Posted By Larry Tolchinsky on December 2, 2014
You live in a beautiful South Florida condominium. Every morning, you can watch the sun rise over the Atlantic Ocean from your balcony. In the evening, you can walk along the beach. There’s no yard to mow, no snow to shovel. The Florida condo lifestyle is a dream come true for many Floridians.
Until there’s a problem with the neighbors. After all, the owners in a condominium have to live together, sharing common areas and respecting each other’s quiet enjoyment of their homes.
Florida condo owners can face all sorts of hassles and headaches in dealing with their fellow owners. It can be little things, like a new neighbor who needs to learn the rules of the community and turn down his stereo after a certain hour. Maybe it’s a downstairs neighbor who is learning to cook, and until they succeed, fellow condo owners suffer through the smells of burning food and failed dinners.
What can a Florida condo owner do when another owner’s behavior is bothering them?
1. Friendly Chat With the Other Condo Owner
Hopefully, a simple chat between the condo owners can solve the issue. Most condo owners understand that part of condo life is working with their fellow owners and losing a little freedom and learning to compromise in order to live in the condominium project comes with this form of home ownership.
Any responsible condominium lawyer is going to suggest that the best resolution is to work it out between the two of you. Sometimes, a nice chat between nice people is all that’s needed to fix things — and it’s surprising how sometimes it’s so hard to approach a neighbor to begin this sort of discussion.
So, hopefully your annoying neighbor will be compassionate with your position and willing to compromise so both of you can happily enjoy your condo life. If they aren’t so understanding, then what can an owner do?
2. Complain to the Condo Board and Let the Board Handle It
First of all, a condo owner with a problem with a neighbor needs to read their condominium documents. Is the problem addressed in the rules and regulations? For instance, if there’s a sound curfew, then a new neighbor who is playing their music too loud past curfew is in violation of a clear noise regulation.
If so, then the owner can complain to the Condo Board and ask them to handle it. A formal notice can be sent based upon the violation of the noise regulation as part of the Condo Board’s usual procedures. Problem solved.
If the specific behavior isn’t specifically addressed in the documents, then it may be covered under the general provisions that forbid one owner creating a “nuisance” for another owner (or owners). Each nuisance case will be unique to the particular situation.
Unfortunately, the Condo Board may not judge the behavior to be the “nuisance” that the complaining condo owner believes it to be. The Condo Board may decide against the complaining owner. Then what?
3. File a Lawsuit for Nuisance Damages
Every Florida condo owner has the legal right to enforce the “nuisance” provision of the condominium documents, even if the Board doesn’t deem the behavior to be a “nuisance.” It is possible for the complaining owner to take legal action to stop the problem themselves, with their own legal action. This is independent of the Condominium Association and the Condo Board.
This is a big step to take, of course. First of all, you’re suing a neighbor and even if (when) you win, you’re still going to be living next door to someone you’ve taken to court. This doesn’t bode well for friendly atmospheres at condo-wide activities, or for calm and happy elevator rides between neighbors.
Second of all, it’s important to understand your chances of winning an independent lawsuit, one owner against another condo owner. In Florida law, “nuisance” has particular legal definitions and there are particular limitations on what the courts will consider to be a nuisance.
To win a nuisance lawsuit, the property owner must be able to prove with a preponderance of the evidence that there has been substantial and continuous harm to their free use and enjoyment of their property. This may be harder than it first appears; to constitute a legal “nuisance” here in Florida, there must be more than inconvenience or annoying behavior.
4. Offending Condo Owner Wins Nuisance Fight
Before committing to a lawsuit against another owner for nuisance behavior, it’s extremely important to visit with an experienced Florida condo lawyer to determine whether or not a lawsuit is the best way to handle things — and the chances of success should you take the problem owner to court.
For instance, consider the case of the Florida condominium unit owner who was angry that the Association wouldn’t put a trash can by the bank of mailboxes so she could sort and toss her junk mail there. In protest of the denial of her request for a trash can, the owner began tossing her trash mail on the floor in front of the mailboxes.
She did this every day, and lots of her fellow owners felt this was a big nuisance to them.
A lawsuit was filed. Things escalated to the point where eviction of the offending condo owner was part of the relief requested. However, the nuisance case failed — and the defendant condo owner (who had been tossing the junk mail on the floor) got $250,000 in damages for the harm she alleged to have suffered from the case. She used it to pay off the mortgage on her condo.
Do you have questions or comments? Then please feel free to Chat with Larry in the comments below, at firstname.lastname@example.org, or (954) 458-8655. If you have a specific or personal situation, please call or email Larry because he can’t answer specific fact questions in general comments.