Florida law is very clear: every association must fully fund reserves unless a vote to waive reserves is obtained. This post will review the reserve funding requirements detailed in the Florida Statutes/ Florida Administrative Code and the process for waiving reserves.
Reserve Funding Basics
NOTE: There are specific requirements for developer-controlled condominiums and multicondominiums that are not discussed here.
Section 718.112(2)(f) of the Florida Statutes and Rule 61B-22.005 of the Florida Administrative Code require ALL Florida condominium associations to fund reserve accounts for deferred property maintenance and replacement projects. Specifically, a reserve account must be established for roofing replacement, property painting, asphalt paving, and any other project that has an anticipated cost of greater than $10,000.
For each identified project, the association must identify the anticipated date and cost of the project. For example, a community’s roof may have an estimated remaining useful life of 10 years and replacement cost of $50,000. Therefore, in 10 years, the association will need to have $50,000 in the roof reserve account to pay for the replacement.
The association must calculate annually the amount it needs to contribute to its reserve accounts and include this amount in the budget. Generally, associations will collect one maintenance fee payment from each unit owner monthly or quarterly and deposit it into an operating account. From there, the percentage of maintenance fees allocated to reserves per the budget is transferred into a separate reserve account. Reserve and operating funds may not be commingled for more than 30 days from the date of receipt of a maintenance fee payment. As such, if an association receives maintenance fees monthly (quarterly), they must contribute the appropriate amount to their reserve funds monthly (quarterly).
NOTE: There are two ways to look at monthly or quarterly reserve funding. Let’s look at an example. An association has a $100,000 annual budget with $20,000 (20%) allocated to reserve funding. The association requires maintenance fee payments monthly. In a given month, the association should received $8,333 in maintenance fees ($100,000/12) of which $1,667 is allocated to reserves ($8,333*20%). Let’s say in January the association actually received $7,000 in maintenance fees (several units failed to pay). The association could choose to fully fund the reserve account that month by transferring $1,667 dollars of the maintenance fees received to a reserve account. Or, the association could choose to only transfer $1,400 ($7,000*20%) to a reserve account, as they have not yet received the maintenance fees that would have contributed the remaining $267 ($1,667-$1,400) in reserve funds. The majority of associations (and management companies) choose the first option, ensuring that reserves stay fully funded. Both are acceptable per the law in my opinion. While the first option is preferable, if there is a situation where a large percentage of unit owners fail to pay maintenance fees and contributing the full budgeted monthly amount to the reserve account would hinder the association’s operations, then the second option may be best.
Florida law specifies two acceptable methods for calculating the necessary annual reserve contribution: pooling or straight line (component). We have discussed these two methods as well as the pros and cons of each here.
Recap: So, we know that condominiums must budget for sufficient reserve funds to pay for all long-term maintenance and replacement projects greater than $10,000. Further, we know that the annual reserve contribution necessary is based on the expected timing and cost of each project using one of two calculation methods (pooling or straight line). Great. But how does a board know exactly what projects greater than $10,000 will need to be done, when they will need to be done, or how much they will cost?
This is where a reserve study comes in. A reserve study is a professional engineering survey of your property. The reserve study firm will examine the property and determine what major capital maintenance and replacement projects will need to be done in the next 30 years. The study will provide expected costs of each project and expected timeframe for completion. While there is no specific requirement in Florida law that associations obtain a professional reserve study, I don’t see any way for a board to properly determine annual reserve contributions without one. I recommend a reserve study be completed every 2-3 years. Prices generally range from $3,000 – $6,000 for an initial study with a reduction in price for study updates completed by the same firm. To ensure the association always has the funds to complete routine reserve studies, I recommend including a reserve account for the study itself.
NOTE: If you need a good reserve study firm, I have had great success with Reserve Advisors.
Waiving Reserve Contributions
For those communities where, for whatever reason, fully funding reserves is infeasible, Florida law provides the option to reduce or eliminate reserve funding. Here’s how it works.
Every year, the board must present a proposed budget to the community assuming full reserve funding. The association cannot hold a vote to waive or reduce reserve funding until after a proposed budget with full reserve funding has been provided to the membership. If the board would like to put a vote on the table to reduce or waive reserves funding, then they should provide (along with the proposed budget which must be distributed 14 days prior to the budget meeting): (1) a second budget with waived or reduced reserves and (2) a limited proxy to be filled out by unit owners specifically requesting the membership to vote on the second budget. The proxy must include the following wording per Florida Statutes:
WAIVING OF RESERVES, IN WHOLE OR IN PART, OR ALLOWING ALTERNATIVE USES OF EXISTING RESERVES MAY RESULT IN UNIT OWNER LIABILITY FOR PAYMENT OF UNANTICIPATED SPECIAL ASSESSMENTS REGARDING THOSE ITEMS.
To successfully reduce or waive reserve funding, a majority of the membership (i.e., 51% of unit owners) must vote in favor of the reduction/ waiver.
If by the time of the budget meeting arrives the association has received insufficient votes, the board may delay approving the budget to attempt to collect more votes. Of course, realistically, the board may only postpone so much as the budget should be approved in time for coupon book deliveries prior to year-end. Further, the limited proxies are only valid 90 days from the date of the first scheduled budget meeting. So, if your association would like to vote to waive reserves but getting sufficient unit owner participation will be a struggle, it may be worthwhile to set the budget meeting earlier in the year than you would otherwise.
If a majority vote is not obtained, the board must approve the budget with full reserve funding. If a majority vote is obtained, the board must proceed with the waived or reduced reserve funding. It is important to note that any vote to waive or reduce reserves is only effective for one annual budget. Therefore, the vote must be obtained for every year the board would prefer not to fully fund reserves.
Why Fund Reserves?
Arguably one of the biggest problems facing condominium associations today is the failure to fully fund reserves. Many associations put little to no money aside, creating project delays and large special assessments. With the primary focus being low maintenance fees, boards can easily loose sight of the big picture reasons to fund reserves.
Let’s look at our roof example. The community’s roof has an estimated remaining useful life of 10 years and an anticipated replacement cost of $50,000. If an association does not put aside money routinely in a roof reserve account, then the unit owners would likely have to pay a $50,000 special assessment in 10 years. This is a negative outcome in several ways:
- Hesitancy to issue a special assessment or difficultly collecting the special assessment may lead to delays in project completion and further deterioration of the roof (i.e., more roof leaks which cost money to repair.
- The special assessment will be a burden on the unit owners.
- A special assessment is unfair in that prior unit owners did not have to contribute any money to the roof (though they benefited from it) while current unit owners have to pay for the entire thing. This creates an inequitable distribution of expenses.
- Limited reserve funds and a history of special assessments will drive away buyers, keeping home prices lower than they otherwise would have been.
I strongly recommend that every board fully fund reserves. If a board does not feel that full funding is feasible right away, they should still contract for a professional reserve study and establish a long-term plan for achieving full funding by gradually increasing reserve funds each year.
I hope this overview of condominium reserve funding was helpful.
Please let me know if you have any questions,
Emily Shaw is a condominium homeowner in Tampa, Florida and a Director of VERA Property Management, a firm providing full-service community association management in the Tampa Bay Area as well as consulting, financial and legal services to all Florida community associations.