AN ASSOCIATION REALLY DO THAT?
Eric Glazer, Esq.
April 1, 2013
are tens of thousands of Board members that proudly serve on
condominium and HOA boards in
with pride, dedication and integrity.
No doubt that they are rightfully appalled when accused
of being the typical "condo commando."
In fact, they can't even conceive of taking actions
against their neighbors solely out of spite or just to remind
the owner who still is in charge.
Florida Legislature knows that despite all the selfless
volunteers that understand the definition of "fiduciary
duty" there are lots of others who have abused their powers
and wrecked havoc on fellow unit owners who simply disagreed
with the Board's position. That's
where the statutes prohibiting SLAPP suits come in and here's
what they say:
is the intent of the Legislature to protect the right of
condominium unit owners to exercise their rights to instruct
their representatives and petition for redress of grievances
before the various governmental entities of this state as
protected by the First Amendment to the United States
Constitution and s. 5, Art. I of the State Constitution. The
Legislature recognizes that strategic lawsuits against public
participation, or “SLAPP suits,” as they are typically
referred to, have occurred when association members are sued by
individuals, business entities, or governmental entities arising
out of a condominium unit owner’s appearance and presentation
before a governmental entity on matters related to the
condominium association. ….
governmental entity, business organization, or individual in
this state may not file or cause to be filed through its
employees or agents any lawsuit, cause of action, claim,
cross-claim, or counterclaim against a condominium unit owner
without merit and solely because such condominium unit owner has
exercised the right to instruct his or her representatives or
the right to petition for redress of grievances before the
various governmental entities of this state, as protected by the
First Amendment to the United States Constitution and s. 5, Art.
I of the State Constitution.
In short, this statute admits that instances "have
occurred" in condominiums and HOAs where owners got sued
for opening their mouths at public hearings or for making
complaints about the association to a government agency.
A good example of a SLAPP suit would be if Jane, a unit
owner, complains to the local building official that the
association is putting on a new roof with unlicensed
contractors. As a
result, the project is red tagged and halted.
Within a week, Jane gets sued by the association for
having a dog, despite the fact that the dog now lives at the
association for 11 years and is walked in plain view every day.
SLAPP suits are ones that are obviously filed for the
purpose of retaliation and to shut the unit owner up.
To stop them from making trouble and to remind them that
if they don't like the way things are now, we can make it worse
for you by drowning you with lawsuits and legal fees. The
statute makes it clear that association funds can't be used for
prosecuting a SLAPP suit and that a unit owner is entitled to
treble damages and costs and attorney's fees if they
successfully defend a SLAPP suit.
It's also a pretty safe bet that Board members can face
individual liability that won't be covered by the association's
D & O insurance policy should an owner sue the association
because they were served with a SLAPP suit.
But is all this talk for nothing?
Would an association really sue someone just to keep them
quiet? Just because
they made a complaint? Just
because they exercised their right to free speech?
Exercise your First Amendment rights and let your fellow
blog readers know what you think.