Of all enforcement options available to an association for violations of its governing documents, the imposition of fines is one that yields many questions due to the strict procedures required to impose a fine. If the process is not followed properly, it may result in invalidation of the fine, and can also result in potential liability to the association.
As a preliminary matter, whether you live in a condominium, cooperative, or homeowners’ association, owners and their guests, tenants, and invitees are bound by the association’s governing documents. The governing documents generally include the declaration, articles of incorporation, bylaws, and rules and regulations of the association. Florida law for condominiums, cooperatives, and homeowners’ associations authorizes an association to levy reasonable fines to enforce the governing documents of a community.
Condominium and cooperative fines are capped at $100 per day, and further capped at $1,000 in the aggregate for continuing violations. Homeowners’ association fines may not exceed $100 per violation, unless otherwise provided in the governing documents. There is also a $1,000 aggregate cap for all three types of associations, but again, the governing documents may permit a greater aggregate fine in a homeowners’ association. Fines can be imposed against condominium and cooperative unit owners, occupants, licensees, and invitees. The law for homeowners’ associations authorizes fines against members, members’ tenants, guests, and invitees. The difference in wording between the various statutes is likely unintentional and a function of their separate historical developments.
Before a fine proposed by the board of directors for a violation of the governing documents becomes final, an independent committee must be appointed by the board of directors. The committee, sometimes called “fining committee” or “compliance committee,” must be comprised of at least three (3) members of the association who are not officers, directors, or employees of the association, or the spouse, parent, child, brother, or sister of an officer, director, or employee. “Members” of the association are generally the record title owners of parcels or condominium units. In other words, a tenant, guest, or occupant of a parcel or unit who is not also a record title owner is not eligible to serve on the committee.
A hearing before the committee requires fourteen days’ notice. However, it is important to note that this deadline has been interpreted in the condominium context to require the notice of hearing to be received at least fourteen days in advance of the hearing, not just transmitted. Given this consideration, a conservative approach would be to actually transmit the notice of hearing more than fourteen days in advance to allow time for it to be received at least fourteen days prior to the fining hearing. If the bylaws require other information to be contained in the notice, such as a cite to the relevant document being violated or the proposed amount of the fine, that information needs to be included as well.
At the hearing, the committee must afford basic due process and allow the accused to be heard, state his or her case, and challenge evidence against him or her. The committee must then either “confirm” or “reject” the fine levied by the board of directors. If the committee rejects the fine, the matter is concluded. If the committee confirms the fine, the fine is deemed to be imposed and the association must provide written notice of the fine by mail or hand delivery to the owner and, if applicable, to any tenant or invitee of the owner. The fine is also due five (5) days after notice of the approved fine is provided to the unit owner and, if applicable, to any tenant, licensee, or invitee of the unit owner.