The Obligations of Unit Owners and Other Occupants of Properties Within Condo Associations, and the Associations’ Statutory Remedies
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Many unit owners of properties within Florida’s condominium associations fail to realize that when they gain title to that property they are subjecting themselves not only to the Florida Statutes governing such associations but also to the association’s own rules and regulations. Moreover, many tenants, lessees and other occupants of association properties also fail to realize they are subject to such laws, rules and regulations by contracting to reside on the premises. Section 718.303, Florida Statutes, makes clear the obligations of unit owners and their tenants and provides for the remedies available to associations when such occupants break the rules. This blog post will provide a brief overview of Florida law concerning this issue.
Each condominium unit owner, tenant and other invitee is governed by, and must comply with, Chapter 718, Florida Statutes, in addition to the association’s declaration, bylaws, articles of incorporation and internal rules and regulations. See Fla. Stat. § 718.303(1). The Florida legislature treats associations as quasi-governing bodies and democratic sub-societies, meaning that associations are delegated their own governing authority to promulgate rules and regulations so long as they do not conflict with the Florida Statutes. Hidden Harbour Estates, Inc. v. Norman, 309 So.2d 180, 181 (FLa. 4th DCA 1975). Such rules can include the following: parking regulations; common element regulations affecting the use of the gym, pool, tennis courts, dog walking areas, etc.; noise violations; and various other rules. If violated, the Florida legislature has provided associations with the ability to assess fines, suspend amenity rights and to even bring formal legal action against violators if necessary.
Associations can bring a legal action for damages, injunctive relief, and/or both against unit owners, directors, any tenant leasing a unit, and any other invitee occupying a unit. Fla. Stat. § 718.303(1). The prevailing party in any such action also has the statutory right to recover attorneys’ fees. Id. Associations must be aware, however, that if a unit owner prevails then that unit owner is not only entitled to the recovery of his or her attorneys’ fees but also to reimbursement for his or her share of assessments that were used to fund the association’s litigation expenses. Id.
Rather than commencing legal action, the association may levy reasonable fines for the failure of such occupants to comply with the association’s declaration, bylaws, rules and regulations. Fla. Stat. § 718.303(3). The association can issue a fine for each day of a continuing violation, with a single notice and opportunity for a hearing, but the fine may not exceed $100 per violation or a total of $1,000. Id. Although the association can issue fines, a fine can never become a lien against a unit. Id. Associations can also suspend, for a reasonable amount of time, the right of such occupants to use the common elements, common facilities, or any other association property for violations. Fla. Stat. § 718.303(3)(a). Suspensions do not apply to limited common elements that are intended to be used only by that unit, common elements needed to access the unit, utility services provided by the unit, parking spaces, or elevators. Id.
In order to impose a fine or suspension, the association must first provide the violator with at least 14 days’ written notice and an opportunity for a hearing. Fla. Stat. § 718.303(3)(b). The hearing must be held before a committee of other unit owners who are neither board members nor persons residing in a board member’s household. Id. If the committee does not agree on the violation, the fine or suspension may not be imposed. Id.