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Articles Posted in Enforcement Actions

A couple of years ago we saw the Florida state legislature add teeth to Florida’s condo and HOA laws governing theft, fraud, abuse and conflicts of interest. Recently, the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, the state agency that governs community associations, followed suit by implementing harsher civil disciplinary guidelines for condominium association infractions.

The new guidelines detail the civil penalties and disciplinary procedures for violations of the Condominium Act and the Florida Rules of Administrative Procedure involving accounting records, assessments, boards, budgets, common expenses, conflicts of interest, debit cards, elections, estoppel certificates, final orders, fiduciary duty, investigations, records requests, financial reporting, reserves, special assessments and websites.

dbprlogo-300x170For minor violations, the disciplinary guidelines call for the agency’s Division of Condominiums, Timeshares and Mobile Homes to issue the association with a written Notice of Noncompliance “due to the violation’s lower potential for public harm.” If the association fails to comply with the stipulations called for in the Notice, it could result in sanctions and enforcement with monetary penalties being imposed in amounts between $5 and $10 per unit for each violation. The maximum penalty for minor violations is $2,500, for a single minor violation.
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Residents of the Phillips Bay Condominium in Orlando, Fla. are finally breathing a sigh of relief after a years-long saga of a nightmare neighbor appears to be coming to an end with a conviction for aggravated stalking. Residents are now awaiting a final ruling from the court on the penalty for the third-degree felony, which under Florida law can be as high as five years in prison, five years of probation and $5,000 in fines.

According to an arbitration order from the state’s Division of Condominiums under the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, the complaints against unit owner Marianna Seachrist (pictured below) at the condominium association began in early 2014, shortly after she moved in to the community. Neighboring unit owners complained of constant pounding and rumbling noises at all hours of the day and night, and police were eventually called when Seachrist threatened to hire someone to kill one of the board members.

mariannaseachrist--240x300The loud and disruptive noises continued, and the threatening behavior escalated to the point that some residents lived in fear of walking around the community. After multiple incidents and calls to police, her downstairs neighbor was granted a temporary injunction for stalking protection in 2015.

After Seachrist was served with the injunction, deputies had to return to her condo three successive days because of noise disturbances. In subsequent visits they heard low-bass rumbling and knocking noises, and after obtaining a search warrant they rammed the front door and discovered an elaborate sound system, including three low-frequency speakers mounted to a board and placed face-down on the floor in the living room, hallway and closet. The speakers were also weighed down by dumbbells and cinder blocks, and they were wired to an amplifier using a tablet to play a recording on a loop of bass-clicking noises that would vibrate the room. The setup allowed for the remote operation of the system using a smartphone.

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Not enough community association boards make effective use of committees.  Committees can be very useful when it comes to providing recommendations to the board and assisting the board with carrying out its duties and responsibilities.  However, many associations do not take the time to establish committees or set parameters for their work so that committees may assist in the operation of the association.

Setting up committees is the responsibility of an association’s board of directors. The board must appoint the members of each committee at a properly noticed board meeting, during which the directors should provide instructions and set parameters for the scope of the committees’ responsibilities.

One of the best approaches is for boards of directors to use their annual meetings to establish various committees, appoint committee members and establish areas of purview for each. Each committee should have at least three members.

meetWith the exception of the rules enforcement committee, board members may also serve as members on committees. Many associations choose to have a board member on each committee along with two non-director volunteers, as this enables the board member to keep their fellow directors abreast of the committee’s work and progress.

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EvonneAndris-srhl-law-200x300Firm shareholder Evonne Andris authored an article that was featured as the “My View” guest commentary column in today’s edition of the Miami Herald’s Business Monday, the newspaper’s weekly business supplement.  The article focuses on the brouhaha that drew considerable media attention in Orlando earlier this year involving an HOA’s dispute with a homeowner family over a “Little Free Library” book-sharing box installed in the front yard of their home.  Evonne’s article reads:

The library in question is a red wood box that resembles a birdhouse and is mounted on a sturdy wood post. The box, which is 24 inches tall, 20 inches deep and 24 inches wide, is part of the “Little Free Library” (www.littlefreelibrary.org) nonprofit organization’s network of free book exchange boxes that encourage reading and enable people to share books with their community. While popular in the central part of the state, there are approximately 10 Little Free Libraries in the South Florida area and more than 60,000 Little Free Libraries across the country.

agarik-1024x576The news reports indicate that within a few days of homeowners Bob and Autumn Garick installing the library box in their front yard, the property manager for Bentley Woods wrote to thank them for their efforts and suggest that they move the box to a common area in the neighborhood. The Garicks declined the offer, noting that the suggested area was about a half-mile from their home and would make it impractical for them to maintain the library.  Pictured here are the Garicks with their Little Free Library (photo courtesy, Autumn Huff Garick).

