Q: Two neighbors in our community are not getting along. They constantly argue and the sheriff’s department has been called to the community multiple times. Each is separately demanding the Association penalize the other for their behavior. What should we do?
A: First, the homeowners association should recognize that it is (generally) neither equipped nor trained to serve as a security force. The owners should be advised to contact the sheriff’s department every time they feel they are in physical danger. If the conduct of either owner constitutes a violation of the covenants, the Association can pursue normal enforcement mechanisms such as fines and suspensions, but it must do so uniformly for all similar violations.
The Association should not get involved unless the Association is prepared and able to assume a duty of care. In other words, if the Association creates the impression that the Association exists to keep you safe, then you have assumed a duty of care to provide a safe environment. Because the Board is a volunteer group of owners and because the community association manager is also not a security firm, the Board would most likely fall short of providing the necessary duty of care. If one of these owners did physically injure the other owner, and it was reasonable to foresee a physical altercation between these owners, the Association will be likely be sued for failing to prevent a foreseeable safety hazard. That is why it is important that the Association continuously refer the owners to authorities that are trained to handle these disputes.
Q: Our condominium has a unit owner that is looking for every opportunity to criticize the Board. This owner has made 3 or 4 records requests every week trying to find some document to use against the Board. Although we have nothing to hide, our manager is spending way too much time searching for documents. How can one owner monopolize our manager’s time?
-E. L., Hutchinson Island
A: This is a very common problem. The result is that one owner monopolizes the manager’s time so that the manager is unable to actually manage the Association. Florida law wants owners to have access to official records, and rightfully so, but very few condominiums or homeowners association have their official records neatly organized in a file cabinet for easy inspection. Most requests to access official records take hours of administrative time to gather documents and review the documents to ensure that privileged records are not made available for inspection.
The statute actually provides some relief. The statutes authorize the Board to adopt rules limiting the frequency or number of requests. The statutes do not provide great examples of acceptable limits on frequency or number, but there are a number of arbitration cases provide guidance.
Thus, while your manager still may spend hours on superfluous records requests, you can limit the number of requests to allow your manager to actually manage the association. It is critical, however, that the Board actually adopt a rule before implementing a new inspection policy, so you should consult your legal counsel to determine what is acceptable and appropriate for your community.