A Florida homeowners’ association (HOA) consists of homeowners from a particular geographic area who oversee the rules and regulations regarding what goes on in the community in which they live. HOAs arrange for maintenance of the common areas and they govern the community according to provisions and legal clauses in their bylaws and articles of incorporation. Many HOA rules in neighborhoods throughout South Florida restrict owners from operating a business from their homes.
There are a number of different ways that operating a business from home can manifest itself – especially in the pandemic and post-pandemic world where many people use technology to run administrative positions from their home offices. If the purpose of HOA bylaws are to prevent obstruction to the community then what about the gray areas created by administrative businesses being quieter and less obstructive than others?
While most would agree that sending an work-related email from home does not violate the spirit of any HOA bylaws, here are specific areas where an HOA may reasonably claim that a business is impacting the community in a negative way
1. Vehicles Driving in and out of the HOA Community
One of the number one areas of concern for an HOA is the amount of vehicles parked in front of a particular house. This can make a driveway look shabby, especially if the resident is operating, say, a car mechanic business and has broken down cars in their driveway. It can also potentially disrupt traffic or cause a parking shortage in the street around the house. Even a small disruption like two extra cars parking outside a house can cause issues for neighbors.
Another complication may result from the existence of commercial vehicle parking. A resident may legitimately need to park their work vehicle at their house over night. If the vehicle is a truck and is obviously wrapped in commercial branding it may violate the bylaws of many communities that stipulate that commercial vehicles must not be present in the community after a certain time of day.
Therefore, even though the residents aren’t actually conducting their business from home, the HOA rules prohibit them from parking their vehicle at their own home. In such a case, a resident may require the services of an experienced Florida HOA attorney to help negotiate or, if necessary, litigate on their behalf.
The rules of a housing community are also designed to protect the community from intrusion and trespassers. Therefore, any advertising or other publicity that attracts non-residents to habitually visit the community would draw negative attention from most HOAs. One example of this would be a resident who habitually sells goods from eBay, Craigslist or several other web and app providers that allow peer-to-peer sales. This means that people will be coming into the community to browse and buy cars, household items, art and/or other products. As the business becomes more successful, the flow of visitors may create a security issue for the community. Likewise, as mentioned in the previous section, vehicular traffic from non-residents can make parking and driving less pleasant for neighbors. Often, in such a case it is hard to deny the presence of a business when a resident is publicly advertising it online, in apps or in local printed material.
Many HOA rules in neighborhoods throughout South Florida restrict owners from operating a business from their homes.
One obvious solution that avoids HOA scrutiny is to rent a commercial space outside of the community to conduct the business. This is not always the financially viable alternative however. Instead, a resident who feels that they may be able to operate a retail business from their house should first check with an experienced HOA attorney who can interpret the rules of their HOA and determine if there is a chance that they could be fined and told to stop the business.
Many of the concerns related to running a business on an HOA-managed property involve whether non-resident third parties will habitually visit the community. Many administrative work-from-home businesses can be run undetected until they grow large enough to hire employees. Once that happens, many of the concerns stated above come into play. Vehicles begin to arrive at the house and people who are not residents frequent the community. Usually, the habitual arrival of “guests” is a tell tale sign that a resident may be operating a business. In that case an accountant that has been safely operating a remote business from home, may suddenly appear on their HOA’s radar as an infringer if they hire employees that are required to work from the house.
The simplest solution to this problem is to invest in infrastructure that allows the business’ employees to work remotely. That way they can work from their own homes, cafes or other locations that are not on HOA-managed property. If this is not possible, it is recommended to contact an experienced Florida HOA attorney before making your first hire. An HOA attorney will be able to walk the business through several options and determine what choices would be right for the company, and sustainable for the resident, in the long term.
4. Temporary Residents
Airbnb, Vrbo and other platforms have made short-term rental of all or some of a home very profitable and relatively easy to do. This business opportunity is often explicitly prohibited in the by laws of Florida’s HOAs, putting many residents in a dilemma as Florida is a highly demanded location for short term rentals.
The problem with short term rentals is that they touch on many of the issues mentioned above that affect communities in a negative way. Short term rentals generate vehicular traffic, attract unwanted publicity to the community via online ads, and bring non-resident third parties to the community on a habitual basis. While a “bread-and-breakfast” may be a difficult business to operate under the watchful eye of an HOA, there may be ways to do so without violating an HOA’s bylaws. Do you run, or are considering to run, a short term rental business from a property controlled by an HOA? Check out this previous article on the subject, and contact an experienced HOA attorney to discuss your options.
Much of what is discussed above deals with visible activity. When a visible activity systematically takes place it could reveal the presence of a business. Take for example, a resident that is running an ecommerce business that requires UPS to drop off and receive a dozen packages per week. The appearance of this to the neighbors may reveal that there is a business being conducted and the HOA may be alerted to its presence. At that point, evidence such as the website’s return policy containing the contact information of the house might be used against the business owner/resident. It is important that any business operating from an HOA-monitored property consult with an experienced HOA attorney before the business begins. That way, the attorney can analyze the HOA’s bylaws and determine what type of business activity, if any, can be conducted on the property.
Warehousing is one of the final issues with conducting a business on an HOA-managed property that could result in discovery and fines. Community associations may be concerned that, for example, a garage filled with products might create additional liability for the community. It also increases the chances that large commercial vehicles may be required to move goods to and from the storage area – further drawing attention to the business being operated from the house. Are you storing inventory for your business at your HOA-managed home address? Look carefully at your HOA bylaws to make sure that you are not violating any of the terms of your agreement. Also, contact an HOA lawyer to explore options to legitimize your activity in the eyes of your HOA, if possible.
South Florida Law
The complexities of Florida Housing Association and Condominium law make it difficult to navigate through the details of those and other rights and obligations of associations and their tenants. If you find yourself involved in a dispute with your housing association, be sure not to “go it alone”. Here at South Florida Law we have boutique firm attention to detail with the big firm resources necessary to take on a homeowner or condo association that is violating your rights. Call us today at 305.900.8885 or reach out via our contact form.