“Every man may justly consider his home his castle and himself as the king thereof; nonetheless his sovereign fiat to use his property as he pleases must yield, at least in degree, where ownership is in common or cooperation with others. The benefits of condominium living and ownership demand no less” Sterling Village Condominium, Inc. v. Breitenbach, 251 So.2d 685, 688 (Fla. 4th DCA 1971). The foregoing case is famous in condominium law circles for being a seminal case in defining material alterations and substantial additions in the context of common elements, but the passage I cite applies to many (if not most) contexts of common interest life. The issue de jour is a fundamental example of the need to yield some exclusivity rights for the benefit of all your neighbors.
Why do they (the condominium association) need a key to my unit? The answer is quite simple: water, fire, and other perils do not care where unit boundaries begin or end. The law recognizes this basic fact. Section 718.111(5)(a) of the Florida Condominium Act states “The association has the irrevocable right of access to each unit during reasonable hours, when necessary for the maintenance, repair, or replacement of any common elements or of any portion of a unit to be maintained by the association pursuant to the declaration or as necessary to prevent damage to the common elements or to a unit.” This provision of the Act recognizes that the association must be able to enter the unit to (1) perform its maintenance obligations and (2) protect the condominium property (both units and common elements).
The DBPR’s Division of Condominiums, Condominiums, Timeshares, and Mobile Homes has recognized that owners must provide the condominium association with a means of access to the unit (e.g. key or punch code) in order to be able exercise the statutory easement rights contained in Section 718.111(5)(a), Florida Statutes. Of course, associations (and the managers and vendors providing services to associations) must exercise this right of access with respect for the occupants of the unit. In non-emergency situations, this means providing appropriate notice to the unit owner of the particular need for access and when the access will occur. In cases where the unit must be accessed in an emergency situation, the association should give a prompt report to the unit owner of why the unit needed to be accessed, who accessed the unit, and what, if any, actions were taken in the unit. Lastly, the statutory easement right discussed in this article should not be conflated in manner to allow an association agent access to a unit for any reason whatsoever. The language of the statute is clear that the purpose of the access is to perform association maintenance functions and to protect the condominium. Any easement for access other than those purposes needs to be stated within the declaration of condominium.