Robert L. Kaye, Esq., BCS | Legal Morsels
A large percentage of Florida residential property owners are subject to restrictive covenants on their property, be it by a declaration of condominium or declaration of covenants. In addition to these restrictions, Florida Statutes contain additional restrictions that apply to these properties, some of which involve use restrictions. For condominiums, the provisions of the statutes are of a heightened significance because but for the statutes, condominium ownership of property does not exist. However, for homeowners’ associations, restrictive covenants have been in use for centuries, well in advance of the existence of such statutes. As a result, certain statutory provisions may not apply to every homeowners’ association in Florida.
There is a restriction within both the U.S. and Florida Constitutions that limit the ability of the state to enact a law that will impair an existing contract or vested contractual right. Use restrictions contained in declarations of covenants have been identified by Florida courts as existing contracts between the property owner and the entity that operates the community under the governing documents (the association). There is also case law in Florida that addresses whether a change in the statute applies to the community based upon if a particular phrase is included in the governing documents (commonly referred to as Kaufman language).
If the governing documents include Kaufman language, any changes made by the legislature in a given year will automatically be incorporated into the governing documents and apply to that community. Conversely, if there is no Kaufman language, only what is referred to as “procedural” changes made by the legislature will apply to that community. An example of a procedural change would be a change in a notice requirement for elections. Statutory changes that are “substantive” would not apply in that instance to that community. An example of a substantive change would be requiring the association to take on all exterior maintenance of the residential dwellings (presuming the documents do not already provide for that obligation). Without the Kaufman language in the governing documents, this latter statutory change would not apply to that community, as such change would likely be considered unconstitutional.
During the legislative session in 2021, Section 720.306 of the Florida Statutes was amended to add subsection (h), which provides, in pertinent part, that any amendment to a governing document after July 1, 2021 that prohibits or regulates rental agreements applies only to a parcel owner who acquires title to the parcel after the effective date of the amendment or to a parcel owner who consents to the amendment (with specific exceptions relative to short term rentals and limiting rentals to up to 3 times a year). However, under the analysis discussed above, rental restrictions and the ability to amend governing documents are generally considered substantive vested rights. As such, this new statute appears to impair the existing contractual rights of many property owners in homeowner association communities.
The first step in considering whether this new rental restriction change applies to a particular homeowner association community is to check the governing documents for Kaufman language (this also assumes that the documents were not initially created on or after July 1, 2021). Typically, Kaufman language is not included in original documents by developers of communities, but many associations have added it by amendment after the developer was no longer involved. If the Kaufman language is in the documents, the new statutory rental restriction provisions apply. If, however, there is no Kaufman language, the new rental restriction statute would not be applicable to the community. In this instance, the membership could still amend the governing documents to prohibit or regulate rentals within the community, which should be enforceable against all current owners, regardless of whether or not they voted in favor of the amendment.
The issue of whether or not this new statutory change regarding rental restrictions violates the Federal and State Constitutions has not been tested in the Florida or Federal courts as of this writing. Before considering amending the governing document in a homeowner association community to create rental restrictions, it is recommended to consult with the association attorney as to the limitations that may apply.