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 prose, 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.