Condominium and Homeowners Assoc. Law Resources

Homeowners Associations – The New Local Governments

Where and how many of us live has changed. The Community Association Institute of Alexandria, Virginia estimates that approximately 30 million Americans, or roughly 12% of the population, currently live in “common interest communities” (i.e. condominium, cooperative, or homeowners’ associations). This statistic is especially noteworthy because the first such communities appeared just 30 some years ago.

As the cost of land and residential amenities continues to rise, common interest communities are a way of spreading those costs among many people, therefore giving homeowners access to residential extras like swimming pools and clubhouses they otherwise could not afford. Also, the protective covenants found in most common interest communities act to preserve property values by insuring that the quality of a neighborhood will be maintained.

As the ability of cities and towns to adequately preserve and service their neighborhoods declines, common interest communities have stepped into the vacuum and are taking on more of the role traditionally filled by local government.

At times the similarities between homeowners’ associations and cities can be striking. Under the authority conferred by the elective process, government officials are given the power to regulate and tax their fellow citizens. Homeowners’ associations have these same powers under the authority conferred by private contracts. Like cities, they exert their influence over a geographically defined area. Cities have charters which spell out their powers, while homeowners’ associations have declarations of restrictions. Cities have the authority to levy a property tax, while homeowners’ associations have the authority to levy maintenance assessments. Members of the city council are elected by a majority vote, the Board of Directors of an association are elected by majority vote of the unit owners.

Even that most traditional of municipal services, police protection, can be handled by private security forces under the homeowners’ association’s control. In fact, nationwide, private security forces now outnumber police manpower. While homeowner associations have their most control in regulating design or aesthetic factors like paint colors, hedge height, or additions, in some cases they have been permitted to reach inside the home through regulations prohibiting pets or children. Some associations even have the authority to expel members of the association who misbehave.

In Florida, the operation of cities and counties has always been regulated by the State legislature, which is now also pulling homeowners’ associations into the statutes. In 1992, the Florida Legislature took its first steps toward placing some restrictions on homeowners’ associations by requiring that association meetings be open to all parcel owners and that an accurate copy of minutes be kept of any meeting. Continuing with proof of our point, these new regulations are very similar to the Sunshine Law and Public Records Law which govern Florida municipalities.

Homeowners’ associations will more and more fulfill the role of the new local government — both in voluntarily providing more services to their residents and, voluntarily or not, enforcing compliance with statutory regulations of the type which used to apply only to cities.

Important Note: This article is for general information only and is not intended to give any specific legal advice or opinion which should be sought from an attorney. The facts of any particular situation need to be examined before deciding on a legal course of action.

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