Saturday, April 20, 2013

Avoiding Trouble with Your Association

A big source of disputes between owners and their associations concerns claims by the association the owner made changes or improvements to their property or unit without permission of the association. The owners often claim they sent an application to the association and after not receiving a response for more than thirty (30) days, proceeded with the changes or improvements, believing approval was automatic if the association failed to respond.

This is a big mistake! At one time there was a statute providing automatic approval if no response was received and many association documents also contain language for the same, but the dispute arises when the association claims it did not receive the application. The owner must be able to prove the application was submitted. This can be done by submitting all applications by certified mail, return receipt in order to track delivery of the request.

Make sure any approval is in writing. Quite often a board member or property manager will give verbal approval only to deny it later when other board members object.

Also, check your Declarations and Bylaws before assuming no response equates to automatic approval. If there is no language granting automatic approval, then you have to take steps to obtain the written approval. This is especially important now that the Florida Legislature has put back the statute allowing associations to lien and foreclose on fines. If your association imposes a fine against you for unapproved changes or improvements, you could lose your home. Even without the language, your association could sue you to obtain an injunction forcing you to return your property or unit to its original state. Even more important, once you are labeled a troublemaker by your association they will make your life miserable. Unfortunately they have a lot of power to do just that.

In summary, always submit an application by certified mail, return receipt and, if you do not hear from the association within thirty (30) days, contact them to find out when your application will be reviewed. Make sure to get the approval in writing and do not rely on verbal approvals.

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