Court Rules Florida Condominium Association Cannot Impose Lien Based on Expenses from Former Unit Owner

The board of directors of many South Florida condominium associations often contemplate making repairs, alterations or improvements benefitting one unit owner or a limited group of unit owners. In many of these cases, the directors inquire as to whether the association has the right to file a claim of lien against the owner of a unit benefitting from the repairs, alterations or improvements in order to secure payment for the related expenses. However, a recent Florida appellate court ruling has confirmed that a condominium association was precluded from filing and enforcing such a lien, despite language in the condominium’s governing documents which seemingly provided the association with the authority to do so.

In Carniello v. Second Horizons Condominium Association, Inc. the appellate court reversed a trial court judgment that imposed an assessment lien on the buyers of a condominium unit for the costs of repairs that had been incurred when the unit was owned and occupied by the former owner. The condo association had imposed an assessment lien against the unit that was purchased in June 2004 for charges that were incurred prior to the sale when the association repaired the unit’s air conditioner. The circuit court ruled in favor of the association, and the new owners of the unit subsequently appealed the judgment.

Upon review, the appellate court found no basis for placing a lien on property that would burden a subsequent purchaser for expenses incurred by a previous owner. The appellate court noted that the condominium’s governing documents provided for a special assessment for alterations or improvements on non-common areas, not for simple repairs. In addition, it found that the statutory prerequisites to a valid special assessment under the Florida Condominium Act were not met by the association.

By monitoring and advising our clients on cases and rulings such as this, the lawyers who focus on representing condominium associations and homeowners associations at our firm will continue to help ensure that our clients take every necessary measure to pursue appropriate and effective remedies to enforce their rights against unit owners who fail to comply with the association’s governing documents.