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Articles Posted in Rules and Restrictions

For homeowners’ associations governing communities of single-family homes, one of the most difficult balancing acts to uphold is that of enforcement actions required against noncompliant homeowners over the physical state of their property. In the minds of many Americans, community associations have a negative perception and stigma for overzealous rules enforcement, but yet they cannot allow individual owners to flout important policies that help to maintain their communities’ property values.

After unsuccessful attempts to persuade an intractable owner to comply with the language provided in an association’s governing documents, the time may come to file a lawsuit against the violating member. While such action should not be taken lightly due to the potential costs and uncertainties of litigation, such lawsuits may be the only recourse left to associations facing obstinate owners who refuse to comply.

bbathandt-300x200Such appears to be the case with a recent lawsuit filed by the Boca Raton Bath & Tennis Club HOA against homeowner Lynn Min for alleged violations of several provisions found within the community’s governing documents. The suit, which was covered recently by www.BocaNewsNow.com, states:

“Owner is in violation of the provisions cited [in the governing documents] by virtue of their Property being in a state of disrepair, including a lack of maintenance to the home’s structure and roof, the exterior of the Property needs to be painted, the sod needs to be replaced, and the irrigation system is defective and needs to be repaired.”

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A report that aired in late November on 7News (WSVN-Fox) in South Florida focused on a local renter in a dispute with her condominium association over her motorcycle. While the property’s rules ban motorcycles, the tenant had apparently been explicitly told she would be allowed to keep and park her motorcycle at the property prior to signing her lease. Three years later after she’d been using and parking her motorcycle at the property without complaint, she received a notice from the association indicating that it had to go or it would be towed.

It appears that the tenant’s response was to call or email the TV station’s tip-line, and the end result was another thoroughly investigated and highly informative “Help Me Howard” segment by its senior reporter Patrick Fraser and long-time legal expert Howard Finkelstein.

The report chronicles how Alexa Polcyn had been allowed to use and keep her motorcycle at the property for over three years until the association suddenly began “hassling our landlord about it.” She tells Fraser that she had noticed the restriction on her lease but was expressly told by the association that her motorcycle was not going to be an issue.

wsvn-logoThe association was apparently true to its word until three years later in late 2021 when it decided it would begin enforcing its motorcycle ban. It issued her a written notice that the motorcycle had to go, so the question for the station’s legal expert was whether the association could now change its mind on an exception to its rule that it had previously granted?

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My fellow South Florida community association attorneys at our firm and I have noticed an increased number of media reports about condominium and HOA disputes in 2021.  Laura Manning-Hudson and I have written about a few of these in this blog in recent months.  Typically, these situations arise due to what may be characterized as an inadequate and ineffective response by the associations involved, and sometimes they are created by inadequate planning.

However, a recent report by NBC affiliate Channel 8 News (WFLA) in Tampa about a dispute over holiday lights at a local HOA provides a good example of the type of response that communities can offer to help mitigate difficult circumstances that may adversely affect the fabric of the community.  The response by the association’s attorney in an on-camera interview with the station’s reporter goes a long way towards balancing the entire story, and it may even pave the way for a positive outcome that could be the subject of a future report by the station.

The station’s story chronicles how the Moffa family of the Westchase community hired a company to install holiday lights on their roof and front yard on Nov. 6. Mr. Moffa tells the station’s reporter that the early date was the company’s only availability, and he was unable to climb up on the roof himself.

WFLA400-300x225As a result, he and his family are now facing fines for violating the Westchase Homeowners Association’s rules and restrictions, which state holiday lights cannot go up before Thanksgiving. The letter from the HOA, which he shares with the reporter, indicates the family could be fined $100 dollars a day, up to $1,000, if they refuse to remove the lights, which apparently is exactly what they intend to do.

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Yet another highly questionable decision by a Florida condominium association has made local TV news.

The latest condo dispute to make the local evening news involves a New Smyrna Beach, Fla., owner who was denied the transfer of another unit at the same property from her late husband to her after his passing. According to a report by Channel 9 News (WFTV-ABC), Joan Cotton was denied the transfer of the additional residence that her late husband Jeffrey had owned for more than a decade by the board of directors for the condominium association for the Village of Colony Beach Club.

