Think Rules and Regulations Do Not Need to be Recorded? Think Again!! – Recent Legislative Changes Affecting Homeowners’ Associations

Many Floridians live within a community operated by an association of some kind, be it a community of single-family homes under the jurisdiction of a homeowner’s or property owner’s association, or a condominium building maintained by a condominium association. These owners should be well-aware that many aspects of life within these communities are subject to restrictions outlined in a set of governing documents, which include a declaration, articles of incorporation, bylaws, and rules and regulations. While the declaration, articles of incorporation, and bylaws are typically recorded among the public records of the county in which the community is located, the rules and regulations are typically not recorded.

Because rules and regulations are usually amendable by the approval of the board of directors only (as opposed to the additional approval of the membership), allowing rules and regulations to be unrecorded provides the board of directors with the flexibility to amend the rules and regulations as the need arises without the added expense and time required to record these rule amendments among the county’s official records. However, this option has changed for homeowner’s associations as a result of recent legislative changes which took effect on July 1, 2018.

How has this changed? Pursuant to new provisions set out in Section 720.306(1)(e) of F.S., “[a]n amendment to a governing document is effective when recorded in the public records of the county in which the community is located.” While this has certainly always been the case for a declaration, articles of incorporation, and bylaws, this is new as to rules and regulations of a homeowner’s association because they were added to the definition of the term “governing documents” as set out in Section 720.301(8), F.S. when the Statute was amended in 2015, effective on July 1st of that year.

Due to the fact that many homeowner’s associations have not recorded their rules and regulations in the public records of the county, consideration should be given to record the all of the rules and regulations, particularly if there are plans to amend them. Failing to record the rules and regulations prior to (or at the same time as) recording an amendment will possibly create what is termed a “wild” amendment, which is not connected in the public records to the document it is trying to amend. Additionally, if an amendment to the rules and regulations must be recorded in order to be effective, it is logical to conclude that the initial rules and regulations must also be recorded in order to be effective. Under Section 720.303 F.S., all governing documents are required to be recorded in the public records. Therefore, a homeowner’s association should record its rules and regulations in the public records in order to avoid this possible claim against the legal effectiveness of the rules when it becomes necessary for the association to enforce its rules against an owner.

As with any other amendment to a homeowner’s association’s governing documents, within thirty (30) days after recording an amendment to the governing documents, the homeowner’s association must provide either a copy of the recorded amendment to the members or, if a copy of the amendment was provided to the members before they approved it (for those communities with owner approval requirements for rules) and the amendment was not changed before the vote, a notice providing that the amendment was adopted, identifying the official book and page number or instrument number of the recorded amendment, and that a copy of the amendment is available at no charge to the member upon written request to the association.

While the consequences of this new legislation may have been unintended, it is the law until amended otherwise or an appellate court makes a contrary ruling. Although this will likely result in some minor additional costs to homeowner’s associations, this is a good opportunity for a board of directors to examine their existing rules and regulations and update them prior to recording them among the public records.

Board members of an association subject to Chapter 720, Florida Statutes, should discuss the implications created by this recent legislative change with their association’s lawyer. It is recommended that you have experienced association counsel review any existing rules and regulations prior to recording them to ensure that they are enforceable and do not unnecessarily expose the association to liability (e.g., Fair Housing violations). As to any proposed rules not yet adopted the same holds true. Experienced association counsel should review them to both ensure enforceability and to steer clear of unintended negative consequences.

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