Condo line: Crackdown on violations may be too aggressive

Q: I live in a property owners association. Recently a newly elected board of directors went on a tirade and sent out numerous violation notices. Without allowing for corrective action or in fact, receipt of the violation letter, they entered homeowners’ properties and mowed parts of lawns. This is a violation in itself of our covenants and bylaws, which allows entry only after 10 days.

They are now attempting to collect a $100 admin fee and $25 for lawn mowing. When apprised of the fact that they had violated their own rules, they simply indicated the fines could get worse as a way of intimidation. Is there no agency in Florida to protect homeowners from rogue boards?

E.P., Port St Lucie

A: Apparently a majority of owners wanted strict rules enforcement and elected directors who would take action. But from the information provided in your question, the board appears to have taken action that could be called improper and unenforceable.

While your documents allow the board to enter private property to make repairs or do cleanup (the legal term is “self help”), it must be after certain communications have been received by the property owner, who must be given time to correct the deficiency. If the board applies costs or fines for these cleanups or repairs, how will they enforce collection? The board cannot lien to collect these delinquencies without a court order.

I would suggest that the board contact the association’s attorney about correct procedures for self-help and collection of costs and administrative fees. If the board did not follow proper legal procedures, I suspect that a judge will deny the board the right to collect such costs.

As a manager, I advise my directors and boards that before they take any action or approve any motion, they consider how they will present evidence of their actions before a judge. Apparently the directors read too much in the section of the documents and reacted without proper notice and no legal guidance. They need to understand they entered on private property and the owners have rights to restrict trespassers without proper notice.

Q: The board of directors at my homeowners association this past Christmas voted to give no more than $4,000 to vendors, not salaried or hourly employees, of their choice. Can you please tell me, is this legal?

R.N., Naples

A: If you have good employees and workers, why not say so at Christmas? It is one way to keep good help. Taking such funds from the operations is not necessarily the best way to provide bonuses. I suggest that the board establish a committee to solicit donations from the members, then use the donations to give bonuses.

Q: I have lived in my condominium since 2006. The board has not enforced several of the documents over the past eight years. I just received a letter from the board telling me to remove my outside security sign that has been there since I moved into my unit. The board was aware of the sign. After eight years, can they make me remove my security sign? This is causing me a lot of stress and I am thinking of getting an attorney. Please give me some advice.

M.C., Tampa

A: The Florida Condominium Act says that no owner can use the common area for their private use. This would mean that if your sign was placed outside your unit on the common grounds, you would be in violation of the common area exclusion.

If the board did not enforce this violation for eight years, you may have some defense if the matter went to court to enforce the violation. The defense is called “Latches.” You have a situation where past boards failed to perform their duties. I cannot advise what a judge would rule in regards to their neglect.

What you now have is a board of directors that is trying to bring the condominium up to standards. I would suggest that you remove the sign.

Richard White is retiring at the end of the year and is no longer accepting questions.