Nearly all of Florida’s community associations have rules and regulations governing various aspects of community living. It is common for those rules and regulations to include restrictions on vehicle usage, and oftentimes there will be specific restrictions on the use of golf carts within the community. But Florida community associations should beware, what looks like a golf cart might not actually be a golf cart after all.
Is it a golf cart or not? While the question appears a simple one, the answer might not be so easy to determine. Florida law has carved out a classification of vehicles that look similar to golf carts in nearly every way, but are actually called “Low Speed Vehicles” and are afforded certain protections due to being environmentally friendly “neighborhood electric vehicles.” Believe it or not, Florida law actually provides a legal definition for golf carts: “Golf Cart means a motor vehicle that is designed and manufactured for operation on a golf course for sporting or recreational purposes and that is not capable of exceeding speeds of 20 miles per hour.” Fla. Stat. § 320.01(22).
The Florida Statutes also provide a definition for a Low Speed Vehicle: “Low-speed vehicle means any four-wheeled vehicle whose top speed is greater than 20 miles per hour but not greater than 25 miles per hour, including, but not limited to, neighborhood electric vehicles. Low speed vehicles must comply with the safety standards in 49 C.F.R. s. 571.500 and s. 316.2122.” Fla. Stat. § 320.01(41).
Many associations have private roads, which means the roads are owned and regulated by the association, not by the city, county, etc. When an association has private roads, it can implement private rules and regulations over those roads; however, it must ensure its rules are properly drafted and actually enforceable. This can become a problem for any community association that either has a poorly worded regulation on golf cart usage or where the board overextends its power and authority by attempting to restrict something that is actually allowed by law.
For example, an association may have a rule and regulation that states, “The operation of golf carts is strictly prohibited on all streets, roadways, common areas and sidewalks.” If the association then levies a fine and suspension on an owner due to a golf cart violation, but that cart actually meets the legal definition of a Low Speed Vehicle and not the legal definition of a golf cart, then the owner might have a legal claim against the association for improper violations. It may look like a golf cart, but the association might need to investigate further to know for sure before levying fines and suspensions.
If a cart can go faster than 20 miles per hour then it does not meet the definition of a golf cart and an association cannot fine the vehicle as a golf cart. Moreover, if a cart qualifies as a “neighborhood electric vehicle” then it does not fall under an association’s rule and regulation tailored only to golf carts. Notwithstanding the foregoing, an owner’s Low Speed Vehicle must still be validly registered and licensed. If not, then the owner may be subject to fines and suspensions for violating any association rules against operating unregistered / unlicensed vehicles.
For community associations experiencing issues with these types of vehicles, it is recommended that the board consult with an experienced association attorney to formulate specific rules and regulations on the various types of vehicles recognized by Florida law. The association can also implement a rule requiring the members to provide the association with all license and registration information for any cart the member has registered as a Low Speed Vehicle.