Mediation in Florida Homeowners’ Association Disputes
Disagreements regarding Florida homeowners’ associations aren’t the typical types of business disputes that might involve a breach of contract or non-payment of an invoice. From the homeowner’s perspective, the dispute centers on an asset in which he or she has invested more than just money: There is typically an emotional investment that can’t be assigned a dollar value. For this reason, the HOA’s point of view focuses on the increased financial issues that result from attempting to resolve a dispute with an impassioned homeowner. Fortunately, Florida law covers disputes regarding HOA to define which types of disputes must go to mediation or arbitration, as separate from those that can be litigated in a state court.
Mandatory Mediation for Disputes
The law requires parties to conduct mediation proceedings before they can file a lawsuit in court, but only in certain cases where the dispute involves:
- Changes to a parcel or common areas;
- Covenant enforcement;
- Amendments or modifications to HOA documents;
- Meetings of the board and board-appointed committees;
- Membership meetings that aren’t election-related; or
- Access over access to records.
The law is intended to encourage mediation for disputes, so there is a caveat for refusal to participate: A party who declines mediation is barred from recovering attorney’s fees in a subsequent lawsuit.
Issues to be Resolved by Florida State Courts
Alternative dispute resolution is not appropriate in certain HOA disputes, so state court is the only option when a disagreement is related to:
- Collection of assessments, fines, or other financial matters;
- Enforcement of a prior mediation settlement agreement between the parties;
- A lawsuit by a party seeking to enforce a prior arbitration award;
- Lawsuits for injunctive relief;
- Title to property; or,
- Breach of duty allegations against a director.
Arbitration for Certain Subject Matter
Mandatory arbitration is required by Florida law in two types of situations:
- Disputes involving the recall of member of the HOA board; and,
- Disputes between an HOA member and the HOA that involve elections.
Arbitration for these types of disagreements are handled before the state Department of Business and Professional Regulation. The statute on dispute resolution specifically states that these types of disputes are not eligible for pre-lawsuit mediation, so arbitration is the prerequisite to any other action. While it mandatory for the parties to participate in arbitration, the proceedings are non-binding; however, the arbitration order is enforceable if a lawsuit isn’t filed within 30 days after it’s entered.
Whether you’re an individual homeowner or involved with running the HOA, you will be bound by Florida law on resolving homeowners’ association disputes. Certain types of disagreements are not suitable for filing in state court, so it’s important to understand the rules regarding disputes that are subject to mandatory arbitration or mediation. It’s also critical to work with a qualified alternative dispute resolution service that has extensive experience in handling HOA disputes. If you have questions about an HOA dispute and your options for arbitration or mediation, please contact the Tampa office of Feldman Mediation & Arbitration Services. We can provide more information on how the process works under Florida law.