By Jan Bergemann

Published June 1, 2012


The big number of arbitration cases over “material alterations” is a clear sign that these two simple words can cause a lot of havoc. One would think that the two words “material” and “alteration” would be self-explanatory. That’s clearly not the case, as every community association lawyer can tell you. And even arbitrators and judges don’t always agree with each other.


The actual explanation in simple English would be: Change of material – right? But it seems nothing is easy in community associations.


In his “Handbook” former Condo Ombudsman Virgil Rizzo gave this explanation – hoping to explain these two seemingly problematic words in layman’s terms:

      A material alteration of the common elements is covered by Florida Statutes Section 718.113(2) and permitted in a manner provided in the Declaration of Condominium. If the Declaration is silent regarding material alterations, an affirmative vote of 75% of unit owners is required.

       A material alteration or addition means to palpably or perceptively vary or change the form, shape, elements or specifications of a building from its original design, plan, or existing condition, in such a manner as to appreciably affect or influence its function, use or appearance.


Seems easy – does it? In reality it isn’t – mark my words.


We see only too often that board members think they can just change the carpet floor and replace the carpet with tiles. Huge mistake, especially if just one of the owners doesn’t like tiles – and the fight is on. In many cases it’s not only the legal fees causing serious financial damage to the association; it’s as well the fact that most complaints are only filed after the work is done and the money spent.


The reason for creating the requirement of members’ approval is pretty obvious: People bought their home after looking at the surroundings of their new home – and the way things look when they buy their home.
Let’s say a potential buyer is impressed with the nice red carpet in the hallways. He/she buys the unit relying on being always greeted by a plush red carpet in the hallway. One day some board members feel that carpets are quickly used up by the heavy traffic in the hallway and opt to replace the fading carpet with Spanish tiles. It might be a smart financial decision in the long run, but a violation of the Florida statutes in the eyes of the red carpet-lover. And the war is on!


Do you think that “material alterations” should require a membership vote?

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Jan Bergemann

Jan Bergemann is president of Cyber Citizens For Justice, Florida 's largest state-wide property owners' advocacy group. CCFJ works on legislation to help owners living in community

associations. He moved to Florida in 1995 - hoping to retire. He moved into a HOA, where the developer cheated the homeowners and used the association dues for his own purposes. End of retirement!


CCFJ was born in the year 2000, when some owners met in Tallahassee - finding out that power is only in numbers. Bergemann was a member of Governor Jeb Bush's HOA Task force in 2003/2004.


The organization has two websites to inform interested Florida homeowners and condo owners:

News Website: http://www.ccfj.net/.

Educational Website: http://www.ccfjfoundation.net/.

We think that only owners can really represent owners, since all service providers surely have a different interest! We are trying to create owner-friendly laws, but the best laws are useless without enforcement. And enforcement is totally lacking in Florida !

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