After 11 years of battling, a judge has finally resolved an outstanding covenant enforcement dispute which involved many court hearings, a jury trial, two appeals and then a second trial. That’s correct, 11 years of an owner and an association going round-for-round on who was right.
This dispute dates back to April 2001 when the Association began sending warning letters to the owner for yard maintenance, specifically for dead grass. After 8 months of communication from both the Association and the owner, the Association made the decision to replace the sod as a means to bring the house into compliance with the Association’s documents. The Association then recorded a $2,212 lien against the home for the cost of the replacement sod. The owner sued the Association alleging the Association singled him out, illegally came onto his property and replaced the sod and did not follow their policies. In addition, the owner claimed that part of the sod laid down was on county property and he should not be responsible to pay for that portion.
The Judge’s written decision was titled “Anatomy of an HOA Dispute Run Amok”, stating that the owner’s lawn was similar to many lawns suffering “murderous emergency water use restriction” during one of the worst droughts in Florida history. In addition, the owner did reply to the Association’s warning letters and that the Association did not have the authority to record the lien because it violated several of its own rules. The Judge also “determined that the Association lacked authorization to record the lien because it violated several of its own rules.” The Judge awarded the owner $85,000 in damages to be paid by the Association. In addition to the $85,000 the owner is seeking almost a quarter of a million dollars in attorney’s fees and costs.
At what point is enough, enough? With the owner giving a formal written response to the original letter from the association and knowing the drought conditions were the worst Florida had ever seen, could this dispute been solved back in 2001? Having a detailed covenant enforcement policy sets the grounds on what an association can and cannot due in regards to a covenant enforcement dispute. It comes down to a fine line of enforcing your documents and taking common sense into consideration.