When Your Community Association Has Gone to the Birds (or Should I Say “Birdhouse”)

We all know that condominium associations and HOAs can be a bit . . . let’s just say it . . . cuckoo. But one Central Florida, homeowner’s association seems to have plum flown over the proverbial crazy-bird’s nest.

Apparently, an Orlando-area HOA is embroiled in a legal battle over one neighbor’s “Little Free Library” – a birdhouse-sized (and shaped) free book exchange stocked with children’s literature that the resident has staked in her front yard — admittedly without the association’s blessing. The idea seemed harmless — thought the neighborhood performer and library storyteller – offer a cozy and cute place for community kids to get great, free children’s books. And it was popular – with about half of the residents signing a statement of their approval. After all, it was just a teensy-tiny 20” x 24” red birdhouse box designed to share the gift of reading with children. Who wouldn’t want that?

But welcome to the world of condominium and association law, where the top of every “must read” list is a “War-and-Peace”-sized Declaration of Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions. It seems that the tiny library interfered with the aesthetic appearance of the community and its removal was necessary to protect the value of the neighborhood homes. Application for after-the-fact approval . . . rejected. $194.75 in attorney’s fees later, the HOA was demanding removal.

So can homeowners fight back or is battling a residential property board a wild goose chase?

Florida law gives community associations broad authority to run the roost – including the ability to dictate things like house color, fencing, and even permissible pets. However, the board’s power is generally conscribed to what’s spelled out in the rules, bylaws and declaration of covenants and restrictions. Put simply, they can’t just make it up. So dust off that hefty community association document packet and see what it actually says. You may be surprised to find that you’re higher in the pecking order than you think.

Russel Lazega is an attorney and author of two of Florida’s most widely distributed legal textbooks on Florida Insurance Law. He also represents storm victims and consumers at war with their insurance companies and is based in North Miami, Dania Beach, Orlando and Tampa, Florida. Questions? Contact: Russ@fladvocates.com.


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