The very successful and well attended 2nd Annual Dowd, Whitaker & Associates Community  Festival was held in Venice earlier this week.   I was pleased to be one of the presenters at the Festival and had the opportunity to speak to an impressive number of members and managers of resident owned cooperatives throughout southwest Florida.

I covered a number of topics during my presentation but the one that generated the most discussion involved Florida Statute Section 719.303 and in particular the provisions relating to fines and suspension of  use rights for failure to comply with the cooperative documents or the association’s reasonable rules.

Here are a few important pieces of information from that presentation:

1.   The authorization to assess fines or suspend use rights or voting rights does not need to be included in the community’s governing documents.

2.   Fines cannot exceed $100 per violation or $1000 total but a fine may be assessed on the basis of each day of a continuing violation.

3.   Fines may not become a lien on a unit under this statute.

4.   Fines may not be assessed and use rights may not be suspended unless the unit owner (or, if applicable, the unit’s licensee or invitee) is provided with reasonable notice and the opportunity for a hearing before a committee of other unit owners.   If the committee does not agree with the fine or suspension, the fine or suspension can not be imposed.   I do not see any provision in the statute that prevents board members from serving on this committee.

5.     Even if the association’s bylaws specifically permit closed committee meetings pursuant to Florida Statute Section 719.106(1)(c), I’d suggest that the safer course of action may be to keep these hearings open to the general members–since the statute clearly provides that the committee’s decision not to impose a fine or suspension prevents the board and the association from imposing the fine or suspension, I’m concerned that this committee may be held to "take final action on behalf of the board" and thus not be allowed to hold its hearings behind closed doors.  

The association can also suspend voting and use rights where a member is more than 90 days delinquent in paying any monetary obligation owed to the association.   There’s no need for a hearing in these situations and I’ll go into further detail in my next blog entry.