By Dan Rich
One of the most common challenges for community associations is how to effectively enforce association rules against residents who repeatedly violate them. To start, it is important that the rules and regulations, as set forth in a community’s governing documents, be enforced consistently for each and every member, director, officer and resident or else the rules may be rendered unenforceable over time. If a community is faced with a repeat violator who has no intent of complying with the community’s rules, one of the most effective tools an association can use is to impose fines against the violator.
As of 2015, Florida law allows both homeowners and condominium associations to impose fines against members, tenants, guests and invitees who violate a community’s declaration of covenants, articles of incorporation, bylaws or any rules adopted by the association. For both homeowners and condominium associations, Florida statutory law provides that fines may not exceed $100.00 per violation, and that the fines may be imposed for each day that a violation continues, with the statutory mandate that fines cannot exceed $1,000.00, in total, per violation.
It is imperative that an association follow the statutory procedures as they are specifically outlined in Chapters 719 and 720, in order to impose fines at a later date. The steps necessary for imposing a fine are summarized below:
- Step One. Establish a fining committee: An association’s board of directors must appoint an independent committee, often called the “fining committee” or “compliance committee” as its first step towards imposing fines. Fining committee members cannot be officers, directors, or employees of the association, nor can they be a spouse, parent, child, brother or sister of an officer, director or employee. The homeowner association statute requires a minimum of three (3) committee members, and the condominium association statute is silent as to the required number of committee members; however, selecting an odd number is often encouraged to avoid ties and unnecessary deadlock.
- Step Two. Place violator on notice: After establishing the fining committee, and upon the occurrence of a violation, the association’s board of directors may place the violating resident (owners and tenants alike) on notice of the violation. Often times, it is most practical to send a courtesy notice warning the resident of their violation. Courtesy notices should contain the nature of the violation, the rule or regulation being violated, and provide a reasonable time frame to remedy the violation. If the violation remains uncured, the association is permitted to impose a fine; however, the violator must be provided with an additional notice, before the fine can take effect, stating that the violator has fourteen (14) days to request a hearing in front of the fining committee to dispute the validity of the fine before it is imposed.
- Step Three. Fining committee hearing: If the violator requests the hearing mentioned in Step Two above, he or she is afforded an opportunity to appear in front of the fining committee to dispute the validity of the fine being imposed against the violator. The fining committee then has two options: (i) impose the fine levied by the association’s board; or (ii) overturn the fine – at which point the matter ends and the fine is no longer actionable. If the violator fails to request a hearing, for any reason, the fine can be imposed immediately at the end of the fourteen (14) day period.
- Step Four: Collect the fine. If the fine is approved by the fining committee, the minutes from the meeting should be provided to the association’s board so that they can impose the fine. Typically, the fine is placed onto an invoice and transmitted directly to the violator. As stated previously, fines cannot exceed $100.00 per violation, but can be assessed against the violator for each day that the violation continues until the aggregate amount reaches $1,000.00. Only one fourteen (14) day notice and one opportunity for a fining committee hearing is required, thus, subsequent notices or hearings for the same fineable violation are not necessary. The association laws differ on how a maximum fine can be collected. In homeowners associations, the law provides that once the maximum fine is reached a lien can be recorded against the violator. However, for condominiums, the right to lien is absent. As such, the condominium association must pursue a collection action using the courts, or await a sale and then recoup the amount of delinquent funds at that time.
Hopefully, this step-by-step analysis will help association’s better address compliance and enforcement issues. However, if the process – as outlined above – is not followed properly, it can result in expensive legal exposure that ultimately could invalidate the fine. In fact, if a fine is challenged in court, the opposing counsel will first attack the association’s process in an attempt to invalidate the fine. This is why if you or your association should strongly consider consulting an attorney who is knowledgeable in Florida community association law for guidance.
Dan Rich is an attorney with the law firm Clark, Campbell, Lancaster & Munson, P.A. in Lakeland. Questions can be submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org.