I am often asked by readers whether guest restrictions are enforceable. Residents often want to know whether the Association can require them to notify management when guests arrive or whether it is appropriate to require guests to register with the Association. The answer to these questions is, almost inevitably, “it depends”. Readers are not usually satisfied with this answer and I can certainly understand why. Nonetheless, there are so many factors that need to be taken into consideration in each particular set of circumstances that makes answering any other way disingenuous.
The first point in the start of the analysis is the source of the rule or the policy sought to be enforced. There are different standards for restrictions contained in a document of high priority (such as the Declaration of Condominium or a Declaration of Covenants and Restrictions) as opposed to documents with a lesser priority (such as Board policies or Board-made rules). Generally, rules made by an Association are subject to a three (3) pronged test for enforceability, to wit:
- The Board of Directors must have authority to promulgate the rule (authority granted by the Declaration of Condominium or other governing documents);
- The rule cannot conflict with any of the rights conferred by any of the documents of higher priority, whether those rights are expressly stated or reasonably inferable; and
- The rule must be reasonable (explained as rationally related to a legitimate objective of the Association).
In Florida, there must be some authority for a Board of Directors to create or promulgate rules and regulations regarding use or occupancy of the property. Some governing documents give the Board of Directors plenary power to adopt, modify or otherwise change use restrictions. Other governing documents limit the Board’s authority to rule making regarding use of the common areas or common elements and still other governing documents require a membership vote to enact new use restrictions. Section 718.112(2)(c), Florida Statutes and Section 720.303(2)(c), Florida Statutes, requires both Condominium and HOA Boards to deliver notice of the Board meeting to the members at least fourteen (14) days in advance if the Board intends to adopt, change or otherwise consider rules regarding the use of the unit or the individual parcel. Consequently, the first step in determining whether a rule is enforceable is to determine whether the Board of Directors acted within the scope of its authority and whether it followed the procedures required both in the governing documents and applicable Florida law.
The second part of the test requires an analysis of the existing documents that have priority over rules and regulations. Rules cannot conflict with the governing documents. It is relatively easy to determine whether a rule contradicts an expressed right or privilege set forth in the documents. For example, if the Declaration prohibits owners from maintaining more than two (2) pets on the property, the Association cannot enact a rule that prohibits pets altogether. An amendment to the Declaration is required to eliminate an owner’s right to maintain one or two pets on the property. Determining whether a rule contradicts an inferred right is far more complicated.
Finally, rules cannot be arbitrary or reflect capricious decision making. The third part of the test requires the rule to be “reasonable”. Obviously the term “reasonable” is much like the term “beauty” – everyone has a different standard.
Accordingly, once the first two steps are satisfied, it is necessary to evaluate whether the guest rules or guest restrictions are based upon some legitimate objective. The State of Florida addressed guest registration rules in a Declaratory Statement issued several years ago. The Association involved required all guests to sign in with a security guard upon entering the property and further required information on an Overnight Registration Form to register guests staying overnight. When a unit owner challenged the Association’s “need to know”, it emphasized that the rule served an important safety function, assisted in enforcement of other rules requiring use of licensed and insured contractors and contributed to making the condominium “more comfortable, safe and contented experience for all concerned”. The Division concluded that the rule advanced legitimate objectives of the Association and found that registration requirement did not violate the Florida Statutes.
The Division has had the opportunity to consider many rules enacted by community associations over the past eleven (11) years in connection with its arbitration program. We will include more examples of rules that have either been upheld or rejected, from time to time.