Lawmakers vow to consider bills to improve HOA transparency, accountability

Article Courtesy of Sarasota Herald-Tribune

By Jim DeLa

Published November 14, 2023


State lawmakers told a group of frustrated Southwest Florida residents recently they will consider legislation in their upcoming session that could rein in abusive homeowner associations.

At a town hall meeting in Osprey, two of Sarasota County's representatives, Republicans Fiona McFarland and James Buchanan, listened to about 50 residents share experiences they characterized as HOAs running amok – assessing arbitrary fines, trespassing, hiding financial data and embezzling funds.

"I can't find a single person who's happy with their HOA," McFarland said at the meeting at Pine View School. She promised to consider any proposed legislation to regulate HOAs and their officers.

"This has been illuminating for me," she said.

Also at the meeting was state Rep. Juan Carlos Porras, who represents a Miami-Dade County district. As a freshman legislator in 2023, he sponsored HB 919, dubbed the "Homeowners’ Associations Bill of Rights," which took effect Oct. 1.

"We're seeing harassment of homeowners,” Porras said. “We're seeing selective enforcement of bylaws and covenants. And really there's no form of accountability."


HB 919 sought to beef up the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation’s ability to investigate suspected wrongdoing at HOAs and condo associations. However, the funding for increased enforcement was stripped from the bill, rendering it powerless.

In Florida, there are nearly 49,000 HOAs representing about 9.6 million residents, according to a recent national report on the topic by a property management trade organization.

This year, Porras says, he'll try again.

"I'm being told from our leadership up in Tallahassee that we will have another HOA bill next year and a much more comprehensive one at that," he said after the town hall. "We don't have all the details yet. Obviously, it's very early on in the committee process. But I can tell constituents that more is coming."

While the original 66-page bill was whittled down to 16, the new law does:

  • Require notices for HOA board meetings to specifically identify the agenda items for the meetings;

  • Provide that an officer, director, or manager who accepts kickbacks is subject to monetary damages;

  • Remove an HOA officer from their position if they are charged with forging a ballot envelope or voting certificate used in a HOA election, theft of association funds, destruction or withholding records;

  • Requires directors to disclose conflicts of interest;

  • Revises notice requirements for imposing and collecting fines, including informing homeowners about how to correct a violation;

  • Makes it a first-degree misdemeanor to prevent members from voting, and menacing, threatening, or using bribery to directly or indirectly influence or deter a member from voting.

The town hall was organized by Elizabeth Cuevas Neunder, a resident of Huntington Pointe, a gated community in Palmer Ranch. She said the meeting was the result of what she claims is selective enforcement and harassment in HOAs across the county, particularly against older residents.

Neunder told the crowd of a homeowner she knows who had a lien placed on their home when their lawn died after a crew hired by the HOA allegedly damaged a water line. "They forced him to put it in again. He spent over $2,000" before the lawn died a second time, Neunder said.

"It hurts when someone is 90 years old and they're abusing them," she said. "And instead of helping him and ... solve the problem, they use him as a punching bag."

Neunder said she would like to see even more protections for homeowners, including creation of a county oversight committee, mandatory forensic audits of HOAs, and requiring 10% of homeowners fees be put into a legal fund for homeowners.

Mission vs. friction

Homeowner associations began flourishing in the U.S. in the 1960s as suburbs grew. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, of the new single-family homes sold in 2021, 82% were in an HOA.

In Florida, there are nearly 49,000 HOAs covering about 9.6 million residents, according to a recent national report by a property management trade organization.

"People who have lived in neighborhoods have always had some form of self-governance, some form of looking out for each other," said Dan DeLeo, an attorney and president of the Cherokee Park HOA in Sarasota. "That's the idea of a homeowners association. It's just a group of residents, whether it's in a condominium or it's in a neighborhood, that get together and help to improve the place that they live."

These legal entities collect dues, and in return, cover upkeep of common areas such as community pools. They also enforce architectural and landscaping guidelines such as restrictions on the color of homes and property upkeep. To enforce those rules, many HOAs can impose fines and attach liens on property.

That wielding of power – sometimes unevenly – is often when conflict arises, DeLeo said. "It is the cause of most of the friction," he said. "You get people, sometimes, on HOA boards that over-restrict, unfairly restrict, attempt to overstep their bounds.

"So, you get disputes because it's someone's home, right? We have a long tradition in America of your home being your castle. And if someone is messing with your castle, your ability to pursue happiness, it's a big deal for folks."

There are several bills already filed so far dealing with HOAs that the Florida Legislature will consider next year. They include:

  • SB 50 and HB 59, companion bills filed by state Sen. Linda Stewart, D-Orange and Rep. Kristen Arrington, D-Osceola.

    The bill would require an association to provide copies of the association’s rules and covenants to every member before Oct. 1, 2024, and every new member thereafter; authorize an association to post a complete copy of the rules and covenants on the homepage of the association’s website under certain circumstances; and require an association to provide notices to its members by email or letter.

  • HB 293, filed by Rep. Tyler Sirois, R-Brevard.

    This bill would require associations to adopt hurricane protection specifications, including the color and style of hurricane protection products; and would prohibit associations from denying application to install certain hurricane protection, including metal roofs, permanent fixed storm shutters, rolldown track storm shutters, impact-resistant windows and doors, polycarbonate panels, reinforced garage doors, and erosion controls.

  • HB 173, filed by Rep. Kimberly Daniels, D-Duval.

    This bill would require not-for-profit HOAs to donate or use at least 15% of the association's total annual income to benefit the community in the county in which the community served by the association is located. It would also require an HOA to maintain, and make available upon request, documentation and records detailing how such funds were used or where such funds were donated.

DeLeo says HOA reform can be a good thing. The Homeowners’ Associations Bill of Rights passed last year "really addressed some outstanding issues in terms of making sure there was accountability for board members," he said.

DeLeo says many neighbors have forgotten how to be neighborly. "The first thing we could all do is just ... dial it back a little bit," he said.

"The best way to resolve the dispute is to settle it before it becomes a significant dispute," he said. "It's mostly about feelings getting hurt. Human beings are irrational, but we're emotional more than we're rational. And what I've seen from these types of disputes is, they take on a nasty, emotional element that gets in the way of common sense."