Maintaining a neat and uniform appearance within a community is not just about maintaining a small group’s ideals about aesthetics, it is one of the best ways to maintain property values. Quiet, well maintained, uniform communities appear newer and more desirable to buyers, and that can have a positive influence on everyone’s resale value. As a result, the timely, uniform, and consistent enforcement of your association’s rules and covenants is an essential function of any condominium or homeowners association. But what steps are necessary to ensure your members comply with your community’s rules, both now and in the future? How do you know your association’s enforcement policies go far enough (but not too far)? Community Association Law Group can help!
If your community is a condominium, most disputes with members over violations of the rules must go to through an arbitration proceeding administered by the State of Florida. Arbitration is best described as a mini-trial where many of the formalities of a formal trial in front of a court or jury are set aside in the interest of reduced fees and quicker completion. At the conclusion, the person presiding over the trial, known as the “Arbitrator,” renders an opinion as to which party prevails and issues an order identifying what each party should do with respect to the other. Unfortunately, Arbitrators do not have enforcement powers like regular courts do, so should the violation continue, the association must file a new lawsuit in the local judicial court. Fortunately, because the court has the benefit of an arbitrator’s decision, the proceedings are usually somewhat expedited. Obviously, rules enforcement within a condominium is a twisting path full of legal pitfalls, so it is best to have experienced counsel, like Community Association Law Group, on your side helping you through the process.
In order to take legal action against a member in a homeowners association, the association must first serve a written demand for mediation. Community Association Law Group will help ensure your community fulfills this statutory obligation, and that your demand is in full conformity with the law. Mediation is the process by which a neutral third party (the “Mediator”) meets with both sides to a dispute then attempts to facilitate negotiations between them in an effort to reach a mutually agreeable middle ground upon which the parties can settle. Florida law requires that matters discussed at mediation remain confidential and cannot be used against either party later at trial. If an agreement is reached between the parties, a written agreement is prepared which both parties sign. This agreement has the legal authority of a binding contract and must be followed or the other party may have the right to sue for breach of contract.
Should mediation be unsuccessful in resolving the dispute, the association may file a lawsuit. Generally, Community Association Law Group recommends filing suit in two counts per violation. The first count will ask the court to review the rules set forth in your association’s governing documents and render an opinion as to whether they are enforceable. If the court finds they are enforceable, the second count seeks a permanent injunction requiring the member to comply with the association’s rules or face legal sanctions from the court, such as fines and/or contempt of court. In order to get this relief, the homeowners association will need the assistance of qualified, experienced legal counsel like Community Association Law group.
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