The community’s governing documents apparently allows for its board to approve or deny the transfer or sale of units in the community for any reason. The Cottons owned two units in the community: a single bedroom residence under her name, and a two-bedroom condo under his name in which they both resided.

She received a notification from the association indicating that the board of directors has voted to deny the transfer, and instead it has entered into an agreement to sell the unit to a third-party buyer for $466,500. wftv2-300x169The letter included a check to her for an initial down payment of $5,000 from the hopeful buyer, but her attorney has vowed to fight the association’s decision and says the closing is never going to happen.

“I started shaking, I started to cry,” Cotton says in the report. “It was horrible. You can’t just steal my condo!”

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Nicole-Kurtz-2014-200x300Michael-Hyman-srhl-lawAn article authored by the firm’s Michael L. Hyman and Nicole R. Kurtz was featured as the expert guest commentary column in the online edition of today’s Daily Business Review, South Florida’s exclusive business daily and official court newspaper, and will soon be appearing in the “Board of Contributors” page of the print edition.  The article, which is titled “DOJ Discrimination Suit Over Shoes Left Outside Holds Lessons for Community Associations,” focuses on a decision by a Florida condominium association and its board of directors to refuse to grant an accommodation to allow an owner to leave his shoes outside the front door of his unit in a condominium building with outdoor walkways.  As a result, the association now faces a costly and potentially dire federal discrimination lawsuit brought against it by the U.S. Department of Justice alleging it committed various violations of the Fair Housing Act.  Furthermore, the entire matter has also been chronicled online in an extensive news report by The Daily Beast.  Their article reads:

. . . The website’s article begins by noting that Charlie Burge, the unit owner who sought an accommodation that would allow him to maintain his shoes outside his unit’s front door, is a 9/11 responder who suffers from medical ailments stemming from his front-line work at the World Trade Center site. Before moving to Florida, he had worked for the New York City Department of Sanitation for 35 years, and he spent more than 400 days clearing debris at ground zero. As a result of this work, the article states that Burge suffers from upper respiratory issues, gastrointestinal ailments, skin cancer and PTSD; all of which federal officials have certified as being related to cleanup work performed at the WTC site.

dbr-logo-300x57After he retired in 2015, Burge and his wife Anna moved to a residence they owned at the Links South at Harbour Village, a condominium community on the Ponce Inlet south of Daytona Beach, Florida. In order to avoid aggravating his symptoms, and on the advice of his doctor, the couple began leaving their shoes outside of their front door. As their door is set back by several feet from the outdoor open-air walkway of their building, they were able to keep their shoes in a spot where they would not block anyone’s path.

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My colleague Laura Manning-Hudson wrote about a dispute involving pet chickens that received unwanted TV news coverage for a Boca Raton HOA in her last blog post.  To help illustrate just how common such negative media coverage has become for community associations that make questionable decisions, my latest post just a couple of weeks later also focuses on another report by a local South Florida station involving disputed community association actions.

The latest story is on a Hollywood, Fla., condominium association’s decision to deny a 100-year-old resident a gate access pass decal for her to use when she is getting a ride home. The report by 7 News (WSVN-FOX) in South Florida features an interview with Vangie Commeau, who lives at the Carriage Hills Condominium and is 100 years old. She tells the station’s Patrick Fraser that earlier this year the property cancelled the manned security guard at its entrance gate in favor of an automatic scanner that reads bar codes on window-sticker decals on residents’ vehicles to open the gate.

wsvn-logoBecause Commeau does not own or drive a vehicle, she did not receive a decal from the association. She tells the reporter that she brought it to their attention, but the association responded by declining to issue her a gate access decal pass.

This creates a burden for Commeau when one of her friends takes her to the doctor or to one of her monthly lunches with their friends, as she is unable to get their vehicle in through the residents’ gate when they return. She was told to use the guest lane and buzz one of her neighbors to let her in, but she notes that forces her to make an appointment with a neighbor a day ahead.

