Question: Our association operates a beachfront condominium. We regularly experience problems with people who are not staying at the condominium using our parking spots, our beach chairs and other amenities. This happens most often during spring break. Is it appropriate for a board member to walk around with a tee shirt and baseball cap with the word “Security” on it to deter these violators? J.Z. (via e-mail)
Answer: In my opinion, that is not a good idea.
The well-publicized case involving the Trayvon Martin shooting involved a community volunteer and an individual whose presence on the property was being challenged. My column dated November 25, 2012, entitled Liability Issues May Complicate Neighborhood Watch Choices, primarily dealt with that issue.
Florida’s case law makes it fairly clear that an association can owe a duty to protect owners (and tenants) from the criminal conduct of third parties. The law is most succinctly stated in a 1999 Florida appeals court case called Czerwinski v. Sunrise Point Condominium. In that case a tenant was robbed and assaulted on condominium premises, by a perpetrator using a ladder from the condominium’s unlocked storage room. There were also questions about the adequacy of lighting in the community. The Court stated that an association “generally has no duty to ensure the safety of its tenants or to protect them from the criminal act of third persons, unless the criminal occurrence is reasonably foreseeable.” In determining whether a duty exists, knowledge of prior crimes relevant, even if the prior criminal acts are lesser crimes.
In a 2004 Florida appeals case called Vazquez v. Lago Grande Homeowners Association and Centurion Protective Services, Inc., an association was held liable for negligently hiring its security company after ample notice of its prior security deficiencies. In that case, the estranged husband of a nonresident gained entry into the community, shot and killed his ex-wife, shot a resident, and then committed suicide.
At trial, the jury found the management company, the association and the security company all negligent. However, the trial judge granted judgment notwithstanding the verdict for the association and the security company. On appeal, the appellate court focused on the fact that the community had advertised security as one of its selling points, and even collected a fee for providing same. In doing so, the association had incurred a duty to exercise reasonable care in its security procedures. Interestingly, the court also held that prior criminal conduct (the relevant issue in the Czerwinski case) was not necessary to prove, because the association assumed a duty by advertising “security.”
In my opinion, the scenario you present simply presents too many opportunities for interactions that could end badly, resulting in potentially significant liability. Holding an untrained volunteer out as “security”, could conceivably place a higher legal duty on the association than otherwise exists.
Many associations contract with “security” providers. In fact, the Florida Condominium Act specifically provides that “security” expenses are a proper common expense. Security companies and their employees are required to be licensed by the State of Florida, pursuant to Part III of Chapter 493, Florida Statutes.
Additionally, many sheriff’s offices and police forces will provide, for a fee, off-duty officers to provide security. We spoke with the Detail Unit at the Lee County Sheriff’s Department and were told the following.
Detail services can be arranged by calling: 239-477-1199. A uniformed, off-duty officer may be hired at the rate of $40.00 per hour, in four-hour increments. There is a flat (one time) $15.00 vehicle charge per four-hour increment. (Total $175.00 for four hours.) Security patrols are also offered at $50.00 per hour (also in four-hour increments).
Also, vehicles which are trespassing on your property can be towed away as long as the Association complies with the Florida Towing Statute, found at Section 715.07 of the Florida Statutes.
Finally, if none of that works, try putting a “free beer” sign in the parking lot of the condo next door.