As Americans, we have the expectation that we will enjoy individual private-property rights. To varying degrees, this concept is at odds with homeowners’ association rules. Individuals who purchase a home within a community association should exercise caution, as they may soon discover they have little freedom of choice regarding their own property. Choices as to the color of the house, what trees can be planted, what vehicles can be parked in their driveway, and even what bathing attire can be worn are dictated by a select body of persons -- the Board.
Failure to abide by the rules may result in scorn, harassment, fines and attorney fees. Those who have never resided within a community association do not understand how much control the HOA typically exercises until they become entangled with the board. As often seen, a poorly managed association drags down property values and can make the members’ lives miserable.
More than any other factor, rules are the best and the worst aspect of community association living. Ideally, the rules enhance property values and promote community harmony. In reality, the rules frequently create division in a community. It is not the rules per se, but the board’s random enforcement, along with making up new rules as they go, that results in violation of an individual’s rights. Conflicts between the board and homeowners rapidly escalate when the board ignores individual rights and arbitrarily and capriciously enforces the association's restrictions.
You can take steps to safeguard your individual rights as a homeowner.
BE INFORMED AND AWARE: Find out as much as possible about the association before purchasing a home. Speak with residents, members of the Board, the property manager and any other persons with knowledge regarding the following concerns:
As a member, remain informed. The financial, political and legal conditions of your community association can affect your quality of life and value of your property.
Public records are a good source of valuable information. In most cases, you will not need to leave your home or office, as the information is accessible via the internet. In Florida, you can access corporate information and records at www.sunbiz.org. On this site you can verify the status of the association and the property management company. You can obtain the names and addresses of the board members. In Florida you can verify that the property manager is licensed via www.myflorida.com. The county records provide information about any lawsuits involving the association and the management company. This provides insight into both the financial conditions of the community and the board’s policy as to enforcement. The association documents are also available in the county public records.
When you purchase a home within a community association, you agree to the covenants, conditions and restrictions. Review the association's covenants, codes and restrictions, which detail your rights and responsibilities as an owner. Ask yourself if you can live by them, before you purchase the home. If the documents are lengthy and confusing, seek professional advice from an attorney.
If you are a homeowner, you have the right to review the association records. Florida statutes expressly require that the association maintain certain records, including bylaws, amendments, minutes of all meetings, insurance policies, contracts, membership list and many others. Upon written request, the association must make the records available to a homeowner within ten days of the request. If the association fails to comply, the homeowner is entitled to minimum damages of $50 per day. Your home is an investment. You should consider the finances of the association. Beyond reviewing the budget and financial statements, speaking with the association treasurer is wise. Questions to ask include:
As a member of the community, you should continually review the financial records of the association. Pursuant to Florida Law, the association must prepare an annual budget. The HOA must provide copies or make copies of the budget available to the homeowners. The association must also prepare an annual financial report within 60 days of the close of the fiscal year. The financial report must be provided to or made available to all homeowners.
Ms. Lively is a Florida licensed Attorney who represents individual homeowners in action related to enforcement and protection of their individual rights.
Ms. Lively’s South Florida office:
6810 Lake Worth Road # 336
Lake Worth, FL 33467