Articles Posted in Enforcement Actions

All too often, we are asked by boards of directors and property managers what steps can be taken to prevent residents from continuing to break rules in their communities. Seldom, however, do we hear community associations that are active and persistent in disciplining their rule breakers. Typically, violations range from disobeying noise ordinances to more problematic ones such as ignoring an association’s prohibition of short-term rentals. Regardless of how big or small—or even how chronic—an infraction may be, it is important that board members do their part in enforcing the rules and regulations of their associations. Follow-Rules-300x157

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The use of drones by owners and residents of units in HOA and condominium communities has created concerns across the country over potential privacy and safety issues for community association managers and their boards of directors.  Sales of drones to consumers in the U.S. are expected to grow from 2.5 million in 2016 to 7 million in 2020, according to a report from the FAA.  As the popularity of drones continues to soar, associations will need to come to terms with how they wish to address their use within their communities.

At the FishHawk Ranch community in the Tampa area, the use of drones by a homeowner has created such an uproar that it drew the attention of local TV news.  The area’s CBS affiliate recently chronicled the battle that is brewing in the community over homeowner Frank Bragg and his collection of a half-dozen drones.

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Florida community associations are always seeking to implement the most cost-effective options at their disposal to collect unpaid dues and compel unit owners/residents to comply with their rules and restrictions.  CPool-300x227ondominium associations used to have very few practical remedies at their disposal to address delinquencies and violations.  They could file lawsuits or arbitration actions, but the costs of pursuing these cases can be a significant expense, and the imposition of fines requires the use of a fining committee and can be difficult to collect.

As a result of legislative changes to the state’s Condominium Act a number of years ago, associations are now able to suspend the rights of an owner, tenant or guest to use common elements and facilities if the owner of the unit is delinquent more than 90 days in paying a monetary obligation to the association.  Condominium associations may also suspend, for a reasonable period of time, the right of an owner and/or resident to use common elements and amenities for the failure to comply with any provisions of the association’s declaration, bylaws or rules. Continue reading

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.”

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One of the most common problem areas for condominium associations and their property management is parking.  Spaces are at a premium in most communities, and issues arise when unit owners and tenants fail to park in their designated spots.  Associations and their property managers must be well prepared in order to effectively contend with parking violations.

Most condominium bylaws allow for the adoption of reasonable rules and regulations governing the use of the common elements, which typically include parking areas and spaces.  Boards and management should determine whether the bylaws and/or rules are already adequately addressing parking in the community or if amendments to the governing documents and/or rules may be needed.

Some of the most typical issues addressed by parking rules are designated parking areas and spots for owners, guests and vendors, and spaces for commercial vehicles, boats on trailers, recreational vehicles, personal watercraft, campers, motorcycles and all-terrain vehicles.  Some communities have restrictions on the number of vehicles that a unit owner is allowed to park onsite, and some have time limits for the parking of vehicles in certain areas.

npark-227x300Bear in mind that all parking rules and restrictions must comply with the Fair Housing Accessibility Guidelines developed by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) with respect to designating handicap parking.

Once clear rules and restrictions are in place, condominium boards should develop effective enforcement measures, which will typically include warnings, fines (typically using a graduated scale that increases commensurately with each violation, but consistent with statutory constraints), and towing.  The bylaws or rules pertaining to towing should allow for the association to assess the costs to the corresponding unit owner, and towing notices and requirements must strictly comply with Florida law.

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MichaelChapnicksrhl-law-200x300Firm partner Michael E. Chapnick has written extensively in this blog and several publications on the nuisance and security issues that have been caused by Pokemon Go, the augmented reality game in which players search the real world for characters that appear on their smartphones.  In the latest issue of the Community Associations Institute’s Common Ground magazine, he is quoted in an article on the topic titled “Pokemon Woe.”  The article reads:

If Pokémon Go players are being noisy or creating other disturbances, associations should check their nuisance provisions.

“If you don’t have good nuisance or antinuisance provisions, then those need to be beefed up,” says Michael E. Chapnick, a lawyer with Siegfried, Rivera, Hyman, Lerner, De La Torre, Mars & Sobel in West Palm Beach, Fla. “It’s a violation like any other violation. You have to enforce your documents and address any issues.”

Chapnick says associations should be applying their existing rules to a changing world.  “The rules are made to be fluid and made to be flexible,” he adds.

Our firm congratulates Michael for continuing to be one of the most outspoken community association attorneys on this topic.  Click here to read the complete article in the organization’s website (registration required).

 

The South Florida condominium association that I wrote about in this blog recently after it was featured in a local TV news report on its problems being caused by Pokémon Go players has now filed a class action lawsuit against the makers of the immensely popular game app.

As was documented in the recent report that appeared on Local 10 News (WPLG-ABC) in Miami-Dade and Broward, the oceanfront Villas of Positano in Hollywood, Fla. has essentially been besieged by crowds of people every night who are playing the “augmented reality” game.  The 62-unit condominium tower has been designated as a PokéStop in the game, which the lawsuit alleges has led to “out of control crowds” behaving “like zombies, walking around bumping into things” where the property adjoins the public boardwalk along the beach.

