There is a great book out there called “Don’t Sweat The
Small Stuff.” As you can imagine, the book basically tries
to convince you to take things in stride, nothing is ever as bad
as it seems and sometimes learn to look the other way. This is
a great way to live, but if you choose to live in a Florida
condominium, co-op or HOA, it’s a must.
In the last two weeks, our firm won appeals on behalf of a
condominium association and a homeowner’s association. I write
about them to point out how relatively minor matters can
suddenly take on a life of their own and lead the parties down a
path of no return where the consequences can suddenly become
In the HOA case in Orange County, before our firm was hired
by the association, an association sought payment of a fine from
a unit owner. The unit owner hired a lawyer to challenge the
right of the association to impose the fine. The association
agreed that the process was done incorrectly and completely
waived the fine. The unit owner was still not content and
wanted her attorney’s fees of $250.00 refunded by the
association. The association took the position that under
Florida law, the owner is only entitled to a refund of
attorney’s fees if the owner prevailed in litigation. Since
there was no litigation, the owner is not entitled to a refund
of her fees.
The unit owner filed suit against the association for return
of her fees. That’s where we came in. We won a Motion for
Summary Judgment, with the court agreeing that since there was
no prevailing party in litigation, there is no entitlement to
reimbursement of the $250.00 in attorney’s fees. Moreover, the
court dismissed the claims against the association’s directors
in their individual capacities. The unit owner wasn’t satisfied
and appealed. A three judge panel upheld the award of the lower
court and granted the association the right to prevailing party
attorney’s fees against the owner, for both the lower court
action and the appeal. These fees total in excess of
$60,000.00. Remember, the litigation was only about $250.00.
In the other case, a Broward County condominium association
simply wanted the owner to paint her house one of the approved
colors. How much could the paint job be? Instead of complying,
the owner dug her heals in, filed for arbitration which caused
the association to file suit. Our firm won the case on a Motion
for Summary Judgment and the judge ordered the home re-painted.
The owner filed an appeal. The appeals court affirmed the
decision of the trial court and awarded fees for both the trial
court level and the appeal. Fees may be awarded of
It would have cost these two unit owners a total of
about two grand to comply with the association’s requests or
demands. Instead, the associations may now be entitled to about
By the way…..it can work both ways. Associations are often
times on the losing end of small cases that could have been
settled for next to nothing and instead wind up costing big
bucks where the money could have been spent on a new paint job
or elevator instead of attorney’s fees.
Again, let these type of cases be your guide and
remember……Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff. If you can mediate
before running off to court, that is a great first step.
And…..don’t ever litigate over principal, because in the end,
it’s the principal in your bank account that’s at risk.