Article Courtesy of The
Florida Political Review
Published April 7, 2022
Across Florida, many people live in homeowners associations of varying
quality and scale. While some may individually cite positive relations,
looking online will lead one to see that for many the situation is less than
happy. It is difficult to determine the exact number of HOAs in Florida,
with estimates ranging from 47,900 to 48,500.
Property associations exist nationwide in many forms. They may manage a pool
or cut the community grass. This is paid for by an HOA fee that ranges from
as little as $21 a month in some communities to nearly $415 a month for some
South Florida residents.
An HOA may coexist with a municipal government or exist within an
unincorporated community. To live within the boundaries of one, you must be
a fees-paying member and follow the rules set by the HOA.
As an association of property owners, almost all have a board elected by
homeowners to make decisions on their behalf. In most large HOAs, functional
day-to-day operations are controlled by entirely private HOA management
There are few checks on what a large HOA can do since all but the most
active homeowners will go to meetings or vote. Since voting is based on
owned land, large development companies often have several votes based on
parcels they own.
While Florida law prohibits HOAs from being for-profit, there appears to be
no such prohibition on management companies that act as a middle man in most
interactions for owners.
FirstService Residential, one of the largest management companies in
Florida, claims to serve 1,550 HOAs in three South Florida counties alone as
of January 2022. They also manage the Association of Poinciana Villages, one
of the larger HOA communities in Florida.
Poinciana has been a hotbed of disputes and lawsuits between residents,
private companies and HOAs. A lawsuit that concluded in 2021 regarding
overcharged HOA fees against AV Homes brought attention to the senior-only
Poinciana community of Solivita, with about $35 million awarded to affected
The president of Cyber Citizens for Justice, a homeowner’s advocacy group,
Jan Bergmann said of HOAs: “their goal is to bleed owners dry.”
HOAs can use the money gathered from HOA fees to lengthen legal disputes. In
essence, HOAs can potentially raise money through a combination of fees and
arbitrary fines to build up a reserve. This works to wear out those suing
While it is understandable that HOAs need an enforcement mechanism, these
fines can hit low-income residents harder than others. At a time when many
are financially unstable resulting from the pandemic, we should have higher
priorities than investigating people for having too many dogs or threatening
fines over the color of a swing set.
Also in 2021, Poinciana residents decried a now-implemented bulk contract
wherein all residents would be required to use Spectrum internet and cable
TV services. Bulk negotiation is another power of HOAs; residents pay
Spectrum through the HOA. This led to regular people arising to push back
against the efforts.
Elaine Sharnowski, a homeowner in Village 9, was one of the several in
Poinciana. She has no background in community organization but this deal,
seen by some as a unilateral decision by the APV, spurred her to action. She
read up on HOA laws in Florida and the specifics of the deal, a laborious
process given how many HOA laws are in Florida.
In an interview with Florida Political Review, Sharnowski shared her
recognition that some who already have Spectrum can benefit. However, she
also keenly noted: “For those in our community that don’t have these
services, this is a huge monthly increase.” Another Poinciana organizer
shared similar perspectives and had concerns for older residents who would
have to pay fees for technologies they may not use.
Sharnowski and other organizers against this deal noted how it would also
lock residents into using older internet technologies for seven years. Among
many other concerns here was how much of the negotiations occurred while
many were on lockdown in Florida and thus had limited mobility to share
What can be done?
Rep. Kristen Arrington, D-Kissimmee, along with Sen. Victor Torres, D-Kissimmee,
filed a pair of bills that would curtail the ability of HOAs to fine their
residents. Poinciana is in both of their districts.
HB 6103 and its companion SB 1364, would greatly amend Florida Statutes Chapter
720 that governs HOAs; they would remove language allowing HOAs to fine
residents for breaches of HOA rules.
A related pair of bills are HB 1039 and SB 1362, which would prohibit HOAs from
putting fines as property liens. If fees were immensely high, having a lien
against a property could allow an HOA to seize that property as collateral.
All four bills died in their committee assignments.
In a recent interview with Florida Political Review, Arrington explained how
reigning in overzealous HOAs was a “bipartisan issue” that has long existed in
Florida that “we all know needs to be addressed.” She shared one story of a
resident who was fined $1,000 for not having pressure-washed their driveway.
Arrington is encouraged that HOA stakeholders hope to assuage concerns locally
rather than have “[lawmakers] change legislation across the state.” There is a
concern, as with all legislation, of unintended consequences.
At the end of the legislative session, Arrington intends to meet with relevant
parties in Poinciana to work through local concerns. She knows reform is
inevitable but concedes that any major initiative like reigning in HOAs will
If reelected, the representative hopes to work with HOAs to refine this
legislation so that minor fineable offenses cannot be applied to a lien. Her
ideal is an HOA of mutual trust between residents and the HOA, mediated through
a dedicated state agency.
A story similar to the events of Solivita occurred in the Hammock community in
Kendall. The HOA there raised fees by 300% to 400%. Residents have filed at
least 15 complaints with the state regulatory agency tasked with resolving such
To give citizens such as those in the Hammocks community a greater voice on
their behalf in the state government, Arrington pointed to an initiative by her
conservative colleagues that met greater success in the GOP-controlled chambers.
Rep. Mike Beltran, R-Valrico, in conjunction with an initiative by Sen. Danny
Burgess, R-Zephyrhills, pushed a bill that would create an HOA ombudsman’s
office. The bill, HB 1033, has already been seen by committees, though remained
unseen by the full House or Senate before they adjourned.
Hopes remain that some sessions in the future can curtail HOAs. They are more
unaccountable the larger they are. Even though Arrington’s and Beltran’s
measures failed legislatively, such measures must be revisited. A failure by
Florida to more closely curtail HOAs risks allowing HOAs to bleed owners dry.