The authority to levy fines is a widely used rules enforcement tool by community associations. However, if the process is not strictly followed, it can result in invalidation of the fine and exposure to liability for expensive legal fees.
The procedure for fining is mandated by Fl. Stat. 718.303(3) for condominiums and Fl. Stat. 720.305(2) for homeowner associations. The procedures, which must be strictly adhered to, include providing a 14-day notice of the opportunity for a hearing in front of an impartial fining committee prior to the imposition of any fine.
In Dwork v. Executive Estates of Boynton Beach Homeowners Ass’n, 219 So. 858 (Fla. 4th DCA 2017), Executive Estates sought to foreclose a lien for $8,135.00 in fines and related charges. The trial court denied foreclosure of the lien holding the hearing of fining committee occurring 13 days after the association’s notice did not comply with the 14-day requirement of Fl. Stat. 720.305(2)(b). However, the trial court awarded money damages to the association reasoning the “equities of this cause [were] with [HOA] and against [appellant].”
In overturning the trial court’s award of money damages, the Fourth District Court of Appeal made clear that community associations must strictly comply with the notice requirements mandated by Florida statutes, otherwise the fine – not just the lien – is invalid. The Court dismissed the association’s “substantial compliance” argument finding section 720.305(2)(b) is unambiguous as to its 14-day notice requirement and no exceptions exist.
This case is a reminder to community associations that they must strictly follow fining procedures to impose fines. This includes the procedures established by both Florida statutes and the association’s governing documents. While the association governing documents may afford a homeowner a longer period of time for notices, opportunity to be heard, etc., under no circumstances may an association shorten timeframes mandated by Florida statutes. Associations are strongly encouraged to consult with their attorneys to ensure compliance before imposing fines.