Even though you own a condominium, is it possible one of the associations governing your condominium unit thought to be a condominium association for decades is actually a homeowners association? Yes, it is.

Many owners in the State of Florida own condominium units under the jurisdiction of two community associations. The first, a smaller condominium association generally more localized to the owners’ condominium units, commonly referred to as a sub-association, and the second, a larger association governing the sub-association and other sub-associations like it, commonly referred to as a master association. Owners subject to master associations have rights and obligations to the master association just like they do to their sub-associations, but the Third District Court of Appeals’ holding in Dimitri v. Commercial Center of Miami Master Association, Inc., Case No. 3D16-2549 (Fla. 3rd DCA, August 8, 2018) may change the body of law from which those rights and obligations are derived even after perhaps decades of operating under Chapter 718, Florida Statutes, the Condominium Act.

The Commercial Center of Miami Master Association, Inc. (“Association”) operates as a master association for a group of buildings, each with its own sub-association. Benedetto Dimitri (“Dimitri”) owns six commercial condominium units located in one of the sub-associations of the Association. On March 30, 2015, Dimitri sent the Association a letter requesting the inspection and production of specific documents pursuant to Section 718.111(12), Florida Statutes; however, the Association did not respond to the records inspection and production request.

Months later, Dimitri filed a complaint against the Association alleging the Association violated Section 718.111(12), when it refused to respond to his records inspection and production request. In the complaint, Dimitri requested the trial court enter an order determining that the Association was subject to Chapter 718, Florida Statutes, and requiring the Association to cease acts in violation of Section 718.111(12). In defense of Dimitri’s complaint, the Association alleged it was not a condominium association as defined in the Condominium Act, not an “association” under the Condominium Act and, therefore, not subject to the record disclosure requirements of Section 718.111(12).

First, the Court looked at the date on which the Association was formed to determine which version of the statute and definition of “association” to apply. The Court described the Association as being formed in 1982. Under the definition of “association” in existence in 1982, a condominium “association” was “the corporate entity responsible for the operation of a condominium.” In 1991, the legislature amended and expanded the definition of condominium “association” to its current form, which reads an “‘Association’ means, in addition to any entity responsible for the operation of common elements owned in undivided shares by unit owners, any entity which operates or maintains other real property in which unit owners have use rights, where membership in the entity is composed exclusively of unit owners or their elected or appointed representatives and is a required condition of unit ownership.”

The Court then determined the 1991 version of the Condominium Act did not provide for retroactive application and expressly stated it “shall take effect January 1, 1992.” Accordingly, these findings indicated there was no legislative intent for the 1991 version of the Condominium Act, including the expanded definition of Association, to apply to condominiums formed prior to January 1, 1992. Thus, the Court held that the 1991 definition of “association” did not apply to the Association since it was formed in 1982.

As a result, the Court applied the definition of condominium “association.”  The Court then addressed whether the 1982 definition of “association” applied to the Association. The Court’s analysis reasoned the 1982 definition of “association” was limited to “operation of the condominium,” which it deemed “a term of art.” Consequently, since the Association does not solely administer condominium property, the court determined that the 1982 definition of “association” does not apply to the Association.

The Dimitri holding is not likely to impact condominium associations created after 1991, but for those created before January 1, 1992, the law governing the master association may not be as clear as once believed leaving some owners and board members wondering what type of association is our master association. The Dimitri Court did not address this issue; however, master associations created before January 1, 1992 are encouraged to seek competent legal advice on this important issue.