly found out they needed it very badly. Today, there are a lot of deals and discounts when it comes to most types of insurance, and flood insurance is no different. Yes, if you have an apartment or condo the association responsible for it probably already has insurance. But the truth is that this insurance doesn’t cover inside your unit. Make sure you have the coverage you need.
Lesson 2: Getting What You Want
Another important lesson for homeowners to learn is how to get what you want. This covers a wide array of things, including dealing with apartment property management companies or getting your insurance company to actually pay on a claim. Patience and persistence pay off. Keep in mind that getting angry won’t solve anything. It’s okay to be firm: be resolved, but don’t be nasty. It’s pretty easy to let yourself get argumentative. Instead, maybe download a game on your phone that you can play while you’re on hold with the claims department. You can beat up on some little trolls in the game and maybe then avoid yelling at the people that you need to help you.
Lesson 3: Knowing What You Want And Staying Informed
Make sure you stay informed. If you live in an apartment complex or condominium, there are a lot of rules that can sometimes sneak up on you. Make sure you stay informed. Read all documents, pamphlets, and letters sent to you by apartment complex management or the homeowners association. Be aware that if you want to live in a well-maintained, pretty environment, there are going to be some controls, some rules, and you’ll likely have to forego a little bit of freedom.
Here’s a case in point: Gary’s brother lives in a lovely little condo complex in west Florida. The entire complex is tailored to the landscape, lawns are manicured, sidewalks perfectly maintained, etc. But in order to have all these niceties, Gary’s brother has to be willing to give up some freedom of choice. For example, he has to have a mailbox that meets specific size, height, and color requirements, and the homeowners’ association actually comes out with a ruler to make sure the grass in his lawn isn’t too tall.
In contrast, Gary lives where there isn’t a homeowners’ association. He says, “If I wanted to paint my house day-glow green, that wouldn’t be an issue. I like the freedom. My brother likes coming through the pretty gates. Understand who you are and buy the house that’s right for you.”
Lesson 4: Security Cameras
With so many technological advancements these days, almost everyone seems to have digital monitoring of their homes. Security cameras are popular, but, as with everything else, there can be rules about their use.
Homeowners’ associations (HOAs) often request that you get permission before putting up external security cameras. The reality is that it’s still a slightly unsettled area of law, which means that, depending on where you live and the specifics outlined in the lease you sign, you may not always have to ask for permission. If it can be seen from the street, it could be considered an aspect of a home that affects elevation or the home’s curb appeal. If the lease you sign (or the HOA agreement) has the rights to control your home’s elevation, you may have to ask for permission.
When cameras are unseen, there really is no way that an HOA can control whether or not you put a camera up, provided the camera doesn’t violate anyone else’s reasonable expectation of privacy.
If you decide to put up a camera, keep it low key. Avoid ones that come with a floodlight activated by motion (as those can become irritating or invade your neighbors’ privacy). Also, make sure that any cameras you install don’t point into neighbors’ windows or directly into the street. Cameras installed like this clearly invade privacy and make neighbors and visitors uncomfortable.
Lesson 5: The Issue Of Animals
Another area of major concern to be aware of is the issue of animals. Many leases or housing agreements specify a “No Pets” clause. This is usually done for one of the following reasons: either the apartment/condo is new or in really good condition and the landlord or owner wants to keep the space free from the wear and tear associated with pets or there’s a concern about noise and mess within the community.
If your lease or HOA agreement specifies that you can’t have pets, you’re required to abide by that. It doesn’t, however, include service animals. That is because, legally, service animals aren’t considered pets. This is sometimes used as a loophole, with individuals trying to sneak in pets, stating that they are service animals. Service animals are specially trained and come with certification from a doctor that shows their purpose. If someone has the necessary documentation on a service animal, then they must be allowed to have the animal.
To learn more about the legal aspects surrounding real estate or find out other things you should know as a homeowner, or simply to find out more about Gary, check him out at https://garysingerlaw.com/.
