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Changes in state condo laws

People can access condo records from their Board of Directors. They can complain about their condo board without being threatened by a lawsuit. And condo boards can't use ''ghost'' votes as a way to keep their members in office.

These are some of the 40 or so changes in Florida's condominium laws that took effect on Oct. 1.

At least 100 people came to Miami Beach City Hall on Tuesday night to hear about the new provisions that could make their lives a little easier.

Earlier this year, a committee chaired by State Rep. Julio Robaina gathered feedback from frustrated condo owners throughout Florida. With that input, state lawmakers amended two condo laws -- House Bill 601 and House Bill 995 -- this spring.

The large turnout at Tuesday's condo workshop was not surprising in Miami Beach, where there are 40,825 condos that make up 62 percent of the city's housing stock.

There are an estimated 25,000 condos in Florida with 1.5 million condo owners, said William Raphan, who manages the Fort Lauderdale office of the state's Condo Ombudsman's Office.

Every three months, Miami Beach holds a free workshop with Raphan for condo owners who have questions about their rights and responsibilities. The workshops began in 2005, said Lynn W. Bernstein, who coordinates the program. Next year, Bernstein will offer free three-hour quarterly courses on condo finances, condo rights and responsibilities, condo rules and regulations; and serving on a condo association board.

Raphan said all the changes to the condo laws are important. ''The Florida Legislature has never made so many changes in condo laws at one time,'' he said.

Still, the laws don't deal with a hot-button issue given the rising number of condo foreclosures: how to collect assessments and fees from delinquent condo owners.

Among the new provisions Raphan outlined on Tuesday:

 Condo associations cannot issue ''SLAPP suits'' against condo owners who complain in general terms about the association's board of directors and its actions. Lawsuits can still be filed against condo owners who criticize specific board members.

 Condo association boards must provide condo records to condo owners who request them. The state can subpoena the records from uncooperative boards.

 The state can slap monetary fines and criminal penalties against condo association board members who break the law. The state can also remove them from office.

 Condo owners can add agenda items that must be heard at a board meeting as long as they get 20 percent of the condo owners to support their petition.

 Condo owners who are delinquent in paying their assessments for 90 days can't serve on a condo association board. The state can remove board members from office if they have been charged with felony theft or embezzlement.

 Condo association boards can't cast ''ghost'' votes on behalf of the building's common areas -- such as closets and stairways -- to garner votes for reelection.

 Associations are required to inform condo owners about how much upcoming special assessments may cost.

 Condo buildings taller than three stories must be inspected by an architect or engineer every five years.

Elaine Soffer-Siegel, who lives at the Nine Island Condo in Belle Isle, applauded the changes to the state's condo laws. ``I agree with them. They will stop abuses by management companies, condo board members and their lawyers.''