As a Florida real estate law firm experienced in the field of Homeowners Associations (HOAs) and Condo Owners Associations (COAs), South Florida law frequently works to resolve HOA disputes, establish HOAs, draft and review HOA documentation and transact properties in communities managed by associations (either HOAs or COAs).
In the process of handling association-related matters, frequent questions arise. Here is a list of those frequently asked questions with answers to each.
How do HOA’s get started?
An HOA can either be started in a new community when the property developer turns over management of the community to its property owners, or it can be created in an existing community when property owners vote to create an HOA and elect a board of directors. Dormant HOAs can also be reinstated.
Can I sue my HOA?
Probably not, at least not initially. Florida statute requires that HOA and COA disputes are resolved at first through mediation and secondly through arbitration. In most cases, the decision of an arbitration committee is final and legally binding. In some rarer cases, association disputes are able to go to court where they can be resolved through litigation. Consult a real estate attorney with extensive HOA experience before attempting to take any legal action against an HOA in Florida. This will ensure that you are aware of your rights and obligations under Federal, state and local laws and that your best interests are being served by the actions you take.
Do I have to join an HOA?
Typically, yes. In almost all cases, a community with an established HOA will require all homeowners living in that community to be a member of that HOA. This means that those members will be required to follow all HOA rules, pay dues and special assessments and be legally bound to the HOAs bylaws and restrictive covenants.
There are rare exceptions to this rule. Some HOAs, while in the early stages of being established, may allow some existing members of the community to exclude themselves from membership. This, however, is rare and does not apply to new homeowners entering the community. Such new homeowners will certainly be required to join the HOA automatically when they purchase a property in the community.
Are there restrictions on what an HOA or COA can prohibit?
Yes. Chapter 720 of Florida Statutes (for HOAs) and Chapter 718 (for COAs) outline specific restrictions on prohibiting certain activities. For example, a homeowner’s right to display the US flag or have a service animal in their home is protected. HOAs and COAs are further required to comply with Federal laws such as the Fair Housing Act and may be further restricted from prohibiting certain activities by county and municipal codes and ordinances. As a general rule, HOAs and COAs are required to enforce restrictions uniformly. This means that when a rule applies to one homeowner, it must apply to all other homeowners in the community. Consult a local real estate lawyer with experience in Florida HOA-law to determine whether your HOA has “stepped out of bounds” in their enforcement of specific prohibitions.
What is the average fee for a Florida HOA?
Florida HOAs typically charge monthly fees in the range of $200-$500, although fees as low as $100/month or as high as $2,000/month do exist. Miami-Dade County has the fifth-highest HOA fees in the US according to Trulia with the average HOA fee being $415/month.
Homeowners in HOA properties and COA-managed condominiums should be aware that lower monthly fees can be deceiving. In the long run, communities with low monthly fees are more likely to require additional funds for essential community maintenance. These funds are often collected by way of special assessments, which in many cases can far outweigh any perceived savings in regular monthly association fees.
What happens if I don’t pay an association fee (such as a special assessment or fine)?
If you are a member of an association you are legally bound to make any required payments to that association. HOAs and COAs have the power to place a lien on your property as a form of recovering unpaid fees, fines and special assessments.
This can be an impediment to selling your property or getting a second mortgage on the property. In some extreme cases, an association can even move to foreclose on your property if you owe significant amounts of money to the association.
Can an HOA or COA stop me from selling my property?
In specific circumstances, yes. Liens placed on your property by an HOA or COA will complicate any attempt to sell the property. Furthermore, associations may include rigorous screening processes that may exclude certain buyers from entering the community. However, any restrictions on buyers must not discriminate against protected populations such as race, religion or veteran status. As a general rule, any buyer restrictions cannot violate the Fair Housing Act.
If you suspect your association of blocking or complicating a property sale in violation of Federal, state or local laws, contact a Florida real estate attorney with experience in HOA law to discuss legal strategies to resolve the matter.
“HOAs and COAs have the power to place a lien on your property as a form of recovering unpaid fees, fines and special assessments.”
How do I file a complaint against my HOA?
Homeowners and Condominium owners may file a Condominium/Cooperative Complaint Form (PDF) directly with the Division of Florida Condominiums, Timeshares and Mobile Homes. Hardcopies of the form can be obtained by calling 800.226.9101 or 850.488.1122. Note that the toll-free number only works when the caller is making the call from a phone in Florida. When completing this form, it is important that residents list all allegations against their HOA or condo association, citing evidence in the form of documentation, photos and timelines.
This complaint form can then be mailed to:
Department of Business and Professional Regulation
Division of Florida Condominiums, Timeshares and Mobile Homes
2601 Blair Stone Road
Tallahassee, Florida 32399
Alternatively, the complaint form can be sent via fax to 850.488.7149.
Within 30 days, the resident will be contacted by the Division to report on their review of the complaint. The Division will state in their report whether or not they have the authority by law to investigate the allegations made in the complaint and if so, whether additional information is needed.
While this process may seem simple at first sight, it is important to realize that there are a number of exceptions to the authority of the Division of Florida Condominiums, Timeshares and Mobile Homes. For example, in specific HOAs and condo associations, such as those who have experienced “developer turnover”, the Division is only able to investigate complaints related to elections, financial issues and access to association records. An experienced real estate lawyer that specializes in HOA and condo association disputes will be able to advise whether you have a viable case for complaint.
Do HOA board members need to live in the community?
The State of Florida does not require those serving on an HOA board to be homeowners in a community or even residents of that community. However, the bylaws and local ordinances may make residency or homeownership a requirement. Be sure to research all areas of local law and carefully review by laws to verify if residency/homeownership in a community is a requirement.
Can association boards meet in private?
Yes. In the case of COAs for example, closed board meetings can be held but only if the quorum of board members is met and the meeting involves “personnel matters” or “litigation matters”. Similar conditions apply for HOAs and other associations. Further restrictions set out in the association’s bylaws may apply, though other meetings are typically open meetings in which members of the community are invited to attend.
It is highly recommended that an attorney is consulted to determine if a closed meeting is permitted and appropriate under specific circumstances.
The Importance of an Attorney
Specific applications of association law are affected by multiple layers of Federal, state and local laws as well as the bylaws and CC&Rs (Covenants, Conditions & Restrictions) of the associations themselves. This layered tapestry of legal frameworks can make association law difficult to interpret. Beware of “going it alone” when attempting to decipher your rights and obligations in a specific situation as doing so may jeopardize your case. Contact a Florida real estate attorney with experience in HOA law to represent your best interests.
South Florida Law
South Florida Law has local experience in homeowner’s association (HOA) and condominium owners association (COA) law. Our boutique size allows us to provide partner-level attention to detail on all of our cases. At the same time, we have the resources of a large law firm to ensure that, if needed, you have the backing to take your issue to mediation, arbitration or litigation. With offices in Hallandale and Coral Gables, South Florida Law is able to serve HOA residents throughout Broward County, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach County.
Are you in a dispute with your HOA? Are you considering buying a house in an HOA-managed community and looking for experienced legal advice? Contact us today at (954) 900-8885 or reach out via our contact form.