Disclosure: The opinions expressed are those of the interviewee and not necessarily United Capital. Interviewee is not a representative of United Capital. Investing involves risk and investors should carefully consider their own investment objectives and never rely on any single chart, graph or marketing piece to make decisions. Content provided is intended for informational purposes only, is not a recommendation to buy or sell any securities, and should not be considered tax, legal, investment advice. Please contact your tax, legal, financial professional with questions about your specific needs and circumstances. The information contained herein was obtained from sources believed to be reliable, however their accuracy and completeness cannot be guaranteed. All data are driven from publicly available information and has not been independently verified by United Capital.
Steve Pomeranz: From time to time, you might hear our real estate expert, Terry Story, quote my next guest. Why? Because he writes a great feature every week in a nationally syndicated column “Ask A Real Estate Pro” and that appears in the Sun Sentinel and I think about 400 other papers throughout the country.
You can also listen to him and his co-host … He’s a co-host on “Legal News and Review,” which airs on WSBR 96.9 FM 3:30 every Monday. His name is Gary Singer. Gary, welcome to the show.
Gary Singer: Steve, thanks for having me.
Steve Pomeranz: Let’s get right down to it because when I do my interviews with Terry Story, we always go ask Terry and then we see the material that you write. The material is all things about homeowners, home ownership and condo ownership, and stuff.
I saw an article that you wrote that said six lessons for homeowners. Let’s go through that list real quick. Go ahead. First one.
Gary Singer: You bet. Sure. About once a year, my editors let me do kind of a non-question and answer. The column is a question and answer, right? Just to take some lessons and give people tips on how to deal with their property. Let’s face it. You don’t have to deal with problems with your property every day. You don’t buy a new house every day.
Steve Pomeranz: Right.
Gary Singer: It’s hard to know what to do. My tips are pretty straightforward. When your home is damaged, the first thing you do is don’t worry about the legality. Stop the damage. Put a tarp over the hole in the roof, close the window, put a board over it. Whatever you have to do to not let it get damaged.
You can always deal with compensation later, but if you let it get worse that can actually hurt your chances of getting fully compensated. Don’t let your home get damaged further.
You should always make sure you have proper insurance on your property, including flood insurance. A lot of people, especially in condominiums, say, “Hey, the condo association has insurance. Why do I need insurance?”
Because the truth is it doesn’t cover inside your unit, and I’ve seen a lot of people get hurt by either having no insurance or by shopping insurance only by price. Make sure you get the coverage you need. You feel like you’re paying for nothing, but let me tell you, when it works and when you need it, it can save your financial life.
Steve Pomeranz: Well, let me take this a bit further here. If you’re not in a flood zone, would you still recommend getting flood insurance?
Gary Singer: If you’re in a flood zone or an optional flood zone, I do recommend getting flood insurance. Basically, if you can get the nationally subsidized flood insurance and be part of that program, you should get it. There’s a lot of things your normal homeowner’s insurance doesn’t cover that only flood insurance covers and if one of those things happen, anything you do basically with rising water, you say, “Hey, I’m on the fifth floor of the condo. Why am I going to worry about a flood?” Well, it could affect your whole condominium. Make it so that you can’t live in it, if you can’t get to the elevator to get up to the fifth floor, if you don’t have coverage, you’re going to lose valuable protections.
Steve Pomeranz: Now there’s a hole in your roof …
Gary Singer: And it’s cheap.
Steve Pomeranz: If there’s a hole in your roof because of a hurricane, let’s say, you have maybe a mini-tornado and your house gets flooded, does it cover that kind of flooding or is it only flooding from the ground up?
Gary Singer: Typically, your hurricane coverage would cover that incoming water from the rain, whereas rising water, say, you have flood surge, would be covered by flood insurance. You do need both.
Steve Pomeranz: Okay. Let’s move on. The next point is if you have a problem getting your insurance company to pay a claim, persistence and patience will pay off. Tell me about that.
