Neighbor vs neighbor disputes are frequently a part of life in community associations. Common examples may include an owner allowing his dog to use his neighbor’s yard or an owner dumping trash on his neighbor’s yard. Although they may initially be trivial, these neighbor vs neighbor disputes can escalate into bitter personal rivalries. While many community associations believe it is necessary to intervene in an attempt to ensure good relations between neighbors, an association should only take action in such disputes when doing so is clearly within the scope of the community association’s purpose.
Pursuant to Florida Statute § 720.303(1) and Florida Statute § 718.112(2), homeowners associations and condominium associations, respectively, have the powers and duties set forth in the applicable statutes as well as the particular community association’s governing documents. The most common powers and duties of a community association include the power and duty to:
- Maintain All Common Element Property
- Levy Assessments, Pay Common Expenses, Manage Finances
- Review and Approve Architectural and Other Modifications (to the extent authorized by governing documents)
- Conduct Meetings and Elections
- Maintain Official Records
- Enforce Governing Documents
- Institute actions concerning matters of common interest to the members (such as matters involving common elements, developer obligations, etc.)
Often, neighbor vs neighbor disputes do not concern any of the powers and duties of the association. If the dispute does not fall within the powers and duties of the association, the association should not become involved in the dispute. The association should only take action with regard to a neighbor vs neighbor dispute when 1) the subject of the dispute involves actions which also constitute a violation of the association’s governing documents, or 2) the dispute causes a nuisance or disturbance to the community as a whole.
Where the neighbor vs neighbor dispute concerns a violation by one or both neighbors of the association’s governing documents, the association should take action to enforce the governing documents regardless of the motivation if the violation is brought to the association’s attention. Moreover, to the extent the association does take action, such action should be consistent with the association’s general policies and procedures. However, even when the association does take action, the association is not required to act as mediator to resolve personal animosity between neighbors. In fact, attempting to mediate such personal animosity may only exacerbate the situation.
If the subject of the dispute does not violate the Association’s governing documents, the dispute itself may escalate to a level which impacts the community as a whole and thereby causes a violation of the Association’s governing documents. Generally, associations’ governing documents will contain provisions prohibiting owners from creating a nuisance or disturbing the quiet enjoyment of owners in the neighborhood. Associations should enforce such nuisance/quiet enjoyment provisions to ensure neither neighbor creates a nuisance as defined by the associations governing documents. However, even when taking actions to prevent a community-wide disturbance, the association should still refrain from becoming involving in the subject of the dispute itself.
By “staying in its lane,” a community association can enforce its governing documents while avoiding unnecessarily becoming involved in neighbor vs neighbor disputes.