Your HOA Documents! Protect yourself!
Did you know that you may have waived your right to a jury trial by moving into your neighborhood? If your neighborhood is governed by a homeowners association (“HOA”), make sure to read your HOA documents!
The key document that governs the relationship between you and your association is called the “declaration.” This document is recorded in the official records of your county just like the deed to your house is.
I was reviewing a declaration the other day for a case we are currently litigating and noticed that the declaration had a provision in which all of the homeowners waived their right to a jury trial in any lawsuits against the association. This jury trial waiver even stated that the right to a jury trial was waived if a homeowner had to counter-sue the association.
Most folks who move into a community governed by a homeowners association will not read the entire declaration, if they read any of it at all. Most people will not think about this until they end up in a dispute with their association and are denied a right to a jury. Unlike many other documents that can contain a jury trial waiver (such as a mortgage), you are not required to sign a homeowners association declaration. However, Florida law says that if you live in a neighborhood with an association, you are on “constructive notice” of the declaration and its contents.
So what should you do?
First, Pull A Copy Of Your Declaration
Check out your association’s website as a first step. If the declaration is not posted there, contact your association board and request that a copy of the declaration be provided for your review. The declaration should also be available on the clerk’s office website for your county. Go to the clerk’s office website and search under “Official Records” when looking for the declaration.
Second, Read the Declaration
Most declarations are very dry, boring documents to read. However, if you want to be informed of your rights and any waivers of those rights, be sure to read it thoroughly. If you do not understand anything in the declaration, consult with competent legal counsel who has experience with homeowners association matters.
Third, Take Action
If you read something in your HOA declaration that you strongly disagree with, such as a waiver of your right to a jury trial, take action! Review your HOA docs to determine the procedure for trying to pass an amendment to the declaration. Unless the governing documents provide otherwise, “any governing document of an association may be amended by an affirmative vote of two-thirds of the voting interests of the association.” See Fla. Stat. 720.306(b).
Remember - your association is supposed to be there to serve you and your community, not the other way around. Hold your association board accountable and protect your rights!
Finally, don’t forget the Groucho Marx quote: “I was married by a judge. I should have asked for a jury.” Sorry – it was just too tempting! Sometimes you have to throw in a little humor!
I hope the information in this newsletter is helpful to you and your family.
Best wishes and Go Bucs!!
Ryan C. Torrens
Consumer litigation attorney
Disclaimer: The information provided in this email does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice; instead, all information, content, and materials available in this email is for general informational purposes only.