Q: I recently heard of a lawsuit filed by the widow of a man who was attacked and killed by the tenant renting a condominium that they owned. She alleged negligence by the management company and condominium association maintaining that they were supposed to conduct background checks on tenants. I understand that she didn't win but it makes me wonder.
A: Background checks are not required by state condominium law and an association can only perform a background check if it is authorized by the governing documents.
In fact, Florida Statute, Section 718.111(12), prohibits the association from sharing any information obtained in connection with the investigation of a potential tenant. Even if the background check did reveal negative information, the condominium association and its management company are specifically prohibited from sharing that information with the landlord/owner. The board may not share Social Security numbers, credit card numbers, credit history reports or "any personal identifying information" with the members. There are also federal rules prohibiting disclosure of credit and other background information. The condominium association and management company is not liable for this terrible event.
There are some steps that you could confirm have been taken or should be taken to protect your association. Be sure that all your confidential information is safeguarded. Advise the owners that any investigation or background checks are solely for the benefit of the association and the results have no guarantee.
It may be time to review all of your governing documents with an eye to the safety and well being of the owners and residents. Your governing documents should also specify that any information obtained in a background investigation cannot be shared. If this is not currently the case, consider having, if you don't at this time, governing documents that authorize the board of directors to reject certain applications for tenancy based upon well worded e.
If you have had crimes in your community, consider developing a safety plan with your mangement company, speaking to your attorney about legal steps you can take and getting the advice of your insurance professional. There are also many programs provided by professional law enforcement agencies to help prevent crimes. These programs are free of charge and can go a long way in educating residents about ways of being watchful to minimize the likelihood of the occurrence of a crime.
You may want your attorney to guide the entire safety process for you. A safe community requires steps far greater than the investigation of tenants.
Attorney Sylvia Heldreth is a Certified Specialist in Real Estate Law. Her office is located at 1215 Miramar St. in Cape Coral.
This article is not intended as specific legal advice to anyone and is based upon facts that change from time to time. Individuals should seek legal counsel before acting upon any matter involving the law.