If you live in a community association, you have probably encountered neighbors failing to act neighborly. It is not uncommon for owners to get into disputes with one another and the association. For homeowners and associations alike, litigation can be a costly and time-consuming means to resolve such disputes.
Due to the ever growing number of associations governing the relationships between Florida’s citizens, and the backlog of cases resulting from community association generated disputes, the Florida legislature enacted Florida Statute 720.311 in an effort to requires parties to mediate their disputes prior to seeking redress in the courts.
According to Florida Statute 720.311, the following disputes require the parties to engage in pre-suit mediation:
• Disputes regarding changes or the use of property or common areas.
• Covenant enforcement disputes.
• Disputes to amendments of the association documents.
• Disputes regarding meetings of the board, committees appointed by the board, or membership meetings. (This does not include election meetings.)
• Disputes regarding access to the association’s official records.
If the circumstances of your dispute require mediation, there are consequences for not participating. The aggrieved party, whether it’s the association or a resident, must send written notice to the other party. The receiving party has 20 days to respond to the notice. If you do not respond, you forfeit your right to attorney’s fees and costs should you prevail in court. This can end up costing your association a substantial amount as the statute provides attorneys’ fees and costs to the prevailing party in any dispute that requires mediation.
Mediation is helpful for many reasons. Many times both sides of the dispute can come to a reasonable resolution in the presence of a professional mediator. Non-biased professionals are able to see the root of the problem and come to a solution that placates both parties. If an agreement is met, the costs of litigation are negated. Neither party will have to plead their case, or face any additional fees and costs that make litigation so unappealing. Lastly, resolving an issue outside of court with the help of an impartial professional oftentimes creates an amiable atmosphere where residents and associations can live in harmony.