In Florida, condominiums are extremely popular – for retirees, downsizing couples, those wanting a vacation home or a second home – condo living in Florida has offered a wonderful life style to many, many people over the years. Over that time, condominium governance became complicated, so much so, that the Florida Legislature had to pass laws covering how condominium projects are organized and managed in statutes like the Florida Condominium Act.
Under the Florida condo laws, associations are created and established to govern and oversee condo projects for the good of everyone living there. Condominium Association Boards have specific legal powers and duties under Florida law and they are to exercise those powers in good faith and in good time. For example, as discussed in an earlier post, condo associations can file foreclosure lawsuits to foreclose upon a condo whose owner has failed to pay association fees for a period of time.
Condo Association Board v. Condo Owner
Unfortunately, the hard times that Florida has been experiencing over the past few years means big problems for many condo owners. Not just those who are not able to pay their condo mortgage payments or to cover their condominium association fees, but also those condo owners who are meeting their monthly obligations amid a group of units whose owners have fallen behind.
The failure of significant numbers of condo owners to meeting their obligations can mean all sorts of conflicts between the Condo Association and the condo owners who are living in the condo project and keeping up with their payments. The variety of conflicts between condo owners and condo boards can seem endless (see our discussion on Condo Owners vs. Condo Boards here).
However, these unprecedented times also mean that Condo Associations sometimes are not able or not willing to move forward to resolve issues of vacant units or unpaid assessments as fast or as efficiently as the condo owners living there would like. So, the next question becomes: can a condo owner, or group of owners, sue a fellow owner in the condominium project for his or her failure to meet condo obligations?
Condo Owners v. Condo Owner
Under Florida law, it is possible for condominium owners, singularly or as a group, to sue another condo owner who has not paid past condo association dues. Here is the language of Section 718.303 of the Florida Statutes:
Obligations of owners and occupants; remedies.—
(1) Each unit owner, each tenant and other invitee, and each association is governed by, and must comply with the provisions of, this chapter, the declaration, the documents creating the association, and the association bylaws which shall be deemed expressly incorporated into any lease of a unit. Actions for damages or for injunctive relief, or both, for failure to comply with these provisions may be brought by the association or by a unit owner against:
(a) The association.
(b) A unit owner.
(c) Directors designated by the developer, for actions taken by them before control of the association is assumed by unit owners other than the developer.
(d) Any director who willfully and knowingly fails to comply with these provisions.
(e) Any tenant leasing a unit, and any other invitee occupying a unit.
The prevailing party in any such action or in any action in which the purchaser claims a right of voidability based upon contractual provisions as required in s. 718.503(1)(a) is entitled to recover reasonable attorney’s fees. A unit owner prevailing in an action between the association and the unit owner under this section, in addition to recovering his or her reasonable attorney’s fees, may recover additional amounts as determined by the court to be necessary to reimburse the unit owner for his or her share of assessments levied by the association to fund its expenses of the litigation. This relief does not exclude other remedies provided by law. Actions arising under this subsection may not be deemed to be actions for specific performance.
It is true that in the present economy, Florida condo owners are growing very frustrated with non-paying condo owners in their condominium projects, and understandably so since the failure to pay by one condo owner impacts everyone else in the complex. The financial harm of unit owners defaulting on their financial obligations is causing real and serious financial harm to their neighbors who live in these communities where everyone has shared ownership.
Buying a Florida condo means that you are agreeing to share in the common expenses of the condominium project, and any condo owner who walks away from the condo leaves the remaining condo owners facing that budget gap and having to cover it. The more condo units that aren’t current, and the bigger the burden for the remaining owners.
Association Boards having less money coming in are taking preliminary steps of making due with less: doing less maintenance, postponing painting the place or putting on a new roof. However, as time goes on, the condo owners will have to deal with the financial reality that they will have to pay the costs that the defaulting owners haven’t paid. It’s not like the Association has its own pocket: the money the Condo Board has to work with comes from the shared ownership assessments.
In ordinary circumstances, condo owners would look to their Condo Board to take action. However, that’s not helping lots of condo owners in these Wild West times. So, condo owners can (and may) start considering suing the owners of condo units who are delinquent … and they will have a statutory basis for doing so.
If you have questions or comments, please feel free to Chat with Larry in the comments below, at firstname.lastname@example.org or (954) 458-8655.