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Real estate Q&A: My shutters were installed 15 years ago. Can board make me replace them now? [Sun Sentinel :: BC-REAL-REALESTATE-QA:FL]

Q: We purchased our condo 15 years ago with hurricane shutters already installed. The new property manager is saying that there is no Architectural Approval form for the shutters in our file and we may be compelled to take them down. Since nothing was told to us about the shutters for 15 years, I believe that the shutters were approved but the Architectural Approval form must have been lost between different boards and different management companies. Any advice for us? - David

A: Good news - your shutters can remain. Due to the importance of hurricane preparedness, the law states that while the board can adopt specific guidelines for shutters, it cannot prevent their installation or replacement. Your association cannot make you remove your shutters at this point, as long as they are maintained and in working order.

When the shutters were installed, your association could have required that they meet the community's guidelines. But now that so much time has gone by, your board cannot retroactively make you fix any missed issues. This is due to an ancient legal doctrine known as "laches," which stands for the idea that the courts will assist the vigilant and not those who sleep on their rights.

Basically, if the association had a legal claim, such as the shutters being installed without approval, it would have needed to act within a reasonable time. By not doing so, it lost its right to act now.

While the law is often portrayed as a set of stringent guidelines full of tricks and loopholes, there is a large part of our legal system that is based on ideals of fairness, or as lawyers like to call it: equity. Simply put, it would be unfair to mess with your shutters after 15 years, so the law will protect you from that happening.

Be aware that while you can keep your current shutters, when it comes time to replace them, you will need to abide by the procedures regarding shutters in your community.___

ABOUT THE WRITER

Gary M. Singer is a Florida attorney and board-certified as an expert in real estate law by the Florida Bar. He practices real estate, business litigation and contract law from his office in Sunrise, Fla. He is the chairman of the Real Estate Section of the Broward County Bar Association and is a co-host of the weekly radio show Legal News and Review. He frequently consults on general real estate matters and trends in Florida with various companies across the nation. Send him questions online at www.sunsentinel.com/askpro or follow him on Twitter @GarySingerLaw.

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