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Articles Posted in Rules and Restrictions

A recent survey by the Community Associations Institute found that 67 percent of respondents have noticed an increase in home-based businesses operating within their communities due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In the same survey, 83 percent of respondents reported that their community restricts home-based businesses, but 73 percent indicated that their association was now being more lenient when it came to approving residents’ requests to operate businesses such as daycares, school learning pods, hair stylists and others from their homes.

Most Florida community associations have restrictions prohibiting commercial business activities from being conducted in residents’ units. Some include blanket bans on commercial activity altogether, while others make a distinction between permissible and impermissible activities.

homework-300x200It makes sense for associations to regulate and restrict businesses from operating within their communities, especially for commercial activities that entail increased traffic and noise, but the upsurge in working from home in the new post-pandemic normal calls for HOAs and condominium associations to take a prudent approach that is guided by reason. Today’s technology allows for a great deal of work to be done from home with no disruptions whatsoever to the community at large. Rather than attempting to ban all commercial activities in a community, the better option is to specifically delineate in the governing documents the types of activities that are not allowed.

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Laura-Manning-Hudson-Gort-photo-200x300An article by firm partner Laura Manning-Hudson is featured as the “Board of Contributors” expert 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 “Signs, Signs Everywhere: It’s Time for Community Associations to Address Sign Policies,” discusses recent news reports from around the country that are indicative of an uptick in disputes within HOA communities involving homeowners’ yard signs.  Laura writes that today’s polarized political environment and social movements combined with widespread societal cabin fever caused by the pandemic have seemingly created a perfect storm for tempers to ignite over political and solidarity signs, and she offers helpful suggestions for how HOAs should respond.  Her article reads:

. . . In Macomb Township, Michigan, a couple has been quoted in a local TV report alleging they were singled out by their HOA to remove their Black Lives Matter signs while the association seemingly permitted their neighbors to post other similar signs supporting politicians and local schools.

psignsReports involving HOA disputes over BLM signs also made local TV and newspaper headlines in late July in the San Francisco bay area and New Albany, Ohio, where an HOA issued an apology to its residents after it posted a deadline for the specific removal of BLM yard signs on its social media pages.

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CSantisteban-200x300An article authored by the firm’s Christyne D. Santisteban is featured as the “Board of Contributors” expert 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 “Tennis Court Argument Snowballs Into $7M Federal Discrimination Suit Against HOA,” discusses how associations must be prepared to address and resolve disputes among unit owners over shared amenities and other matters by using a set process that typically includes letters from the association’s attorney, impartial board/committee meetings and hearings, and possibly also reasonable fines and suspensions.  Otherwise, these skirmishes could snowball into potentially dangerous confrontations that may expose associations to severe legal and financial liabilities, as a recent federal lawsuit with shocking allegations of discriminatory conduct illustrates.  Her article reads:

. . . The recent suit involves allegations of horrid discriminatory conduct and statements against homeowners Jeffrey and Deborah LaGrasso at the Seven Bridges community in Delray Beach, Florida. It seeks $7 million in compensatory and punitive damages from the community’s HOA and Rachel Aboud Tannenholz, who allegedly engaged in harassing behavior that included phone calls, text messages, personal visits to the plaintiffs’ home, and discriminatory posts on Facebook. dbrlogo-300x57The suit alleges the HOA and Tannenholz violated the federal Fair Housing Act by inflicting discriminatory behavior based on the LaGrasso’s religion and intentionally causing them emotional distress.

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The topic of parking within community associations is oftentimes a source of much consternation.  The limitation of parking spaces in HOA and condominium association communities – whether real or perceived – may result in volatile and contentious situations for community association stakeholders.  Homeowners, property managers and directors alike are confronted with concerns about the manner by which vehicles are parked; the number of vehicles residents choose to park within communities; the number of guests an owner may have at one time parking their vehicles within a community; the duration which vehicles may be parked; the types, appearance and size of vehicles parked within a community, and the locations in which residents or guests choose to park vehicles within a community.

npark-227x300In order to address these concerns, community association directors typically adopt rules and restrictions governing how, when, where, how many and what types of vehicles may be parked in the community.  However, unit owners can become very frustrated by such rules and restrictions, especially if they are perceived to be overzealous or ill-intended.

Board members and property managers should take every precaution to strike a balance between the rules and restrictions they impose upon parking within the community and the legitimate concerns they intend to address by the imposition of such rules.

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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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