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Signs get mixed signals

Question: A couple of weeks ago you answered a question about condo unit owners and their right to place signs on the property. You indicated that the recent U.S. Supreme Court action upholding the right of freedom of speech did not apply to them. I live in a homeowners association. Our declaration of restrictions states that no signs (for-sale signs excepted) can be placed on our lawns. Does the court decision affect HOAs? _ Palm Harbor

Answer: I don't think so. That decision related to restrictions or ordinances created by local law. Community associations, including homeowners associations (HOAs), can create and enforce restrictions that are treated as deed restrictions rather than as laws, making them private contracts and exempt from the ruling. I have, however, heard a differing opinion from one attorney, who says that all homeowners association documents are not created equal, and the covenant enforcement powers in some may not be protected. Check with your attorney.

Shoddy paperwork

Question: I asked for a copy of our homeowners association's bylaws. The president gave me a copy of the rules and regulations, saying that I did not need the bylaws, but if I really wanted them, I could go to the courthouse and have a copy made at my own expense. In so doing, I note that none of the documents have been signed, dated or sealed. Also, there is no provision in either document for them to be amended. Are these legal? _ Clearwater

Answer: Lacking a history and knowledge of your association, I can't give you a straight yes or no answer off the top of my head. The law pertaining to homeowners associations was seriously lacking in years past. Many variations exist, and many documents were recorded that are grossly defective.

You should have been given a copy of the governing documents at the time you closed on your unit. Many of the restrictions contained in them have the power of deed restrictions and run with the land so, in effect, become a part of your deed. If you did not get them at closing, get in touch with the attorney or title company that closed your transaction. They may have kept the papers in their files.

You are right; the documents should be updated, recorded and distributed to all unit owners. So put your questions, in writing, to the president and the association's attorney, and get other residents interested in this apparent defect to get the board to take action. If they don't . . . run for the board yourself.

Doggone dissension

Question: Our association rules specifically state that whenever a unit changes hands, the new owner or renter cannot keep a dog. At a recent meeting of our association board, the president let a new unit owner have a dog, because the buyer claimed that since the seller was a relative, the buyer had the right to also own a dog. This is the second time the president has done this. I have notified the management company of the violation, but to date I have heard nothing in return. What next? _ Miami

Answer: The president does not have the power or right to make a decision exempting a unit owner from the force of rule or restriction. He does have the responsibility of running the day-to-day affairs of the association, which would include enforcing or not enforcing the covenants, but not to decide, in spite of the recorded rules, that one unit owner is a class A resident and can have a dog, but that another unit owner is class B, and cannot. If there are to be exemptions, the association's attorney should draw them up and have the appropriate approval procedure followed before having them recorded.

Secondly, simply being the relative of a selling unit owner has never qualified anyone to receive or carry on a grandfathering exception that I know of.

If you wish to pursue this complaint further, send a certified letter to the president, manager and attorney requesting an official explanation of the decision and its legality. In view of the new law that requires them to respond to your request in writing within 30 days, I will bet you will receive an answer. You can then decide whether or not to file an official complaint with the Bureau of Condominium.

Jack Holeman is a longtime condominium manager, owner and board member. He welcomes your questions. Write to Jack Holeman, Condo Line, the Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731. Sorry, he can't take phone calls or provide personal replies. You can call the state Bureau of Condominium office with your questions at (800) 226-6028 or (904) 488-0725. Or write to the Bureau of Condominium, Correspondence Unit, 725 S Bronough St., Tallahassee, FL 32399-1033.

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