Gary Singer: It’s not just your insurance company paying a claim. It’s also your mortgage company when they misapply a payment, your homeowners’ association when they do the same or they’re making a big deal because your mailbox is the wrong shade of green.
Be persistent and be patient. Don’t get mad at the person in front of you. Be firm. Don’t give up your rights. But always be polite. If you start getting nasty with the people, it’s not going to lead to something good. I understand you’re frustrated. Download a game on your iPhone and beat up on some little troll or something, but don’t yell at the person who you need to help you. It goes the wrong way.
While dealing with it and you’re dealing with any of those issues, take lots of notes, lots of photos. If they tell you something on the phone, send them a letter in email repeating it back to them, “Hey, I’m just going over what you said.” That sort of thing.
Steve Pomeranz: You know, when people live in a condominium, there’s an awful lot of rules sometimes and a lot of times people maybe don’t read the documents all that well or there’s a surprise rule that comes on them that they just don’t like. What do you recommend there?
Gary Singer: I recommend knowing yourself. You’ve got to know if you’re the type of person who wants to trade some of your freedoms, if you will, for a really well-setup, pretty environment that’s controlled.
Gary Singer: The perfect example is actually myself and my brother. My brother lives in a beautiful association, everything is manicured, out west in Florida. It’s beautiful but at the same time, he can’t make his mailbox any color. They come out with a little ruler to measure his lawn.
I live in Old Parkland where I don’t have any association. If I wanted to paint my house day-glo green, that wouldn’t be an issue. I like the freedoms. He likes coming through the pretty gates. It’s really what you want.
Know that if you’re going to live in that association, those rules apply to you too. Don’t go saying, “Oh, well, I want to do my mailbox, but I don’t want anyone else to.” Understand who you are and buy the house that’s right for you.
Steve Pomeranz: You know, here’s a question that came up that you answered in one of your columns and here’s the question.
Gary Singer: Sure.
Steve Pomeranz: “My homeowner’s association wants me to ask permission to put up a security camera. Can they make me do this?”
Gary Singer: That’s a really good question. That’s a slightly unsettled area of law, meaning that depending on the situation, that’s a question that can go either way. If the security camera can be seen from the street, then it might be considered something that affects what we call your elevation, which is the way your house looks. In which case, if they have in the docs the right to control that sort of thing, usually an architectural committee, you may have to ask permission to do it.
If it’s unseen, then they typically cannot as long as that camera doesn’t invade anyone else’s reasonable expectation of privacy, including in associations, which is a little different when you’re not. Sometimes the sidewalk or the street. If you’re going to have the camera make it low key. Don’t make it one of those ones that turns on a floodlight when there’s motion because it’s going to bother your neighbor and get a complaint. Make sure you’re not pointing into the neighbor’s bathroom.
Steve Pomeranz: Well, that’s the key.
Gary Singer: Or not pointing into the street. That sort of thing. Be reasonable with it. At the end of the day, if it’s done properly your association really can’t stop you from having a camera, but they can make you do it the right way and jump through a few hoops.
Steve Pomeranz: That’s good advice. By the way, Gary Singer is a practicing board-certified real estate attorney, so he knows of which he speaks. A lot of the issues these days come up with pets, especially in these condo communities. One question was, Jane asks, I always love saying that, Jane from Margate asks, “Our condo is designed pet-free in our community documents. I’m about to rent and I want to keep the apartment in good shape. If I include a no-pets clause in the lease” and here’s the point, “Am I forced to accept emotional support or service animals?”
Gary Singer: You know, the answer to this, and this is a question that’s so hot and we get all the time, both in my real practice and in the newspaper column. The point is, and she said it right in her question, you can put a no-pets clause in your lease and it’s perfectly valid and enforceable.
The reason is that an emotional support animal or a service animal is not a pet. It’s an animal. No, you can’t stop someone with a real disability from getting something to help them with that disability.
An emotional support animal is an animal, often times a small dog, that it doesn’t have to be trained but it does have a therapeutic benefit for people with psychiatric or mental disabilities. It provides therapeutic emotional support and because that’s someone who has a disability that needs help, you can’t stop it any more than you can say no to someone with a cane for example.
