What can Homeowners do if an HOA is not Responsive to Complaints?
It’s usually best to try to resolve problems with an association by talking things out or using the association’s democratic processes, as set forth in the declaration. Under Florida law, members of an HOA have a right to attend board meetings and to be heard with regard to any matter on the meeting’s agenda. Fla. Stat. §720.303(2)(b). If at least twenty percent of a community’s members petition the board with regard to an issue, the board must hold a member meeting within 60 days for the purpose of discussing the issue raised in the petition. Fla. Stat. §720.303(2)(d).
If a board member is abusing power or acting unfairly, members can try to elect someone else for the next term or attempt to recall the board member under Fla. Stat. 720.303(10), if warranted. Alternatively, members can organize other homeowners in a campaign to limit the board’s power by amending covenants.
It’s generally a good idea to keep records of any written communications with the association and to take and preserve contemporary notes of any verbal communications. In the event of future retaliation, thorough records can help demonstrate when an association has acted arbitrarily or capriciously.
If non-judicial remedies are unsuccessful or don’t address complaints, it’s important to remember that an association itself is not the final arbiter of disputes between it and its members. If necessary, a homeowner can bring a suit against an association in the circuit court of the county in which the development is located. Fla. Stat. §720.305. Importantly, though, most claims by members against HOAs must undergo pre-suit mediation prior to filing of a complaint. Fla. Stat. §720.311.
Florida’s Homeowners’ Association Act expressly protects homeowners against SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) filed to deter members from appearing before governmental entities on matters relating to the association. Fla. Stat. §720.304(4). The anti-SLAPP provision provides for expeditious disposition of SLAPP suits and allows members subjected to such suits to recover triple damages if a court finds the complaint meritless. Id.
An HOA is authorized to defend suits arising from its failure to meet its obligations. Except in cases involving willful non-compliance, intentional torts, or fraudulent conduct, the association itself – rather than individual officers or board members – is the proper defendant. Fla. Stat. §§720.303, 720.305. In cases involving boards that fail to fill vacant positions, members can petition the circuit court for appointment of a receiver. Fla. Stat. §720.3053.
A suit against an association can seek money damages incurred by a homeowner as a result of the association’s failure to perform its duties or “injunctive relief” – a court order compelling the association to perform duties or enforce covenants.
Condominium owners can get assistance and information by contacting the Office of the Condominium Ombudsman.