Florida condominium life is truly its own lifestyle. People move here from all over the nation and all over the world to enjoy our sunsets, our beaches, and our unique Florida activities. Many choose to live in one of the many Florida condominium communities, including the numerous condo towers that line the Florida coastline.
However, choosing to live in a condominium means deciding to live where homeowners join together in both time and money to maintain and keep their community thriving and a safe place to live. Living in a condominium unit is different from living in a single family home in one key way: as a condo owner, you must allow the condominium association and its board of directors (the “Condo Board”) access and entry into your home.
Privacy in Your Florida Condo Unit
For some, giving up some privacy in order to live in an oceanfront condo isn’t a big deal, especially when the unit is looking out over our white sandy beaches and deep blue ocean waters. However, it doesn’t take too long before some condo owners feel the angst and frustration of having to allow access to their unit by their Condo Board.
Condo Association Has The Legal Right of Access to Your Unit
Still, Florida Statute 718.111(5) mandates that Condo Associations have a clear and legal right to access a condominium unit. Florida law allows the association an “irrevocable right of access to each unit during reasonable hours, when necessary for the maintenance, repair or replacement of any common elements or any portion of a unit to be maintained by the association pursuant to the declaration or as necessary to prevent damage to the common elements or to a unit or units.”
Just imagine how this right of access may be used to frustrate or bully a condo unit owner by an out-of-control condo association! It’s no wonder that this “irrevocable right of access” prompts condo owners to seek counsel from a Florida condominium lawyer to complain about people coming into their condos and interrupting their quiet use and enjoyment of their home.
Courts Are Limiting Right of Access to Units
Of course, there have been lawsuits filed by condo owners over abuse of the right of access by Condo Associations here in Florida. And some of these condo owners have won their fights, with their victories helping fellow condo unit owners across the state.
1. Condo Unit Owners Win Court Fights on Right of Access
In two recent cases, Florida courts have come down with condo law in favor of protecting the privacy of the condo owner. First, in Small v. Devon Condominium B Association, after a condo owner had allowed the association access to her home for many years to spray for bugs, she decided to use an alternative pest control treatment that was safer for the environment than the chemicals used by the association’s service. So the monthly access to her unit stopped. No problem for four years; then the Condo Powers-that-Be decided that the unit owner should use their chemical service regardless of her concerns.
The condo owner fought back, and after going through an arbitration, a civil trial, and a civil appeal she won. The Fourth District Court of Appeal held that the condo association had to show the court that it was truly “necessary” to gain access to the condo unit under the Florida right of access law.
This was a decision based upon the earlier case of Hollywood Towers Condo Association v. Hampton, where the unit owner’s privacy was invaded as the Condo Association’s construction expert decided that the unit’s balcony needed major construction changes as part of exterior repairs to the building itself. The Condo Owner fought back, arguing that his independent construction expert found there was no need to do anything to the condo’s balcony and access to the unit was not needed or necessary. The balcony needed no repair, according to the owner’s expert.
The court agreed with the unit owner, the Condo Association didn’t have a broad and all consuming right of access to the unit just because there are repairs being made to the building itself. The Condo Board would have to justify how it was reasonable to do construction on the individual unit’s balcony.
2. The Test Condo Association Must Meet to Have Right to Access Your Unit
For Condo Associations and their Condo Boards, it’s not enough to read the condo documents and read Florida Statute 718.111(5). Condo unit owners have a right given to them by the Florida courts, to have Condo Associations pass the following test before they have a right to access the home of that condo owner:
1. The Condo Board must show that it has the authority to do the action under the condo documents; and
2. The Condo Board must also show that what it wants to do is reasonable to do under the circumstances.
Florida condo unit owners need to understand that it is true that they have given away some of the privacy that they would have had in a single family home in order to live the condo lifestyle. Their Condo Association does have the right of “irrevocable access” to their home — it’s the law.
However, courts are requiring those Condo Associations to confirm that their actions are truly necessary, and to be able to support this with facts if the unit owner demands it. Unit owners that suspect that the access is not truly necessary have the opportunity to challenge the Condo Association’s action through the courts and with the help of an experienced Florida Condo Lawyer.
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