Jurisdiction in Condominium Disputes
Due to land being at a premium, among other factors, a significant majority of Floridians reside in either condominiums or in communities with a homeowners’ association (HOA). However, not all of them read the agreements they are signing. Rather than tacitly permitting lawsuits over every real and perceived slight, Florida enacted a law requiring mandatory non-binding arbitration before permitting a suit to be filed in the courts. Still, not every disagreement between condo owners will fall under this law. Jurisdiction is clear and needs to be kept in mind.
A Note About Non-Binding Arbitration
Non-binding arbitration is a particular favorite of Florida lawmakers, being prescribed as a possible remedy in several areas of law as a way of cutting down on lawsuits. However, it can be extremely complex, especially for those unfamiliar with the legal system. It is very easy to make admissions or other statements against one’s own interest if one does not fully understand what non-binding arbitration is intended to do. There are two key facts that anyone wishing to go to arbitration with their condominium owners’ association should be aware of.
First, it should be known that all deadlines in arbitration in Florida, unless specified otherwise, are strict. Normally, deadlines in arbitration matters are subject to what is referred to as the mailbox rule – a contract or agreement is effective on the day it is mailed, not the day it is received. In arbitration, this is not the case; petitions and filings are only deemed accepted when they have been received. Second, even if the arbitrator’s verdict goes against you, you have the right to request a trial de novo (that is, a trial in which everything is considered in a new light, rather than taking the arbitrator’s decision into account). However, if you request a trial de novo and you lose, you may be liable for both sides’ attorney fees and costs.
Florida Statute 718.1255 governs this arbitration program, and it states explicitly what types of conflicts may be solved via non-binding arbitration. Many individuals tend to think that all disputes must go through arbitration before a suit may be filed, but the law clearly details that some disagreements between condo owners are not within the jurisdiction of the statute.
The disputes that are explicitly not required to go through arbitration before a lawsuit may be filed include:
- Issues of title (for units or common elements);
- Questions of warranty and interpretation of any warranty;
- Collections of fees or assessments;
- Claims for damages based on allegations of failure of the association to “maintain the common elements” of the property; and
- Alleged breaches of fiduciary duty.
While these do exempt many common conflicts between condominium owners, they do not exempt issues between condominium owners and the owners’ association. If an owners’ association, for example, does not properly conduct elections, or allow inspections of records if requested properly, such a disagreement must go to non-binding arbitration before any lawsuit may be filed.
When you have a grievance against a neighbor or your condo owners’ association, all you want is to have it settled quickly and easily. While the temptation is there to attempt to handle it yourself, it is usually a better idea to engage a competent attorney. If you have questions or concerns, a dedicated Fort Lauderdale condominium owners’ attorney can make a huge difference and set you at your ease. The law offices of Steven A. Mason, P.A. are open and happy to assist you. Contact the Fort Lauderdale and Hollywood Law Offices of Steven A. Mason, P.A. for legal advice at 954-963-5900 or leave a message online.