As you all know, Florida law currently mandates that condominium
“disputes” are mediated before arbitrators who are employed by
the DBPR, rather than being litigated in a court of law.
Florida Statute 718.1255 states:
(a) The Legislature finds that unit owners are frequently at a
disadvantage when litigating against an association.
Specifically, a condominium association, with its statutory
assessment authority, is often more able to bear the costs and
expenses of litigation than the unit owner who must rely on his
or her own financial resources to satisfy the costs of
litigation against the association.
(b) The Legislature finds that alternative dispute resolution
has been making progress in reducing court dockets and trials
and in offering a more efficient, cost-effective option to court
litigation. However, the Legislature also finds that alternative
dispute resolution should not be used as a mechanism to
encourage the filing of frivolous or nuisance suits.
(c) There exists a need to develop a flexible means of
alternative dispute resolution that directs disputes to the most
efficient means of resolution.
(d) The high cost and significant delay of circuit court
litigation faced by unit owners in the state can be alleviated
by requiring nonbinding arbitration and mediation in appropriate
cases, thereby reducing delay and attorney’s fees while
preserving the right of either party to have its case heard by a
jury, if applicable, in a court of law.
The clear intent of the statute was to try and make the
resolution of arguments between an association and an owner
inexpensive and quick. It failed. Although tens of thousands
of Floridians live in condominiums (especially high-rise
condominiums) that contain a commercial unit, like a small
grocery store, the DBPR made up their own rule that stated any
condominium with a commercial unit is not eligible for
arbitration and must go to court, immediately alienating
In addition, the statute itself was flawed because
if an arbitrator referred a case to a mediator, and the case did
not settle, either party was now immediately able to discontinue
the arbitration instead of the arbitrator simply being required
to make a ruling on the case and finish it up. In other words,
all that time and money spent for nothing and now you were off
to court anyway.
More recently, cases are dismissed by arbitrators
for minor technical reasons often times leaving associations or
owners with no remedy to redress violations.
While this frustration with arbitration continued on
the condominium side, the HOA statute got it right. Instead of
requiring disputes to be arbitrated by Tallahassee arbitrators,
the HOA statute requires that disputes start at the mediation
table, in the county where the association is located and not in
Tallahassee, and if not settled, each party can head off to
So, enough is enough. It is apparent that
legislation will be filed soon which will totally eliminate the
condominium arbitration program. Instead, most condominium
disputes will require mediation while other disputes will be
subject to a summary proceeding in a court of law.
In light of the fact that the arbitration program no
longer meets the statutory objective of efficient and
inexpensive resolution of disputes, and pre-suit mediation often
does, this is legislation that makes sense. I have had the
honor of serving as a mediator of condominium and HOA disputes
for about a decade now and can tell you that there is almost no
fight that shouldn’t start at mediation. It works. Not always,
but much better that the current arbitration statute. If and
when this new expected legislation is passed, I will certainly
let you know.
P.S. Despite the fact that there would no longer be
an arbitration program requiring funding, I have not seen or
heard about any other pending legislation that would reduce the
$4.00 per unit fee required to be paid to the DBPR each year.