Articles Posted in Homeowners association law

The recent news about an accident inside G.L. Homes’ Seven Bridges community in Delray Beach involving four children on a golf cart highlights the potential legal liabilities for Florida associations concerning kids driving golf carts.

According to a report by BocaNewsNow.com, four children were riding a 2014 EZ Go “Freedom” Golf Cart on the community’s main street when the unlicensed 15-year-old girl driving the cart darted in front of an oncoming car.  The car, which was driven by Sunny Isles resident Eduard Hiutin, crashed into the golf cart, causing its driver and passengers, ages 11, 13, 14 and 15, to be ejected onto the street.  The children were transported by ambulance to the trauma unit at Delray Medical Center, where one was treated for a catastrophic injury.

The golf cart driver, who lives in the community along with two of the other children, was charged with operating a motor vehicle in a careless or negligent manner as well as failure to yield to the right of way.

gcart-300x158While the parent of the golf cart driver can be sued for negligence in such a case, the association can also be named as a defendant.  In fact, according to the Seven Bridges community’s governing documents filed with the clerk of courts, Seven Bridges requires a golf cart driver to be at least 16 years old and carry a valid driver’s license.  If enforcement of this rule was lax, potential liability could be alleged.

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A Lantana couple that had been arrested for defrauding their homeowners association were recently found guilty and hit with a severe jail sentence and restitution order.  The judge in the case found William and Darlene Cox, the former president and treasurer of Lantana Homes HOA (respectively), guilty of embezzling from the association that they helped to lead.

William Cox was sentenced to three years in state prison, while Darlene Cox was placed on probation for five years, the first of which must be served with a monitor.  They were also ordered to pay more than $360,000 in restitution to the HOA.

According to a report by CBS 12 News in West Palm Beach, the current leaders of the HOA are frustrated because Darlene Cox is still living in the community.  She remains a neighbor amongst all of those she defrauded and robbed.

willcoxDarlene and her husband were arrested in November 2016 after the current board discovered financial discrepancies in the association’s accounts.  According to the arrest report, the two were accused of taking the HOA funds and using the money to pay their personal car insurance as well as their homeowners and life insurance premiums.

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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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One of the key takeaways from Hurricane Irma was a reminder about the importance of keeping trees properly trimmed in order to avoid damage to power lines from downed foliage.  However, a recent report by Channel 7 News (Fox) in South Florida about a Hallandale Beach HOA’s troubles with the city over its allegedly exorbitant tree trimming serves as a cautionary tale for all Florida community associations.

According to the report, the insurance company for the Hallandale Village Homeowners Association asked association president Richard Masone to trim the trees around the property at the start of this year’s hurricane season.  Masone complied and asked the association’s regular landscape maintenance company to trim the trees.

hrack-tree-300x225The job pleased the community’s insurer, but Hallandale Beach Code Enforcement officers were not happy with the tree trimming.  City Manager Roger Carlton called the trimming unacceptable, noting that it “enormously exceeded any reasonable amount.”

The association was told by the city that the trees were “hatracked,” or over-trimmed, and they ordered the community to dig up and replace the trees, which entails hiring an arborist and pulling permits for each of the 10-15 trees that would need to be replaced.

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Some good news for community associations struggling with questionable requests for the approval of emotional support animals:  The Department of Housing and Urban Development is expected to issue revised guidelines later this year focusing on ESA requests and approvals.  According to The National Association of Realtors, the new guidelines should give landlords, property managers and community associations greater authority to verify that the need for such an animal is legitimate.

The NAR reports it has had separate conversations with HUD and disability rights groups. esupdog-300x234 Senior Policy Representative Megan Booth recently told attendees at a conference that the disability rights groups have expressed concerns over the widespread abuse of requests for companion animals, as they believe it is already making it more difficult for residents with legitimate needs to receive the approvals they require.

It appears that the new HUD guidance will be specifically aimed at curtailing the use of online ESA certification mills.

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While most garden-variety disputes between unit owners and their condominium associations are mandated by law to go to nonbinding arbitration before going to court, certain types of more complex disagreements are specifically excluded from this requirement and can proceed straight to trial.

The latest ruling over whether a dispute between an owner and a condominium association involving an addition to a common element was required to first go to arbitration before trial came in the case of Palisades Owners’ Association v. Thomas F. Browning before Florida’s First District Court of Appeal.

