The internet has allowed condominium and HOA owners access to
the Florida Statutes, the HOA statutes, the Florida
Administrative Code, case law, and all kinds of articles on
community association law. While that is a good thing, it has
unfortunately empowered some owners to think they have enough
knowledge and ammunition at their disposal to take on pro se
fights against association opponents who are better funded and
have access to legal counsel.
All too often, unit owners hire an attorney when it’s too late
and the damage has been done. They filed an arbitration case
and lost. They filed a lawsuit and lost. Now, facing an
adverse attorney fee judgment and sometimes even a forced sale
of their home, they wake up and think now is the right time to
finally seek the advice of counsel.
A word to the wise…….before deciding to do anything pro se, at
least have a consultation with counsel. Know the pitfalls of
representing yourself. Don’t try to interpret complicated
statutes and rules by yourself. There is a reason why The
Florida Supreme Court specifically precludes community
association managers from interpreting statutes………..it’s hard.
They are confusing and often times don’t say what you think they
say. And even if it says what you think it says, the statute
may not apply in your community because there is no “as amended
from time to time” language in your governing documents.
Confused yet? Good. That’s my whole point.
I have said many times, I hate when someone tells me “I signed
this contract. It stinks. Can you get me out of it?” The
answer is probably NO. Why are you asking me now instead of
before you signed it? What do you want me to do now? Why
didn’t you talk to a lawyer first?
While some matters at your association may seem trivial, believe
me when I say it certainly is no longer trivial when an
arbitration or court case is filed. Immediately, the stakes
have gone way up and there may be tens of thousands of dollars
or more in attorney’s fees and costs on the line. Jan can tell
you stories about cases wherein the amount in controversy is a
few hundred dollars, but the attorney’s fees exceed six figures.
So, while I’m all in favor of access to the law and reading up
on it, be careful when representing yourself. As the saying
goes, he who represents himself has a fool for a client. I can
read all I want about how to perform surgery, or even fix my
broken sink. That certainly doesn’t mean I should do it.