Fifth DCA Recedes From Its Own Precedent Ruling Community Association Assessments Are “Debts” Under FCCPA
In a recent decision Williams v. Salt Springs Resort Association, Inc., Case No. 5D18-3913 (Fla. 5th DCA, June 12, 2020), Florida’s Fifth District Court of Appeal receded from its own longstanding precedent in holding that condominium assessments may be considered “debts” within the meaning of Florida’s Consumer Collection Practices Act, Chapter 559, Florida Statutes (“FCCPA”). The ruling follows a trend of cases distinguishing, or disagreeing, with its 1997 decision exempting condominium assessments as debts under the FCCPA.
In Williams, the defendants, a condominium association and its management company, were alleged to have posted a list of all unit owners who were delinquent in the payment of their assessments to the condominium association and cited the amounts the delinquent unit owners purportedly owed (also known as a “deadbeat list”). One of the unit owners on the “deadbeat list” sued the condominium association and its management company for violations of the FCCPA because her name was included on the list. At the trial level, the Court dismissed the unit owner’s complaint based upon the precedent established in Bryan v. Clayton, 698 So.2d 1236 (Fla. 5th DCA 1997), which held condominium assessments were not consumer debt under the FCCPA. The unit owner appealed the trial court’s dismissal to the Florida’s Fifth District Court of Appeal.
On appeal, the Fifth District Court of Appeal reversed the trial court’s decision to dismiss plaintiff’s complaint and in doing so receded from its own holding in Bryan. The Fifth District Court of Appeal relied on the plain language of the statute and a growing body of federal and state court decisions, which have “unanimously” adopted the view that condominium assessments are a “debt” within the meaning of the FCCPA.
Of note, the Fifth District Court of Appeal referenced the Court’s decision in Agrelo v. Affinity Mgmt. Servs., Inc., 841 F.3d 944, 952 (11th Cir. 2016), holding that homeowners’ assessments are “debt” under the FCCPA because they arise from a consensual contractual home-purchase transaction. The Fifth District Court of Appeal also utilized the analysis established by First District Court of Appeal in Kelly v. Duggan, 282 So. 3d 969 (Fla. 1st DCA 2019), indicating that in order for the FCCPA to apply to a unit owner’s complaint, “her payment obligation or ‘debt’ must ‘arise (1) from a consumer out of a (2) money, property, insurance, or services transaction which is (3) primarily for personal, family, or household purposes.’”
In the Williams case, the Fifth District Court of Appeal held the unit owner’s obligation to pay condominium assessments “arose out of” her underlying transaction for the purchase of her residential condominium property, which she alleged was for “personal, family, or household reasons.” Importantly, the Fifth District Court of Appeal noted that its ruling in Williams was confined to the analysis of the facts present in the case at hand.
Despite the Fifth District Court of Appeal confining its ruling to the facts of the case, the trend of cases are clearly holding community association assessments are debts under the FCCPA. Community associations can be held liable for violations of the act so caution and consultation with counsel is advised. Finally, posting delinquency lists is a clear no no. Just don’t do it.