It’s becoming impossible to keep up with technology. Just when you think you bought the latest, greatest computer or cell phone the world may ever see, a month later there’s new technology that makes you device already seem outdated. It’s a never ending cycle. Well, one new technological advance is the RING doorbell, which is a doorbell that let’s you see who is at your front door, by simply glancing at your cell phone. I have one for my home and another for my office. It even let’s you speak to and hear the person who is at your door, even when you are not home. In fact, you can be anywhere in the world. It really is fantastic technology that everyone is taking advantage of. BUT IF YOU LIVE IN A CONDOMINIUM…..YOU CAN’T.
Let’s again review Florida Statute 718.113(2)(a):
Except as otherwise provided in this section, there shall be no material alteration or substantial additions to the common elements or to real property which is association property, except in a manner provided in the declaration as originally recorded or as amended under the procedures provided therein. If the declaration as originally recorded or as amended under the procedures provided therein does not specify the procedure for approval of material alterations or substantial additions, 75 percent of the total voting interests of the association must approve the alterations or additions before the material alterations or substantial additions are commenced. This paragraph is intended to clarify existing law and applies to associations existing on July 1, 2018.
So the question is…..is the installation of a RING doorbell on your condominium front door, a material alteration to the common elements that requires a vote of the owners? In Persi v. Playa Del Mar Association, Case No. 19-02-7292, March 16, 2020, Arbitrator Keith Hope held that it was and upheld the association’s right to remove it. The arbitrator first again indicated the definition of a material alteration:
“[A]s applied to buildings, the term 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 or plan, or existing conditions, in such a manner as to appreciably affect or influence its function, use or appearance
Applying this test, the Arbitrator held that Petitioners’ installation of the ring video doorbell was a material change to the appearance of the common property door, and required installation of electrical wiring within the common property walls. Moreover, it is undisputed that Petitioners’ ring video doorbell contains a security camera that captures both audio and video of persons and activities within its field of view. Installation of a security camera on or in a condominium’s common property is deemed a material alteration. Dellagrotta v. West Coast Vista Association, Inc., Arb. Case No. 2013-02-7351, Summary Final Order (October 4, 2013).
While it’s hard to say the arbitrator’s reasoning was not correct, arbitration cases have long held that when the Board wants to use the benefits of new technology, it’s suddenly not a material alteration but a wise business judgment decision.
In the arbitration case of A. N. Inc. v. Seaplace Association, Inc., Arb. Case No. 98-4251, Summary Final Order (Oct. 29, 1998), replacement of all of the windows in the condominium with an upgraded version, with a tilt-out cleaning feature, tinting and heavier glass, was held not to require a unit owner vote. The arbitrator noted that the choice of the type of window used is a decision within the board’s business judgment and that “a board in the exercise of its well-reasoned and documented judgment could and should take advantage of changes in technology, building materials, and improved designs …” See also, Kreitman v. The Decoplage Condominium Association, Inc., Arb. Case No. 98-4711, Final Order (July 30, 1999) (board’s decision to replace worn hallway carpets with longer lasting solution-dyed, woven carpet was not subject to unit owner approval).
In light of these cases, why are upgraded windows and carpets not considered a material alteration, but upgraded doorbells that take advantage of the latest technology are? Just like the Board, I don’t see the harm in owners having the right to take advantage of “changes in technology” and having the ability to install a doorbell that provides better safety, security and ease of use.
What’s your thoughts?