Delayed HOA Turnovers -  Can the Lot Owners Force Turnover?

Florida has a strong, comprehensive Condo Act (Chap. 718). It has a weak HOA Act (Chap. 720). It is apparent that developers in Florida kicked themselves for having allowed a consumer-friendly Condo Act to have been passed in the early 1970's by The Florida Legislature and vowed never to allow it to happen for deed-restricted HOA communities. The result has been a concerted effort by developers since the '70's to block attempts to incorporate basic consumer protections in Chap. 720. One example concerns the right of lot owners to force the turnover of the HOA to lot owner control.

Under the Condo Act, there are several possible triggers mandating turnover:

718.301 Transfer of association control; claims of defect by association.—
(1) . . . Unit owners other than the developer are entitled to elect at least a majority of the members of the board of administration of an association, upon the first to occur of any of the following events:
(a) Three years after 50 percent of the units that will be operated ultimately by the association have been conveyed to purchasers;
(b) Three months after 90 percent of the units that will be operated ultimately by the association have been conveyed to purchasers;
(c) When all the units that will be operated ultimately by the association have been completed, some of them have been conveyed to purchasers, and none of the others are being offered for sale by the developer in the ordinary course of business;
(d) When some of the units have been conveyed to purchasers and none of the others are being constructed or offered for sale by the developer in the ordinary course of business;
(e) When the developer files a petition seeking protection in bankruptcy;
(f) When a receiver for the developer is appointed by a circuit court and is not discharged within 30 days after such appointment, unless the court determines within 30 days after appointment of the receiver that transfer of control would be detrimental to the association or its members; or
(g) Seven years after the date of the recording of the certificate of a surveyor and mapper pursuant to s. 718.104(4)(e) or the recording of an instrument that transfers title to a unit in the condominium which is not accompanied by a recorded assignment of developer rights in favor of the grantee of such unit, whichever occurs first; or, in the case of an association that may ultimately operate more than one condominium, 7 years after the date of the recording of the certificate of a surveyor and mapper pursuant to s. 718.104(4)(e) or the recording of an instrument that transfers title to a unit which is not accompanied by a recorded assignment of developer rights in favor of the grantee of such unit, whichever occurs first, for the first condominium it operates; or, in the case of an association operating a phase condominium created pursuant to s. 718.403, 7 years after the date of the recording of the certificate of a surveyor and mapper pursuant to s. 718.104(4)(e) or the recording of an instrument that transfers title to a unit which is not accompanied by a recorded assignment of developer rights in favor of the grantee of such unit, whichever occurs first.

Under the HOA Act, the triggers for mandatory turnover of the HOA to lot owner control are more limited:

720.307 Transition of association control in a community.—With respect to homeowners' associations:

(1) Members other than the developer are entitled to elect at least a majority of the members of the board of directors of the homeowners' association when the earlier of the following events occurs:
(a) Three months after 90 percent of the parcels in all phases of the community that will ultimately be operated by the homeowners' association have been conveyed to members other than the developer;
(b) Such other percentage of the parcels has been conveyed to members, or such other date or event has occurred, as is set forth in the governing documents in order to comply with the requirements of any governmentally chartered entity with regard to the mortgage financing of parcels;
(c) Upon the developer abandoning or deserting its responsibility to maintain and complete the amenities or infrastructure as disclosed in the governing documents. There is a rebuttable presumption that the developer has abandoned and deserted the property if the developer has unpaid assessments or guaranteed amounts under s. 720.308 for a period of more than 2 years;
(d) Upon the developer filing a petition seeking protection under chapter 7 of the federal Bankruptcy Code;
(e) Upon the developer losing title to the property through a foreclosure action or the transfer of a deed in lieu of foreclosure, unless the successor owner has accepted an assignment of developer rights and responsibilities first arising after the date of such assignment; or
(f) Upon a receiver for the developer being appointed by a circuit court and not being discharged within 30 days after such appointment, unless the court determines within 30 days after such appointment that transfer of control would be detrimental to the association or its members.

What is obviously missing are timeline triggers other than the 90% sale threshold. This is what has allowed HOAs in projects around Florida slow to be completed to remain under developer control sometimes for decades.

For possible receivership, Chapter 720 is also limited. Here is the operative statute:

720.3053 Failure to fill vacancies on board of directors sufficient to constitute a quorum; appointment of receiver upon petition of member.

(1) If an association fails to fill vacancies on the board of directors sufficient to constitute a quorum in accordance with the bylaws, any member may give notice of the member's intent to apply to the circuit court within whose jurisdiction the association lies for the appointment of a receiver to manage the affairs of the association. . .
(2) The notice required by subsection (1) must be provided by the member to the association by certified mail or personal delivery, must be posted in a conspicuous place within the homeowners' association, and must be provided to every member of the association by certified mail or personal delivery. The notice must be posted and mailed or delivered at least 30 days prior to the filing of a petition seeking receivership. Notice by mail to a member shall be sent to the address used by the county property appraiser for notice to the member.
(3) If the association fails to fill the vacancies within 30 days after the notice required by subsection (1) is posted and mailed or delivered, the member may proceed with the petition.
(4) If a receiver is appointed, all members shall be given written notice of such appointment as provided in s. 720.313.
(5) The association shall be responsible for the salary of the receiver, court costs, and attorney's fees. The receiver shall have all powers and duties of a duly constituted board of directors and shall serve until the association fills vacancies on the board sufficient to constitute a quorum and the court relieves the receiver of the appointment.

In that the right to have a receiver appointed is tied solely to the developer not appointing a board and not to performance, unless the developer is not operating the HOA at all, this remedy would likely not bear fruit.

Chapter 720.305, does have some teeth and is likely the lot owners best bet to change the dynamics. It provides:

720.305 Obligations of members; remedies at law or in equity; levy of fines and suspension of use rights.

(1) Each member and the member's tenants, guests, and invitees, and each association, are governed by, and must comply with, this chapter, the governing documents of the community, and the rules of the association. Actions at law or in equity, or both, to redress alleged failure or refusal to comply with these provisions may be brought by the association or by any member against:
(a) The association;
(b) A member;
(c) Any director or officer of an association who willfully and knowingly fails to comply with these provisions; and
(d) Any tenants, guests, or invitees occupying a parcel or using the common areas.

The prevailing party in any such litigation is entitled to recover reasonable attorney fees and costs. A member prevailing in an action between the association and the member under this section, in addition to recovering his or her reasonable attorney fees, may recover additional amounts as determined by the court to be necessary to reimburse the member for his or her share of assessments levied by the association to fund its expenses of the litigation. This relief does not exclude other remedies provided by law. This section does not deprive any person of any other available right or remedy.

What would have to happen is that interested lot owners would need to band together, create a legal fund, and hire a lawyer to seek an injunction under Section 720.305 against the HOA and the developer directors seeking a court order requiring the HOA and developer directors to operate the HOA in accordance with Chapter 720 and the recorded HOA Covenants. This could result in the developer voluntarily agreeing to turn over control of the HOA to the lot owners. 

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