Santa Monica Beach Property Owners Association, Inc., and others vs. David Acord, Virginia Acord and William C. Alford. 

Case Nš 1D16-4782, First District Court of Appeal of Florida (Tallahassee), Decision April 28, 2017


Published May 7, 2017


David and Virginia Acord who live Sylvester, Georgia, a small town in the central, Southwest part of the state, bought a vacant lot in Santa Monica Beach Subdivision in Panama City Beach, Florida, and built a large multi-bedroom vacation house on the property. Santa Monica is one of the earlier post-war developments in western Bay County which when it was developed the developers recorded restrictions purporting to affect every lot in the subdivision; however, the restrictions did not create a homeowners association as is done these days. The HOA was not incorporated until 1983.

    The Acords intended to rent their house through “Vacation Rentals by Owner” to assist paying for it over time. Some of the owners at Santa Monica were displeased with what the Acords were doing and in the name of the HOA and some of the owners an action was filed in the Circuit Court in Bay County seeking a determination that the restrictive covenants as written prohibited the rental activity as “conducting a business”.

    The case was dismissed upon a motion by the Accords and Alford asserting that the Plaintiff’s complaint “failed to state a cause of action”–that is to say that the activity was not prohibited by the restrictions. The circuit judge ruled in favor of the Defendants and the case was dismissed.

      The Plaintiffs appealed to the First District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee and on April 28, 2017, the court affirmed the dismissal. Overstreet, J. wrote the opinion of the court ruling that the restrictions did not prohibit renting the house as a “dwelling place” and differentiating that from a bed-and-breakfast which it called “a small motel”. It specifically found that renting a “dwelling place” is not conducting a business and that the length of the rental is inconsequential.

       In point of fact the court quoted itself when it said “even if the restrictive covenants were susceptible to an interpretation that would preclude short-term vacation rentals, the omission of an explicit prohibition on that use in the covenants is fatal to the position advocated by the Association in this case because ‘[t]o impute such a restriction would cut against the principle that such restraints are not favored and are to be strictly construed in favor of the free and unrestricted use of real property.’” Most interestingly, the court found cases from eleven other states that held similarly.

      At the end of the day the court ruled that if an activity is not specifically prohibited in restrict covenants, the covenant cannot be “stretched” to make the activity fit.

David Luther Woodward
Pensacola, Florida