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An Association’s Obligation Regarding Neighbor Versus Neighbor Disputes

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Community Associations have an obligation to enforce their governing documents. However, that obligation does not extend to policing, mediating, or resolving disputes between owners, without a corresponding covenant violation. Associations have an obligation to all owners of the community to do what is in the best interest of all owners, not just the select one or two.

As a general rule, the board should not get involved with personality disputes, or complaints where it is just one person’s statement versus another. In fact, the Arbitration Section of the Division of Florida Land Sales, Condominiums and Mobile Homes, has determined that it will not accept cases where a unit owner sues an association for not resolving a neighbor dispute. In Bronhard v. Opal Towers West Condominium Association, Inc., arbitration case no. 94-0407, Final Order of Dismissal (October 10, 1994), an arbitrator dismissed a petition by a unit owner against the association for failing to enforce the nuisance provisions of the documents against the adjacent unit owner whose grandfather clock’s chiming kept the petitioner awake at night. The arbitrator characterized the dispute as essentially a dispute between owners. Subsequent cases have been dismissed for the same reason.

Florida Courts have also determined that neither the board of directors nor the manager are under any legal obligation to police each and every action that an owner or occupant may take which may be reported to the association. In the case of Oceans Four Condominium Association, Inc. v. Stafford, 545 So. 2d 435 (5th DCA 1989), an owner sued an association alleging that the association was required to determine which owner should have a preference in purchasing another unit in the condominium. The court found that the association did not have duty to mediate or arbitrate the issue between the owners. Instead, it stated that the Florida Declaratory Judgment Statute provides that persons claiming to be interested in or having doubts about their rights under certain instruments can file suit in the circuit court. A court can then decide which of the competing would-be buyers was entitled to a preference, which decision would be within the jurisdiction conferred upon the court but is not the duty of the condominium association.

However, when a third party is involved, or the issue affects other residents or the community at large, the board may need to intervene, depending on the facts. The association will also need to intervene if the complaint concerns a violation of the governing documents and the violation can be independently corroborated.

The most common owner on owner dispute rise from a noise complaint. When a complaint of nuisance or noise is made to the board of directors, it is incumbent upon the board to investigate whether the complaint rises to a level that warrants association action. The association should visit the property and determining whether the noise is so unreasonable that it interferes with the peaceful use and possession of the other owners. Ordinary disturbances and annoyances do not typically give rise to actionable nuisance claims. While there is no exact rule for deciding when a neighbor’s noise rises to the level at which a court will grant relief, courts will evaluate nuisance actions by considering the reasonableness of an owner’s actions as well as how those actions affects the rights of others as determined from the facts of each particular case. If the association finds that the noise is not loud enough to really disturb anyone of normal sensibilities or is not disruptive to more than one owner, the board is certainly free to make the business decision that association intervention is not appropriate. Instead, the owners can resolve the issue between themselves.

In conclusion, the association should not become involved in neighbor versus neighbor disputes, except to encourage that the dispute be resolved amicably. However, if the association can independently determine that a violation of the association’s governing documents has occurred, then the association may need to act. In any event, an association should consult with its legal counsel to determine the best course of action based upon the facts of the case.

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