Two weeks ago, I wrote to you about House Bill 623 that is making its way through The Florida Legislature. Another change to the law currently included in the bill is the following language:
(c) Any provision of the declaration, the association bylaws, or reasonable rules or regulations of the association which diminish or infringe upon any right protected under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution or Art. I of the State Constitution is void and unenforceable without further action of the association. The association may record a notice in the public records of the county in which the condominium is located evidencing its intention to not enforce such provision. The failure of the association to record a notice in the public record may not be the basis for liability or evidence of discrimination or a discriminatory intention.
To simplify, the 14th Amendment made The Bill of Rights (The first ten amendments to the Constitution) applicable to the states. So this law basically says no provision of your governing documents can infringe upon the rights you have under the Bill of Rights. All of you know several of these rights such as the right to free speech, freedom of assembly, and freedom of religion.
There is plenty of law out there that says when you move into an association, you may give up some of the rights you may ordinarily have in your private home. You do this by agreeing to be bound by the governing documents. For example, courts have upheld the rights of Florida associations to prevent the use of the common elements for religious purposes, allowed associations to impose reasonable restrictions on speech through time limitations at meetings, impose restrictions on placement of political signs on the property or even placement of religious symbols in excess of certain sizes on your windows and doors.
The adoption of this proposed amendment by The Florida Legislature may throw all of these restrictions into doubt, including another one I haven’t mentioned yet. The Second Amendment is the right to bear arms. Inasmuch as Florida law allows associations to prohibit alcohol use on the common elements and prohibit religious ceremonies on the common elements I always opined that the association had the right to ban weapons on the common elements via a rule. If this proposed amendment passes, no way would an association be allowed to ban guns from the common areas.
I have serious concerns that if this amendment passes, associations will potentially be embroiled in case after case, where the association attempted to impose all of the reasonable restrictions mentioned above, and unit owners taking the position that the association is prohibited from doing so because it violates their constitutional rights. Until now, you couldn’t sue an association for a violation of these rights inasmuch as the action by the association did not constitute “state action.” This new statute changes all that if it passes and will open a Pandora’s box and flood of litigation between associations and their owners.
If you are a believer that associations are notorious for not providing their owners with rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, this new proposed law may not bother you. If on the other hand you believe that the association should still be able to impose reasonable restrictions in order for all of us to live in harmony with each other, this new law should bother you. A LOT.