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The recent news report by CBS4 Miami about a Miami Beach man who was charged with attempted murder and attempted arson for plotting to burn down his condo building should serve as a wake-up call for all condominium associations in Florida and across the country.  It appears to be a case in which the warning signs may have triggered a call to authorities that averted a horrific tragedy just in the nick of time.

The report states witnesses told police that Walter Stolper, 72, had shown aggression toward his fellow residents and the members of the association’s board of directors at their building at 56th Street and Collins Avenue.  As a result, he was facing an eviction action.

cbs4The breaking point for the initial call to authorities came when Stolper spoke with his friend Luis Diaz, who states in the station’s report:  “He told me he was tired of the association and the Jews in the building and he wanted to do something about it. He said he wanted to burn down the building. At first, I didn’t think he was serious, but then I heard him talk about blocking the fire department and their hoses, I realized he was serious and I had to do something.”

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MichaelHymanThe firm’s 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 “Associations Must Strictly Comply With Notice Requirements to Impose Fines, Liens,”  focuses on a recent ruling by the state’s Fourth District Court of Appeal that illustrates how Florida’s courts are going to demand very strict adherence to the statutory notice requirements in order for associations to impose fines and liens against unit owners.  Michael’s article reads:

A ruling last year by the Florida Fourth District Court of Appeal illustrates the severity of the consequences for community associations that do not follow the law to a tee in their notices to unit owners. In Dwork v. Executive Estates of Boynton Beach Homeowners Association, the appellate panel reversed the lower court’s award of fines because the HOA only provided 13 days’ notice of the fining committee hearing to the homeowner as opposed to the statutorily required 14 days.

dbr-logo-300x57The case arose over a dispute involving the stipulations in the HOA’s governing documents requiring all homeowners to keep their roofs and driveways clean and their fences in good condition. The association notified Jonathan Mitchell Dwork of violations of these requirements multiple times over several years, but he took no action.

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Marc-Smiley-SRHL-law-200x300The firm’s Marc A. Smiley 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 “Delay Causes Loss for HOA in Lawsuit Over House Color,” discusses the takeaways from a recent ruling by the Appellate Division of the 13th Judicial Circuit Court in Hillsborough County.  The ruling focuses on one of the most common architectural review stipulations that homeowners’ associations use to maintain aesthetic standards for their communities:  the approval of the colors which homeowners may use to paint the exterior of their homes.  Marc’s article reads:

Many HOAs require the prior review and approval of proposed house colors by architectural review committees, which are typically overseen by three parcel owners who are not also members of the association’s board of directors.

However, many associations’ governing documents also include provisions to limit the power of the association to take action against color changes and other architectural modifications in perpetuity. Their declarations of covenants hold that new colors and other unapproved modifications will be deemed to be approved if they are not challenged by the association within a set period of time (typically one year).

dbrlogo-300x57A recent ruling by the Appellate Division of the 13th Judicial Circuit Court in Hillsborough County confirmed that such requirements for community associations to act within a set timeframe will be strictly construed and applied by Florida’s courts.

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A recent Florida case involving a condominium association and the dog of a 70 year-old army veteran and widower drew national attention after it was covered initially in the Orlando Sentinel.  The newspaper’s reports chronicle how the association for the Orange Tree Village condominium is attempting to ban the dog because it weighs 41 pounds, which is six more than the maximum weight under its rules, and it may be a banned breed.

As a result of the association’s decision, retired veteran Robert Brady filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development after an arbitrator determined he had to surrender the dog by Jan. 11. dog4-300x171 The federal agency is now looking into whether the association can force the long-time resident to surrender his emotional support dog.

The attorney for Orange Tree Village said that his office has received calls sympathetic to Brady, but his client must enforce its rules that were established to keep residents safe.

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Our firm’s other community association attorneys and I are often called upon by association boards of directors and property managers with issues involving obstinate and disruptive unit owners who become a serious nuisance to directors, management and other residents.  In such cases, after warnings, incident reports and fines have failed to have any effect, legal action can serve as an effective recourse.

Such appears to be the case in the recent lawsuit filed by the condominium association for The Mark Yacht Club on Brickell Bay (pictured here) in Miami-Dade Circuit Court. the-mark-yacht-club-on-brickell-bay The association is suing Nuri Munis, Pelin Munis Cakov and Seda Munis, who own two units in the 36-story condo building, for putting the board of directors, property manager, staff and fellow residents through a hellish ordeal.

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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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