Living in a Florida HOA - Know Your Rights!
The number one weapon any homeowner has in dealing with their homeowners' association is to be educated about their rights and responsibilities. It is harder for HOAs to take advantage of educated homeowners. The first step is to read your governing documents, which are your Declarations of Restrictive Covenants, Bylaws, Articles of Incorporation and any Rules & Regulations. You should also educate yourself on Florida Statutes Chapter 720, which governs HOAs in Florida. While there are laws in Florida to govern HOAs, there is no enforcement agency, except for elections and recalls, which are under the jurisdiction of the Department of Business & Professional Regulation. The only recourse for the homeowner is litigation, which requires pre-suit mediation prior to filing any lawsuit.
Another caveat homeowners need to be aware of, and HOAs often get this wrong, is that no new state laws can be applied retroactively to change a contract (your governing documents are a contract) unless the governing documents state they are subject to Fla. Stat. Ch. 720 "as amended from time to time," or Ch. 617 or Ch. 607 if the HOA was formed prior to Ch. 720 being enacted. So, as if things were not complicated enough, the homeowner should obtain a copy of the law that was enacted at the time the documents were recorded. This can usually be found in the law library at your local courthouse, if they have one. The homeowner should also be aware that this does not mean every new law is not effective against a HOA. Laws that are procedural in nature will usually apply. Substantive laws that create more restrictions on the homeowner are usually not upheld. Most importantly, remember that there is no defense to not paying your assessments. You cannot withhold the payments and the HOA can take your home faster than the bank can foreclose on your mortgage.
The Law Offices of Stage & Associates PA has a state-wide practice representing homeowners and associations. Please visit our website at www.stagelaw.com.