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When it comes to coverage of community association disputes, nothing seems to draw the media’s attention more than quarrels involving the forced removal of unapproved family pets and service animals. One of the most recent examples is a report by CBS-12 News on a Boca Raton family that is fighting to keep its chickens and backyard coop, which they have maintained for the last 10 years.

The station’s report chronicles how the Ashley Park Homeowners Association has given Damir Kadribasic and his family a 14-day notice to get rid of the birds or start facing a fine of $100 per day. Kadribasic has retained an attorney and apparently intends to put up a fight. He says he has had the birds for the last 10 years with no complaints, and he showed the station a petition signed by his neighbors demanding that the HOA allow the chickens to stay.

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The family’s attorney says they were given a notice that consisted of a single sentence, and the association did not specify which bylaws were being violated. However, the station obtained a copy of the community’s bylaws, which do indeed state that only common domestic pets are permitted. To that, the owners’ attorney notes that the chickens are domestic because they are not being used commercially and are considered pets by the family. He also says that the HOA cannot selectively enforce its rules.

The station’s report concludes by noting that it asked the association for a response, but none was forthcoming. That was unfortunate for the HOA, because predictably the result was a one-sided report.  Click here to watch it on the station’s website.

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The Community Associations Institute, the largest organization representing the interests of condominium and homeowners associations in the world, provides many excellent resources for association directors, members and property managers. One of the organization’s best online resources is its “Ungated” blog at www.blog.caionline.org, and two of its recent entries focused on some of the most important and ubiquitous Covid-related issues that are currently weighing on associations.

In the June 3 post, which is titled “Diving in: More community pools are open for the summer,” pandemic-related pool rules and operations are discussed. The post is based upon a survey of roughly 1,000 members of the Community Associations Institute regarding their pool plans for 2021, and it revealed that only two percent of survey respondents plan to close their pools this summer season. This survey result is in stark contrast to the nearly 44 percent of CAI members who planned to close their pools during the summer season last year.

CAI-logoIt is worth noting, however, that more than a quarter of respondents in the CAI survey were still undecided about their pool rules and policies for the remainder of the year due to ongoing coronavirus concerns. Additionally, forty percent of survey respondents confirmed they were planning to require residents to sign a liability waiver when pools reopen.

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A lawsuit that was recently filed against the Promenade at Boca Pointe Condominium Association highlights the importance of properly adopting changes to an association’s governing documents and recording them in the local court registry where the association is located. If the allegations in the lawsuit hold up in court, the association for the Boca-area community could be forced to pay the plaintiff unit-owners’ lost rental income and legal bills.

According to the suit, the association is making up rules to prevent condo owners Gerardo and Ana Vizcaino from leasing their unit for a full year. The suit states that the association’s new rule, which it apparently adopted at an August 2020 board meeting after a simple vote of the board the directors, was never approved by the members by a formal vote.

Indeed, the suit alleges that the association president acknowledged in a notice to all of the unit owners that the board’s adoption of a rule restricting rentals to one tenant per 12-month period was invalid because it had not been approved by the unit owners via an amendment to the governing documents. The only restriction in the association’s recorded declaration pertaining to rentals states that owners are only restricted from renting units for terms of less than thirty days. No other restrictions are included in the recorded governing documents.

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The Florida Legislature made Covid-19 civil liability protections for businesses, healthcare providers, non-profits, and other organizations a major priority for the 2021 session, and on Monday, March 29, it became the year’s first bill signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis. SB 72, the bill that provides several Covid-related liability protections for businesses, healthcare providers, educational institutions, government entities, religious institutions, and not-for-profit corporations such as community associations, is now the law in Florida.

Under the new law, covered entities will be shielded from civil liability for Covid-related lawsuits for monetary damages, injuries or deaths so long as the allegations do not involve gross negligence or intentional misconduct.

Flalegislature-300x169As of March 29, Florida community associations that have implemented measures to safeguard their residents and staff from the potential spread of Covid-19 in their communities and comply with local, state and federal guidelines are protected from liability for Covid-related lawsuits.

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