Community Counselor May 17, 2007

Question:  I live in a “55 or older” condominium association.  Lately, it seems there are people younger than 55 years of age buying units in the building.  Is our Board of Directors responsible for keeping people under the age of 55 from buying units?


Answer: It is important to distinguish between “occupancy” and “ownership”. “Owners” of units in adult communities do not have to be fifty-five years or older, it is the age of the units “occupants” that matters. At least one occupant of a unit must be over fifty-five years of age for that particular unit to be considered in compliance. Recognizing occupants sneak in to associations, transfers sometimes automatically occur through wills and the overall burden of keeping track of each occupant in some of the larger community associations, the law requires only 80% of the units in an entire association to have at least one occupant 55 years of age or older. If allowed in your Declaration, your Board of Directors should require prospective buyers to answer written questions regarding precisely who will be occupying the unit and to acknowledge the “55+” status of the community.

Question:  My condominium prohibits dogs.  I am allergic to pet hair and purchased my Unit in part because of this pet restriction. A member who knew dogs were not allowed when she moved in says she is getting a dog because she has a doctor’s note saying it will help her with depression.  Can she do that?


Answer: Community associations are required to grant reasonable housing accommodations to members in accordance with The Fair Housing Act of 1988 and Palm Beach County’s Fair Housing Ordinance, Ch. 15. It is unlawful for community associations to discriminate against a member by refusing to make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices or services when the accommodation may be necessary to afford a “disabled” person equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling. These laws “trump” each of your Governing Documents and apply regardless of the multiple oaths your neighbor probably took acknowledging he/she knew of the pet restriction. If a doctor expressed in writing your neighbor needs the restricted pet to assist with a disability, your community association will most likely acquiesce and allow the restricted pet to stay. However, each of these situations should be reviewed on a case-by-case basis. In some instances a protracted legal battle is necessary to protect the Governing Documents. In other instances, the Association has to allow the subject pet based on the evidence provided by the owner.

Question: Our homeowners’ association has a dispute with one of its owner’s. Is there any special procedure we have to follow to file a lawsuit?

Answer: Prior to filing a lawsuit, mediation through the Division of Land Sales is required if your dispute involves:

1. Use of, or changes to, the parcel or the common areas and other covenant

enforcement disputes;

2. Amendments to the association documents;

3. Meetings of the board and committee appointed by the board, membership

meetings not including election meetings; and,

4. Access to the official records of the association.

It can take as long as six weeks for the Division of Land Sales to review your Mediation Petition and to assign a mediator. Depending on the schedules of everyone involved, the actual mediation might not take place until a few weeks after the mediator is assigned. If the mediation reaches an impasse (no agreement is reached) you can then file a lawsuit in court. The Association, but not the owner, is required to have an attorney at the mediation.