Article by Michael Hyman in Today’s Daily Business Review: “Injunction Against Condo Owner Illustrates Just How Ugly Things Can Get”

MichaelHymanFirm partner Michael L. Hyman authored an article that appeared as a “Board of Contributors” guest column in today’s edition of the Daily Business Review, South Florida’s exclusive business daily and official court newspaper.  The article, which is titled “Injunction Against Condo Owner Illustrates Just How Ugly Things Can Get,” focuses on a ruling in Broward Circuit Court last year that granted an injunction to a South Florida condominium association against the owners and residents of a unit in the 55-and-over community.  His article reads:

The association alleged that the defendants violated key provisions in the community’s declaration by threatening and disturbing other residents with their aggressive actions. In fact, one unit owner sought a restraining order against Juan Gonzalez, whose conduct ultimately resulted in his arrest for domestic violence and resisting an officer. The association alleged that this sort of conduct had been going on for several years, but it had escalated into more violent and aggressive levels. In addition to seeking injunctive relief against the defendants, it also sought to have the court require them to vacate the dwelling.

The court found that the defendants had threatened and disturbed other unit owners with repeated aggressive behavior and threatening words and actions. It ruled that the “credible evidence also established that the association tried to remedy the defendants’ behavior by speaking to the defendants, having the defendants appear before a committee of unit owners for the development of harmonious relations, calling the police on multiple occasions and having legal counsel send letters of violation demanding that the threatening and aggressive behavior stop, all to no avail.”

dbrlogo-300x57The ruling states that the association called a meeting of its grievance committee, during which Gonzalez acknowledged that he had been banging on the ceiling of his unit, and he suggested that he would not have to serve much time in prison if he killed somebody. It reads: “On numerous occasions continuing until the current time, he would use a stick or other object to bang on his ceiling, claiming that the occupant above his unit was making too much noise, but in reality these noises were common day-to-day noises such as walking through the apartment or taking a shower. On one occasion, he walked upstairs to use a baseball bat to bang on the occupant’s door, frightening her deeply that the defendant was attempting to break into her unit and resulting in the police being called to the premises. He later approached this same occupant when she was on the common areas, threatening her to her face. On another occasion, the defendant Juan Gonzalez threatened a staff member with a knife, and threatened the property manager that the defendant would run him over with his car.”

Michael’s article concludes:

The evidence also demonstrated that Gonzalez admitted to an owner that he had punctured two tires in the condominium parking lot, and another unit owner observed him using a knife to pry open the screen on a vacant unit and go inside. Police were called numerous times, and many unit owners advised the responding officers that they did not feel safe and feared violence. When Gonzalez discovered that the owners had approached law enforcement, he went door-to-door in his building threatening his neighbors.

The ruling also states: “Defendant Arlene Gonzalez came over to the next-door neighbor’s unit and began banging on the door, due to the neighbor’s having complained about the defendants to the association. The neighbor refused to come outside to talk, because of the defendants’ history on the premises. At this point, the defendant Juan Gonzalez came over to the unit and punched the neighbor in the chest while he was standing in the doorway, knowing that the neighbor had recently had open-heart surgery.”

The court issued an injunction against the defendants barring them from threatening, aggressive, abusive and harassing actions toward association personnel and other unit owners, including shouting abusive words and threats, pounding on doors, pounding on the ceiling of their unit, pounding on walls and damaging any property belonging to others. It also bars them from knocking on doors of other units and approaching or speaking to any unit owners of their building in the common elements of the property.

However, even with the apparently overwhelming evidence against the defendants, the court declined to issue an order enjoining them from occupying their unit. The ruling states: “While the court acknowledges that there is some legal authority that a court may dispossess an owner of real property through injunction, the court believes that this is likely disfavored when other injunctive relief may well give the plaintiff the remedy necessary to ameliorate the harm caused by the defendants. In this case, the court’s injunction should be broad enough to prevent further misconduct by the defendants.”

The ruling warns that if the defendants violate the injunction, the association would be free to petition the court for an order to show cause, which could result in their incarceration for contempt of court.

In cases such as this in which disputes involving unit owners become extremely threatening and potentially violent, it is incumbent on the association and its attorney to move as quickly as possible to exercise its legal authority to remedy the situation. Injunctions such as the one issued in this case can be very appropriate and effective, and orders to remove owners from their residences are also possible in extreme cases.

Our firm salutes Michael for sharing his insights into the takeaways from this ruling for Florida community associations with the readers of the Daily Business ReviewClick here to read the complete article in the newspaper’s website (registration required).