Fining has always seemed so easy, especially for those on the receiving end – when seen through the flashing blue lights in the rear-view mirror! Not so easy for Florida community associations restrained by the Florida legislature after years, actually decades, of fears and complaints by residents fearful of association powers.
In sullen response, why do so many Florida community associations resignedly hang their heads low and repeat “but, there is nothing we can do.” That is not a correct posture because there are many options, including fining and suspension. All it takes are a few good volunteers and patience!
Recently, a Florida appellate court reinforced the importance of patience, following an association’s own governing documents when imposing fines for violating the association’s rules and regulations. In the case of Gillis v. Jackson Shores Townhomes Association, Inc., 47 Fla. L. Weekly D 2553 (Fla. 2nd DCA, December 2, 2022), following an inspection of the owner’s property, the very next day the Association sent a violation letter to the owner informing him that he owed $100 for the violations. Because the owner failed to pay the fine when due, the Association suspended his access to community amenities and removed him from the Association’s Board of Directors.
The owner sued, seeking a judicial declaration compelling the Association to rescind the fine, to reinstate him to the Board and to restore his access to the amenities. The trial court entered final judgment in favor of the Association.
The Florida appellate court disagreed, reversing the decision of the trial court and agreeing with the fined and punished owner. Recounting that the Association’s written procedures are the starting point for evaluating Association enforcement efforts, the court examined the Association’s Declaration of Covenants. The court found that the Declaration specified a fining procedure:
The Association shall notify the Owner of the violation by written notice, after ten days. If such violation is not cured as soon as practicable after receipt of such written notice…the Association may, at its option … impose a fine against the Owner.
Here, the fine was imposed one day after the violations were discovered which was not the process in the Association’s own documents which provided for ten days with an opportunity to cure the violation.
In addition to finding that the Association failed to follow its own procedures, the court determined that the fine also did not meet the statutory requirements of Section 720.305(2)(B), Fla. Stat. (2017). That provision in the Florida Homeowners’ Association Act prohibits the imposition of a fine or suspension without at least 14 days notice to the owner and an opportunity for a hearing.
As the court succinctly stated, “compliance with the statute is a prerequisite for the Association to impose a fine.”
The decision highlights and reinforces the importance for a Florida community association to comply with both its own governing documents and the Florida statutes when imposing fines for violations of the association’s restrictions. This includes providing notice and waiting the proscribed time before the fine is imposed!