Steve Pomeranz: Got you.
Gary Singer: Now a service animal, and we typically think of that as a seeing-eye dog, is an even higher level of compliance with that and those are individually trained animals for specific tasks. We don’t get a ton of questions about service animals. I think people have that in their head, but because emotional support animals are occasionally abused where someone tries to sneak their pet through.
As a landlord, you can check. If it’s coming from some internet website, you can say no. It’s got to be a doctor, a real doctor, who you’re actually seeing but once you have that letter from that real doctor you can’t question it. You’re not a doctor. You can’t disagree with the diagnosis.
You know what? You can’t discriminate against someone with a disability. That’s just wrong. Forget legal. It’s illegal and it’s very…actually, you get in a lot of trouble financially, but it’s also wrong to discriminate against people so don’t do it.
Steve Pomeranz: Okay.
Gary Singer: Remember, the key to this is support animals are animals, not pets. If you remember that you know exactly where the line is.
Steve Pomeranz: If you see the word pets in the document and you’re thinking about support animals, they’re animals so that’s where you make the distinction?
Gary Singer: They’re not pets. Yeah. They’re for a real purpose of helping someone with a disability. They’re not pets. That’s right.
Steve Pomeranz: All right. Well, my apologies to all you homeowners because I do have another question and it’s about condos. I don’t know I’m focusing on condos today but this happened to my mother-in-law actually.
Gary Singer: Okay.
Steve Pomeranz: She was living in a community where there were two large separate buildings. The building she lived in, all of the plants and the design of everything outside was poorly kept up. Water would flood the driveways and plants were stomped on and never replanted.
The other building is where the president of the association lived. It was beautiful. She complained bitterly and you could see the difference and no matter what she did she couldn’t really seem to get any relief. What’s the story on the president of an association getting special dispensation? I’m not talking about criminal where they’re stealing money, though that may be something we want to address, but just this idea that they’re taking care of their own and they’re not taking care of the community.
Gary Singer: Sure. It’s pretty straightforward. The president of the board has to treat the whole community equal. They can’t treat themselves special. They can’t go and put all the nice stuff in front of their unit and ignore the rest. They have to treat themselves the same as everyone else.
Steve Pomeranz: What do you do? What do you do about it?
Gary Singer: The first thing you do obviously is complain. There’s power in numbers. The more of your neighbors that are annoyed by it and say something, the easier it is to get the problem fixed. You can do it the right way. You can write a letter to the board. You can go into the board meeting and try to discuss it with them. There’s a procedure for that.
If that doesn’t work you can have what’s called a recall election. If enough of the homeowners wants to kick the bum out, you can actually make a new election and kick the bum out and get a new board member who is going to treat everyone fairly in there.
The biggest problem with condos is that not enough people want to volunteer the time and trouble to run for the board so sometimes you end up with these situations.
The hard part with this is fixing this problem is going to take work and effort and time. It’s not an instant fix like you can call the condo police. There’s no such thing. You may have to get that recall election.
Now if you try to do that and you have the right numbers and they don’t want to cooperate with it you can get the state to step in. Now if it gets so bad and they’re abusing the docs, individual condominium unit owners do have a private right to enforce the docs.
For example, if they’re breaking community rules, if it’s a little worse than what you were describing, one unit owner can sue another unit owner to try to make them follow the rules.
Now I don’t recommend running out and doing this. It’s difficult and expensive but it is another option if all else fails.
Steve Pomeranz: Okay. Good. Well, my guest Gary Singer writes a column every single week in the Sun Sentinel, which is syndicated throughout the country. You can also catch him on WSBR 96.9 FM from 3:30 to 4 every Monday. He is a practicing board-certified real estate attorney. Gary Singer, thank you so much for joining us and filling us in with all your wonderful knowledge.
Gary Singer: Thanks for having me.
Steve Pomeranz: Take care.
Gary Singer: Take care. Appreciate it.
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