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Articles Posted in Rules and Restrictions

Marc-Smiley-SRHL-law-200x300Firm shareholder Marc A. Smiley authored an article that was featured as the “Board of Contributors” guest commentary 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 “Association Protected by Business Judgment Rule Against Disgruntled, Litigious Homeowner,” discusses how the enforcement of restrictions against property improvements that are in violation of association covenants can become very contentious in single-family home communities.  It notes most of these disputes are between a homeowner seeking approval for alterations and their association’s architectural review committee, but some of the cases stem from third-party unit owners who become dissatisfied with their association’s decisions.  His article reads:

A recent ruling by Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeal involved just such a dispute brought by a homeowner who was disappointed with his association’s approval of a neighbor’s new garage. In Miller v. Homeland Property Owners Association, the appellate panel affirmed the lower court’s partial final summary judgment in favor of a homeowner that had secured the association’s prior approval and built the garage on his property.

dbr-logo-300x57The Fourth DCA only addressed whether disputed issues of material fact precluded the entry of summary judgment and the proper application of the business judgment rule. Owners in the community of Homeland Property Owners Association are required to obtain approval of their plans by the association’s architectural review board prior to commencing any work. Restrictions that are in place in the community include a maximum building height of 32 feet and a prohibition against flat roofs.

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Recent reports in the Palm Beach Post and on WPBF 25 News (see video below) chronicled the devastating damage that is being caused to homes in the Ibis Golf and Country Club community in West Palm Beach by hundreds of black vultures.  The large birds are being attracted by a homeowner who is feeding the wildlife with massive amounts of food.

The vultures fly in for their regular feedings and then stay to roost on and around the surrounding houses.  Hundreds of the birds have torn apart screened enclosures and made themselves at home in neighboring pools and patios, and they have even dented residents’ vehicles with their beaks.

“The vultures just vomit everywhere,” says a homeowner in the newspaper’s article.  “Defecating and vomiting.  It’s just gross.”

Another homeowner who lives next door to the lady who feeds the birds says that after the vultures tore into her pool enclosure, they became trapped and began attacking each other.  “Imagine 20 large vultures trapped, biting each other — and they can bite through bones,” she said. “They would bang against my windows running away from a bird that was attacking them. Blood was everywhere. It was a vile, vicious, traumatic event.”

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A recent editorial by the South Jersey Times focused on the tragic and untimely death of a 25-year-old HOA community resident that is being blamed on an overly restrictive association rule.  Tori Gerstenacker (pictured below) was struck and killed by a motorist while crossing Route 70 in Evesham Township.  She parked her pick-up truck at a shopping center across the busy highway because the HOA for the Delancey Place community where she lived has a rule against parking commercial vehicles.

According to her roommate, Gerstenacker regularly parked at the strip mall because the homeowners association warned her that it would tow her truck if it was parked in the community.  The roommate says she drove a Ford F-150 pickup truck similar to those several other Delancey Place residents park in the community without drawing the ire of the association.  The difference is that Gerstenacker’s truck featured the logo of the company she worked for, identifying it as a “commercial” vehicle.

tgersten-225x300The editorial concedes that blaming the Delancey Place association for Gerstenacker’s death is not fair.  “Several other circumstances could have contributed, including how much care she took in crossing a busy, dark state highway, and the actions of the motorist who struck her. (The driver stayed at the scene and cooperated with investigators),” it reads.

However, it also states that associations should avoid putting their residents between a rock and a hard place.  It notes that there are no side streets along Route 70 where residents of the area’s multitude of developments can conveniently park non-conforming vehicles.

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A recent article by the Marco Eagle newspaper reported that the Marco Island Code Enforcement Magistrate recently issued $1,000 fines to three condominium associations for violating sea turtle lighting restrictions.  For one of the properties, it was the second such violation in consecutive months.

The violations involved lighting in the pool areas that reflect on the oceanfront buildings.  These lights could potentially disorient turtle hatchlings, causing them to move away from the shore.

sturtle-300x200The newspaper report also noted that the city’s code enforcement office had recently issued $1,300 in fines against six condominium associations for violating sea turtle lighting restrictions.  To date, the municipality has issued 45 notices of violation during the 2019 sea turtle season, 25 more than in 2018.

The article also states that a local condominium resident recently posted in a Facebook group that she found a dead sea turtle hatchling inside of a Ziploc-type plastic bag in her building’s lobby accompanied by a note reading:  “This is what you get when you don’t close the blinds.  They crawl towards the light.”

