HOA restrictions and covenants typically contain provisions limiting use of the property to a "single-family" residence. These use restrictions likewise typically prohibit any "business" or "commercial" use of the home. However, as discussed in other posts on this blog, enforcement of deed restrictions or covenants may implicate other laws, particularly the Fair Housing laws. Associations are prohibited by Federal, State and many local laws from discriminating against protected classes. Unlawful discrimination includes, among other things, the refusal to make a reasonable accommodation in policies or practices and interference with the lawful use and and enjoyment of the residence.
In the past, Florida courts have interpreted Section 419.001(2), (addressing community residential houses), and Section 393.062, (addressing developmental disabilities), of the Florida Statutes as support for the premise that a group home is the functional equivalent of a single family residential unit and does not justify enforcement of deed restrictions to the contrary. In at least one of the cases the court found that the association must show the use (three unrelated disabled adults) constitutes a nuisance and the mere fact that the residents of the home were not related was not a violation of the single-family use restriction. Another case found that enforcement of the prohibition against commercial or business use was discriminatory as applied against a particular small group home.
The county has joined efforts on behalf of an owner, based upon a legal memorandum prepared by the County Attorney’s Office, after a finding of reasonable cause was issued by the Pinellas County Office of Human Rights. TBO.com reported the story.
What does this mean for Homeowners Associations?
- First - community leaders and managers must be aware that fair housing laws may impact enforcement or other board decisions.
- Second - it is important to create fair housing policies and procedures to evaluate fair housing claims, requests for accommodations or modifications and the transfer approval process.
- Third - do not treat fair housing investigations lightly. Work with counsel and the investigating office – the investigators attempt to conciliate these matters before issuing any findings.
- Fourth - review your insurance policies. Many policies do provide coverage for defense and other costs.
Finally, there are many educational resources available to community leaders and managers. Take advantage of those opportunities.