How To Fight HOA Fines In Florida
Are Those Florida Homeowners’ Association Fines Valid?
Most homeowners have no love for homeowners’ association fines, and many come to us with questions about how to fight HOA fines in Florida. There are potentially successful strategies based on procedural grounds. Homeowners should know their community covenant documents well in addition to being familiar with the particulars of Florida Statute 720.305.
Community associations (HOAs) are tasked with consistently and fairly enforcing the rules and regulations set forth in community governing documents. More than 68 million Americans live in community associations, and a 2016 Community Associations Institute survey indicates that 65% of all residents find the experience positive. Therefore, it would be accurate to say that most homeowners who belong to an HOA appreciate the regulated environment.
Fines and the weight of legal action are the most effective tools available when an HOA needs to address violators who have no intention of complying with community regulations. Homeowners who have been unfortunate enough to have such an individual as a neighbor may well have a favorable view of homeowners’ association fines and their community’s enforcement procedures.
But the existence of the system’s positive features does not give an HOA and its board members freedom to ignore statutorily-prescribed procedures regarding the levying of HOA fines on homeowners.
Can an HOA Fine You?
Florida Statute 720.305 and common sense make several facts clear in regard to Florida HOA rules and their enforcement by means of monetary fines:
- Each member and the member’s tenants, guests, and invitees, and each association, are governed by, and must comply with this chapter (720.305), the governing documents of the community, and the rules of the association. §720.305(1), Fla. Stat.
- The association may levy reasonable fines as a means of enforcement against any member or any member’s tenant, guest, or invitee for the failure of the owner of the parcel or its occupant, licensee, or invitee to comply with any provision of the association’s declaration of covenants, bylaws, or reasonable rules of the association. §720.305(2), Fla. Stat.
- The association may bring an action at law to recover HOA fines. The association or any community member is empowered to bring actions at law or actions in equity, or both in order to redress alleged failure or refusal to comply with community regulations. These actions may be brought against:
- The association;
- A member;
- Any director or officer of an association who willfully and knowingly fails to comply with provisions; and
- Any tenants, guests, or invitees occupying a parcel or using the common areas. §720.305(1), Fla. Stat.
Common sense dictates that declarations of covenants, articles of incorporation, bylaws, or any other rules that have been properly instituted by a community association must be enforced in order to have any utility. Furthermore, such regulations must be enforced consistently and equally across all cases of violation observed in the community.
If enforcement is applied selectively and consistency of enforcement is lost, the regulations may eventually be rendered unenforceable. The association will then have no ready recourse against violators who have no intention of adhering to the regulations.
How Can I fight HOA Fines in Florida?
While the validity of the foregoing is not in dispute, there is also a set of procedures outlined in Florida law (Florida 2018 Statutes: Chapters 719 & 720) that an association must comply with in order to perfect its ability to impose and collect HOA fines for violations. Homeowners who have been subject to an HOA fine may be able to find relief in cases where there have been irregularities in their community association’s approach to enforcement via fines.
A fine may not be imposed by a community association’s board of administration unless the board first provides at least 14 days’ notice to the parcel owner and, if applicable, any occupant, licensee, or invitee of the parcel owner. §720.305(2)(b), Fla. Stat.
In the case of Dwork v. Executive Estates of Boynton Beach Homeowners Association, Inc., 42 Fla. L. Weekly D1158 (Fla. 4th DCA 2017), a homeowner received and habitually ignored notices of violations of maintenance requirements as to the property’s roof, driveway, or fencing.
The homeowner was unresponsive to the HOA notices. Finally, the HOA sent the homeowner a certified letter giving notice that a hearing before the HOA Fine Committee would take place in 13 days.
As had been the case with all previous HOA communications, the homeowner ignored this HOA fine letter. At the Fine Committee hearing, the HOA imposed fines of $25 per day against the homeowner’s property for each of three violations.
The HOA then sent another letter advising the homeowner of its intention to record a lien of $8,135, representing accumulated fines and court costs. The HOA then filed a complaint for foreclosure and for money damages.
Although the court denied the HOA’s claim for foreclosure, the court awarded the HOA $7,500 under the money damages claim on the basis that “the equities” lay in favor of the HOA. The homeowner appealed the court’s decision, and was ultimately victorious.
On appeal, the HOA argued that its 13-day notice constituted “substantial compliance” sufficient to permit it to impose fines. The Fourth District Court considered this argument in light of the language of Florida Statute 720.305(2)(b) and cited Florida Supreme Court rulings that liens such as mechanics’ liens are “purely creatures of statute,” requiring strict compliance to be enforceable, and that the language around the 14-day notice requirement lacked any ambiguity.
Therefore the district court found that, in order to perfect its entitlement to a lien, an HOA must give a homeowner proper notice in “strict compliance” with the statutory requirements. The district court reversed the lower court’s decision, and remanded the case for entry of final judgment in favor of the homeowner.
In addition to the 14-day notice requirement, a further aspect of the Florida HOA fining process is the stipulation that any parcel owner, occupant, licensee, or invitee of the parcel owner who is subject to the levy of a fine must be provided an opportunity for a hearing before a committee of at least three members appointed by the board.
Committee members may not be officers, directors, or employees of the association, or the spouse, parent, child, brother, or sister of an officer, director, or employee. §720.305(2)(b), Fla. Stat. If the committee does not approve a proposed fine by majority vote, the fine may not be imposed.
Is That Homeowners’ Association Fine Valid?
Documents and notice requirements are held to two varying standards in the State of Florida. Substantial compliance (such as the Florida Mortgage-Payoff Statute) requires only that the person comply substantially with the terms of the Statute for the underlying action to be valid.
This differs from statutory language requiring strict compliance (such as service of process statutes) which requires that the statutes’ mandates be followed, without variation, and to the letter of the law, for the action to be valid. In the event someone fails to strictly comply with an obligation in a statute, their entire action, notice, or contract in some cases, may be annulled, invalidated, or terminated due to a failure to comply with applicable statutory mandates.
While the “equities” in a case may favor the HOA, nonetheless an HOA is required to strictly comply with the dictates of §720.305(2)(b), Fla. Stat., to perfect its ability to impose and collect fines.
Homeowners seeking relief from HOA fines for violations should thoroughly document the procedural steps followed by their community association board in levying the fines. Any irregularities that constitute failure to comply with Florida statute 720.305 may be grounds for fines to be invalidated.
A homeowner in a dispute about HOA fines in Florida would be wise to seek experienced legal counsel on the matter. Barry Miller Law is familiar with all aspects of Homeowners and Condominium Association Law.
Contact Barry Miller Law for assistance if you, or someone you know, has legal questions concerning an HOA dispute or any other real estate matter. Telephone 407-423-1700 or email [email protected] for a consultation.