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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, 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.

As many associations have already realized, enforcing rules and restrictions against short-term rentals can be very challenging. Savvy unit owners have been known to sneak their transient guests into properties by advising security that their visit is authorized.

As such, enhanced vigilance and guest-screening measures have become necessary, and many associations have developed and implemented new registration forms for use with guests and tenants along with written assurances and noncompensation statements indicating they are not paying for their stays.

sout-300x200That may not go far enough for some associations with owners who are highly determined to rent their units. For some, it has become necessary to retain a private investigator to gather and document incontrovertible proof that restricted rentals are taking place. Licensed private detectives can effectively investigate homeowners and tenants in violation of association bylaws and CC&Rs that prohibit turning units into short-term vacation rentals. 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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“I’m putting my own life at risk!” That’s what an Ormond Beach, Fla. homeowners association director is reported to have said after he fired his gun into the ground in an effort to shoo away two teenagers from the community pool.

Thankfully, nobody was hurt in the incident, which resulted in the arrest of Richard S. Marcelle, 66 (pictured below), for three counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon without intent to kill and discharging a gun in public.

According to reports in the Daytona Beach News-Journal and local television stations, the encounter took place at approximately 9:15 on the evening of April 22 when Julian Johnson, an 18-year-old resident of The Village subdivision, and a younger friend visited the community pool. rmarcelle-280x300Marcelle, who is a member of the HOA’s board of directors, approached and informed them that the pool was closed.

When Johnson noticed a sign indicating the pool is open until 10 p.m. as he and his friend were exiting, they pointed it out to Marcelle. Apparently, residents had not yet been notified, and new signs had not been posted, announcing a recent change to the pool hours.

As they attempted to re-enter the pool area, the association director intercepted them and brandished a handgun, which he then fired into the ground. One of the teens then asked: “Did you really just shoot a gun?” Marcelle’s response: “Yes, I am putting my own life at risk!”

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The horrific murder of an 11-year-old Las Vegas girl stemming from a shooting into her home, which had been mistakenly targeted by local gang members, has led to a wrongful death lawsuit against the homeowners association and property management firm. The tragic case delivers a very clear and important message for community associations contending with problem residents who may pose a threat.

The shooting last November was caught on surveillance video, which shows multiple assailants firing indiscriminately into the home where Angelina Erives lived with her mother, step-father and two sisters. The shooters were confused as to the location of their intended target, which was a home two doors down the street, when they killed Angelina (pictured below in family photo provided to media).

ErivesAccording to statements of the attorney for Angelina’s mother and siblings in several news reports, the neighboring property had been occupied by as many as 20 different tenants and the police had been called to that property on numerous occasions. The homeowners association and property management company were aware of the problems and had been in communications with the owner of the home. However, the association’s apparent enforcement of the community’s covenants, conditions and restrictions fell short of evicting the problem residents.

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Home automation is a fast-growing segment of the tech industry, and the use of Internet-connected doorbell cameras has become particularly popular for those seeking an extra level of security at a reasonable price. These motion-activated cameras enable users to monitor everyone who passes by their front door, whether on a live or recorded video feed. While use of these devices may present less privacy issues for those residing in single-family homes, what about for those who reside within condominium buildings with shared hallways?

Proponents of doorbell cameras in condominium buildings may argue that the convenience and safety benefits they provide outweigh the privacy concerns and any issues of improper alterations to the common-element portions of the condominium building. dbelcam For example, a doorbell camera, which may also be capable of recording audio, may view and record within another dwelling that may be located across the hallway when its door is open.  The use of a doorbell camera in such a scenario may be considered an invasion of privacy.

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Drones have become extremely popular for those who yearn for the latest gadgets and gizmos.  Many associations have already adopted rules to address the use of drones in their communities, and those that have not done so should give it serious thought and consideration.

When equipped with cameras, drones can be used to violate the privacy of association residents, not to mention their ability to cause major property damage, so associations should take a proactive approach toward developing and implementing rules and restrictions to protect the interests of those residing within their community.  Specifically, some examples of the rules and policies that associations are implementing include:

d2-300x176Restricting the space within which drones may be flown, such as over their operator’s personal lot, or those lots of adjoining neighbors (with their prior permission).

Limiting drone use to association common areas that are away from roads, buildings, playgrounds and other amenities.

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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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