The complaint, which was filed recently in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, is one of several similar new lawsuits against San Francisco-based game developer Niantic and the two other companies behind the game.

pokemonThe lawsuit states that players have been drawn to the Villas to capture rare Pokémon characters that are programmed to spawn when they are first released to the public at 3 a.m. EST.

The suit states that the Pokémon Go players linger for hours, litter, and many even use “the Villas’ landscaping as a toilet during their nightly incursions.”  It notes that the association has made multiple requests to Niantic for the property to be removed as a PokéStop but has only received form responses.

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MichaelChapnicksrhl-law-thumb-120x180-94116Firm partner Michael E. Chapnick authored a guest column that appeared in today’s edition of the Daily Business Review, South Florida’s only business daily and official court newspaper.  The article, which was titled “For Many Condo Communities, Pokemon Go Quickly Becoming Pokemon No,” discusses some of the security, safety and nuisance issues that are arising as a result of the popular new game app for smartphones.  Michael’s article reads:

The issues arise both from nonresidents who are pursuing these animated characters and feel compelled to enter a property as well as from residents and their guests who are gallivanting through the hallways and common areas at all hours in their never-ending search for more Pokemon.

While some association complexes feature a manned security gate at the main entrance, many do not and visitors are able to drive onto a property without restriction. The game does remind players to be aware of their surroundings and not to trespass, but it also encourages them to visit new locations. Some players are now simply driving up to condominium entrances and trying to see if they could perhaps even park and walk around to check for any nearby Pikachu, one of the characters. Needless to say, this creates significant security and liability issues for properties.

dbr logo-thumb-400x76-51605In addition, the hallways, pool decks and other common areas that are accessible to residents and their guests around the clock are quickly becoming gathering grounds for the players of the game, which features “lure modules” and virtual gyms to encourage them to meet and wage battles with their Pokemon. These aspects of the game lead to players congregating at all hours, which is causing significant nuisances and safety concerns for some communities’ residents and staff.

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The recent report by Local 10 News (WPLG-ABC) in South Florida about a Hollywood, Fla. condominium association that is considering filing a lawsuit against the maker of the Pokémon Go game app came as no surprise to our firm’s community association attorneys.  We are now starting to hear from many of our condominium and homeowners association clients about their distress regarding the nuisances and potential security and liability issues that are arising as a result of the game and its players.

The station reports that the condominium association for the Villas of Positano is considering legal action to combat the throngs of Pokémon Go players who flock to the beachside building in the early morning hours.

The issue for the property is that it is a “PokeStop” for the popular game, meaning that the virtual monsters which the players are trying to find can be found at the entrance to the property that adjoins the public boardwalk along the beach.  Rare Pokémon monsters are released at midnight Pacific Time, so at 3 a.m. EST hundreds of players make their way to the condominium’s doorstep.

The property manager is quoted in the report indicating that the players urinate in the bushes in the property, litter and make a great deal of noise, which disturbs many of the residents.

The report indicates that Hollywood police are aware of the problem, but they have said that those who remain on the boardwalk and do not cause a disturbance are not breaking the law.  However, unfortunately for the association, many of the players are infiltrating its property in their search for the virtual characters.

The association is considering joining a class-action lawsuit or filing one of its own because the game’s maker has yet to remove its location as a PokeStop.

In addition to the problems arising from nonresidents, our firm’s other attorneys and I have been made aware that there are also issues arising caused by residents and their guests who are gallivanting through the hallways and common areas at all hours while playing.  The game features “lure modules” and virtual gyms to encourage players to meet and wage battles with their Pokémon, so players are interrupting their searches to congregate and play it together in the common areas.

Boards of directors are now beginning to address these issues.  Many are starting by issuing a bulletin to all of the owners, residents and staff reminding them that excessive noise in any of the common areas – including from Pokémon Go players – creates nuisances that are in violation of association rules, and building management/security should be contacted if any such nuisances arise so that immediate action may be taken.

Management, security and valet staff are also being tasked to maintain a high level of vigilance for nonresident players attempting to infiltrate the property as well as for residents and their guests creating disturbances while they are playing.  Other considerations include restricting access to lobbies and common areas during nighttime, checking to make sure the association has sufficient insurance coverage, and even adopting rules governing the times of day that the game (and others like it which are sure to come) can be played in the common areas.

Click here to watch the report in the station’s website.

The problem of short-term rentals with the help of Airbnb and other similar websites in violation of community association rules has quickly become one of the most pressing issues facing associations today.  Even though Airbnb, HomeAway and VRBO claim they prohibit their hosts from renting residences in communities with rules against short-term rentals, enforcement of this policy by the online home sharing providers is virtually nonexistent.

This makes it incumbent upon the associations and their property managers to proactively monitor and investigate for unauthorized rentals and their online listings, which can be extremely difficult.  In most cases, the unit owners conducting the rentals know full well that they are violating their association’s rules, so they do what they can to avoid detection.

abnbTheir ploys, which typically include walking their new guests into the property and advising security that their visit is authorized, are enabling many rentals to go undetected by management and staff.  The result can be very troubling for associations, as unfettered short-term rentals can create a revolving door for guests with none of the prior screening and background checks that are typically performed for new residents and tenants.

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