Dan Phillips and Jamey Phillips, who each own a unit in the Palisades condominium in Panama City, Fla. and serve on the association’s board of directors, added a boat lift to the community’s dock in 2016 for their exclusive use without prior approval from the other unit owners.  As a result, unit owner Thomas F. Browning sued the association, which moved to dismiss the suit based on the contention that it must first be submitted to nonbinding arbitration in accordance with The Condominium Act.

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This year’s legislative session has come to an end, establishing new laws and amendments to a number of statutes regulating community associations in Florida. On March 23, 2018, Governor Rick Scott signed the following laws into effect:Florida-legislature-photo-thumb-300x198-300x198

Official Records of Condominiums and Cooperatives – § 718.111, § 719.104

  • The deadline for condominium and cooperative associations to fulfill official record requests has been extended from 5 working days to 10 working days. §718.111(12)(b), § 719.104(2)(b), Fla. Stat.
  • Electronic records relating to voting have been included in the list of official records that must be kept by condominium and cooperative associations. §718.111(12)(a)12., § 719.104(2)(a)10., Fla. Stat.
  • Condominium associations must now permanently maintain specific documents from the inception of the association, unlike the previous 7-year limitation. The following is a list of those documents: §718.111(12), Fla. Stat., §719.104(2), Fla. Stat.
  • A copy of the articles of incorporation, declaration, bylaws and rules of the association;
  • The minutes of all meetings;
  • A copy of the plans, permits, warranties, and other items provided by the developer;
  • Accounting records for the association.

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Condominium associations and HOAs throughout South Florida as well as across the country are seeking effective responses to the problem of short-term rentals that are in violation of their rules and restrictions. These unauthorized rentals, which have become prevalent with the growth of Airbnb and other online home-sharing platforms, are creating significant security and liability concerns for associations.

One response by a San Diego homeowners association recently drew the attention of its local ABC affiliate, which chronicled how the community had retained a private investigator to gather and document incontrovertible proof that specific owners were conducting the restricted rentals.  The licensed private detective and his associates were hired by the HOA and other local associations to investigate homeowners and tenants who are violating association bylaws and CC&Rs that prohibit turning units into short-term vacation rentals.

sout-300x200While the hiring of private detectives may initially seem as an extreme measure for an association, it makes sense when one considers the risks and concerns that are brought on by these rentals for HOAs and condominiums.  Also, court actions may become necessary against some unit owners who flout the rules, and the evidence obtained by these investigators as well as their testimony can be very helpful in these proceedings.

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RobertoBlanch2013As leaders in the field, our firm’s community association attorneys are often contacted by journalists for their insights into timely issues involving condominium associations and HOAs.  The latest example of one of our partners serving as an industry source on association topics comes in an article featuring quotes and analysis from Roberto C. Blanch that appears on the front page of today’s Daily Business Review, South Florida’s only business daily and official court newspaper.

The article focuses on a complaint to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development against a Florida condo that is accused of religious discrimination for prohibiting prayers and religious meetings in its social rooms.  The association for the Cambridge House condominium in Port Charlotte is alleged to have violated the Fair Housing Act when its board voted to forbid religious meetings in the common rooms.

Dunbar_Piano_ImageThe complaint, which was filed earlier this week, is on behalf of resident Donna Dunbar against both the association as well as its management company.  It states that as a lay minister in the Seventh Day Adventist Church, Dunbar led a women’s Bible study group with about 10 women, including Cambridge House residents and guests, in a common room for two hours on Monday mornings, but the board of directors voted Feb. 6 to prohibit prayers, religious services and religious meetings in the common areas.  It then posted a sign on an organ in the lobby reading “ANY AND ALL CHRISTIAN MUSIC IS BANNED!”.

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A recent newspaper report about squatters in condominium units illustrates the level of vigilance that associations and their property management must employ to prevent any unauthorized uses of their residences.

The article in January by the Citrus County Chronicle documented the case that took place at The Islands condominiums in Crystal River, Fla. (pictured below).  Work on the residences in the community became necessary due to extensive damage caused by Hurricane Hermine in September 2016, and it had been progressing well until several unit owners discovered workers were staying in the units without permission.

ilndscndo-1024x668It began when one of the owners noticed wet floors near the shower and other indicators that the construction workers were not just replacing cabinets or working on the carpets.  He and a neighbor later found workers sleeping overnight in the condo unit of another owner who did not know they were there, so they called the police. Continue reading