Homeowner groups reject proposed bill

Article Courtesy of The Florida Times-Union


Published February 14, 2007

A bill that will be considered by the Florida House this spring has at least one local attorney worried about the effects it could have on the way local homeowner associations operate and enforce their rules.

Attorney Barry Ansbacher, who has been representing the Marsh Landing Homeowner Association in its efforts to get St. Johns County to recognize their right to enforce covenants, said at a meeting of homeowner association representatives Monday that House Bill 433 is a major concern.

He told members of the St. Johns County Civic Association Roundtable that the bill, if adopted, would make it more difficult for homeowner associations to enforce their covenants, will expose them to greater legal risks and make it more difficult to enforce setbacks, which establish how close to the property lines residents can build. Unless the associations have a set amount of feet that must be between the home and the property line, the county setback codes will apply, he said.

He said that, in the case of Marsh Landing, this is of particular concern because the Marsh Landing association establishes the setbacks on a case-by-case basis to preserve trees and other parts of the environment, rather than just setting a common setback for every case.

Another issue that could affect homeowner associations is an amended ordinance Ansbacher has drafted for Marsh Landing that would require neighborhood residents to get their association's approval before going to the county to get a building permit.

Currently, residents apply to their homeowner associations and their association's architectural review boards for approval if they are going to build something or make structural changes, but that approval isn't necessary before the applicant can go to the county for approval.

In addition, the amendment would change the ordinance so that county homeowner associations are not subject to Florida Sunshine Laws. Currently, Ansbacher said, the associations are considered a government agency and therefore must abide by Sunshine laws, including announcing their association meetings to the public and not conducting informal discussions between one or more members of the association outside a public meeting.

"We don't want to be a government agency," Ansbacher said. "This makes private architectural review boards private." Ansbacher will present the proposed ordinance to the County Commission in March.

In other business, resident Tina McGough, who has been leading the effort for a charter government to be placed on the ballot in 2008, asked the Roundtable for a donation to pay for legal fees to ensure that the charter government bill makes it through the House and Senate without delay.

The charter government, as drafted, establishes term limits, campaign finance reform and recall provisions for county commissioners. McGough's 12-member residents group hopes to collect $10,000 for attorney's fees. At of Monday, they had collected about $6,000.