Unit owners often move from private homes and do not understand that the condominium form of ownership in Florida is somewhat unique. In many instances some individual liberties must be curtailed for the good of the community as a whole. What they may have been permitted to do “up north” may not be the same under our laws. The following are a series of common issues that often arise based on such misunderstandings.
Why can’t we use the grass outside of our first-floor unit’s back door for ourselves? Any area outside of your unit’s boundaries is considered part of the Common Elements (unless it is specifically designated as a Limited Common Element in the Declaration of Condominium). The Common Elements are owned by all the unit owners jointly, based on the percentages in your particular Declaration of Condominium. The annexation of that space (or any common element) for yourself effectively blocks the use of that portion of the property from being used by any of its other owners.
Why can’t we remodel our unit any way we want? Most, if not all, of the Declarations of Condominium I’ve reviewed require that all remodeling be approved by the Board. That is a contract each owner entered into when they bought the unit. Further, the condominium building is all interconnected. The pipes in your walls may serve the entire stack, not just your unit. The walls may be holding up the roof or the units above them. You can think of the condominium building like the game Jenga, where there is a stack of carefully placed wooden pieces and by removing the wrong one the entire stack will come tumbling down. It is the interconnected nature of the condominium building that necessitates prior review and approval of alterations to the interior of your unit. Prior Board approval is necessary to protect all units / owners.
Why can’t we just sell the unit without Board approval? Section 718.104, Florida Statutes, provides, in relevant part, “The declaration as originally recorded or as amended under the procedures provided therein may include covenants and restrictions concerning the . . . and transfer of the units permitted by law with reference to real property.” If the Declaration requires Board approval prior to the sale of the unit, then, within the parameters provided in such governing documents the Board has the authority to approve or disapprove such transfers, as long as such actions do not violate fair housing laws.
As the Court stated in the case of Sterling Village Condominium, Inc. v. Breitenbach:
“Every man may justly consider his home his castle and himself as the king thereof. However, 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.”
If you have questions about what your authority is as a Board, contact your community association attorney for a review of your governing documents.