I know it’s been a long time since I wrote a blog, but I have to say it’s not due to laziness, but rather success. I have come up with a creative way to deal with HOAs and COAs (condo associations) pre-suit and business has been brisk. I did answer an interesting question on www.avvo.com just now and I feel I need to share this one. Here it is:
My HOA has recently enacted a “fine committee” after the recent change in law (720.305)2). I have tried in vain to find any details of what this committee does, its scope of work, a list of violations and fines and who the members are. There is nothing in meeting minutes and nothing has been added to the documents of the association that I can find. Does the HOA have the obligation to notify all homeowners and post the detailed information and process of each committee it forms? Or can it operate in secret on a need to know basis? They have done something similar with a very brief bullet in one newsletter that refers to a “stated late fee and collections Board policy” none of which I can find anywhere. Neither issue is covered in the rules and regs. Thank you for your time.
Your question set off numerous red flags for me when I read it. The whole purpose behind many of the revisions to Chapter 720 of the Florida Statutes, the Homeowners Association Act, was to create transparency. When governments operate in secret there is a chance for corruption and dictatorships to form. The same goes for HOAs, which despite court rulings, rule like quasi-governments.
First, your HOA cannot impose fines against the owners unless the authority to do so is included in the governing documents (Declarations, Bylaws and Articles of Incorporation). An older version of the statute provided rules for fining “if the governing documents so provide.” The statute was revised to remove the language allowing fines to become liens and foreclosures if unpaid. Later it was revised to add that language back in if unpaid fines were more than $1000, but it also did not include “if the governing documents so provide.” This did two things. The HOAs began claiming they had a right to fine by statute and instead of fines being $100, we now see fines of $1000 and more. The HOAs do not have a right to fine by statute. The statute in existence at the time the HOA was formed governs unless there is language in the HOA documents which say it is governed by Chapter 720 “as amended for time to time” or something similar.
All committees are required to keep minutes and if the committee has decision-making authority, then the meetings must be open to members and properly noticed. The exception is fining committee hearings, which are not meetings, in which an owner is requested to appear and the committee will consider a fine.
Board meetings and committee meetings which will consider and adopt policies must be open and properly noticed. Any meeting which will adopt a policy or rules and regulations affecting parcel use must be noticed by sending the owners individual notices to their address of record 14 days in advance of the meeting. Policies and rules cannot be adopted without an open board meeting.
If the Board of Directors is meeting in secret to adopt policies and rules, or adopting these by corresponding with email, they are violating state law. The problem is there is no agency to regulate the HOAs and their violations are a civil matter, not a criminal matter. Your only recourse is to ask for pre-suit mediation and then sue them if they don’t settle, or start talking to your neighbors to get involved — they need to wake up and pay attention to what is going on now. If they wait until it affects them personally, they are liable to find themselves on the wrong end of a court