The operation of Condominiums, Cooperatives and Home Owners Associations are governed by Florida Statutes, the Florida Administrative Code and the applicable association documents including the Association bylaws and the Declaration of Condominium.

     The Associations are controlled by their Boards of Directors, who generally are unit owners elected at annual meetings of the membership. The election of condominium,  cooperative, and homeowners association directors is strictly controlled by Florida Law and the Florida Administrative Code. F.S. 718.112 requires condominiums and FS 719.106 requires cooperatives to send out two notices to the unit owners or shareholders regarding the election date of one or more members of the board of directors.

     The first notice must be mailed or delivered to each unit owner or shareholder more than 60 days prior to the election of directors. In addition, a second notice must be mailed by the Association to all unit owners or shareholders more than 14 days before the election. Unit owners or shareholders desiring to run for election to the Board of Directors are required to send a notice to the Association at least 40 days prior to the election meeting.
 
    Once elected, the Board's powers are defined by Florida Statutes, the Florida Administrative Code and the particular association documents in question.
 
    The association is generally responsible for the maintenance of the common areas and the unit owners are responsible for the maintenance of their own apartment or property. Although the Florida Statutes provide that the association is responsible to maintain the common elements and common areas, this obligation can vary by statute and according to the specific documents governing the particular association.
 
    For example, Florida Statute 718.113 provides that maintenance of a condominium's common elements is the responsibility of the association. However, the Declaration may provide that certain limited common elements shall be maintained by those entitled to use the limited common elements.
 
    If the association documents so provide, the board of directors has the power to levy fines for violating condominium documents, impose late fees and interest on delinquent assessments, and charge transfer fees upon sale or lease up to the maximum amount permitted by law. Absent provisions in the association documents which grant the preceding powers to the board of directors, the documents may be amended to incorporate them .
 
    Disputes arising between the condominium association and unit owners and between the cooperative association and shareholders are required to be arbitrated before the Division of Land Sales unless the dispute pertains to assessments, the interpretation or enforcement of a warranty, title to a common element or unit, eviction of a tenant, breaches of fiduciary duties by one or more directors, and claims for damages to a unit resulting from the association's failure to maintain the common elements. The petition for arbitration must be accompanied by a $50 filing fee and recite that petitioners gave the respondents advance written notice of the nature of the dispute, a demand for relief and a reasonable opportunity to comply or to provide the relief, and notice of the intention to file an arbitration petition or other legal action in the absence of a resolution of the dispute.
 
    In addition, mediation or arbitration may be ordered by the court to settle disputes which arise in a homeowners association.

    Although discovery is limited, arbitrators will issue subpoenas for testimony and will conduct an evidentiary final hearing, after which a written decision will be issued. The Division of Land Sales publishes an index of its decisions with a short synopsis of its rulings. The full written decision of its arbitrators can also be obtained from the Division. Not only are these decisions helpful in determining the answers to specific questions that a board or unit owner may have, they are also of precedential value in the conduct of arbitration decisions.

    After the final decision is made by the Arbitrator, either party has the right to file a lawsuit in the appropriate court. The trial court has the right to make its own decision about the case without being bound by the arbitrator's decision, although the arbitrator's decision is admissible in the court proceeding.
 
    The Federal Housing Act prohibits discrimination in the sale or rental of a dwelling based on race, color, national origin, sex, handicap, religion, or familial status. However, an exemption to the Act allows for housing for older persons provided that the housing is intended for and operated for occupancy for persons over 55, at least 80% of the units actually are occupied by one person at least 55 years of age, and the association documents provide for, or later are amended to include such an exemption.
 

© 1997 Mark Perlman