WHEN IS A MASTER ASSOCIATION SUBJECT TO CHAPTER 718 OF FLORIDA STATUTES?

Many communities throughout Florida were and continue to be developed with multiple layers of community associations. Often, such communities face legal questions that require a determination as to what statutory provisions should apply to their operation. Although it has seemed a fairly straight-forward proposition for over thirty (30) years, the issue of whether or not a recreation or master association is subject to the requirements of Chapter 718 of Florida Statutes (the “Condominium Act”) has recently become not as “black and white” as many would prefer.

In 1988, the 5th District Court of Appeal decided what had been considered the defining case on the topic, Downey v. Jungle Den Villas Recreation Association, Inc., 525 So. 2d 438 (Fla. 5th DCA 1988).  The Jungle Den decision applied a “two-pronged test” when considering the qualifications of the recreation or master association.  The first test, called “constituency”, considers whether the facilities are used exclusively by condominium unit owners.  The second test, called “functionality”, reviews the activities performed by the association being considered and whether it involves condominium property.   In 1991, in light of the Jungle Den decision, Section 718.103(2) F.S. was amended to include a definition of an “association” to be “any entity which operates or maintains other real property in which unit owner have use rights, where membership in the entity is composed exclusively of unit owners or their elected or appointed representatives and is a required condition of unit ownership.”  The Statutory change took a portion of the Jungle Den decision and codified it.  In other words, under the 1991 change to the Statute, if the members of a mandatory membership recreation or master association are exclusively condominium unit owners, the recreation or master association is subject to the Condominium Act.  As a result, for many years, the constituency test was applied more weightily than the functionality test and often would be the only criteria considered to conclude that the association was subject to the Condominium Act.

However, in 2018, the 3rd District Court of Appeal was called upon to review a commercial complex made up of a master association and four (4) condominium associations in deciding a case involving this same issue in Dimitri v. Commercial Center of Miami Master Association, Inc., 253 So. 3d 715 (Fla. 3d DCA 2018)The association in Dimitri was formed in 1982 and operates the master association for a group of condominium buildings, each with its own sub-association. The master association is responsible to maintain or provide for the maintenance of all common property in the complex which is not owned and controlled by any of the sub-associations. The master association did not have any responsibility on any of the condominiums.  The primary issue decided in Dimitri was whether the change in the Statute in 1991 applied to the association in the case. The Court also considered the two-prong test relative to the operation of the association, and whether it was subject to the Condominium Act.

Since the governing documents for the association in the Dimitri case were recorded in 1982, the Court concluded first that they pre-dated the Statutory definition and the facts would have to be reviewed further to determine whether the newer version of the Statute applied.  The decision indicated that the declaration of covenants involved did not contain the specific “magic” phrase required to result in subsequent substantive changes in the Statute being automatically applied to the association at issue, that phrase being that the community is subject to particular laws “as they may be amended from time to time.”  Since the documents here did not include this language, the Court determined that the change to the Statute in 1991 did not apply to the 1982 documents and, therefore, was inapplicable to that community.  Additionally, as a general rule, statutes are not retroactive in nature.  In order for a Statute to be retroactive in its application, the Statute must expressly so state.  The Court in Dimitri concluded that Section 718.103(2) F.S. had no such express intent and, as a result, was not retroactive in its application.  Only the prior definition in the Statute when the association was formed in 1982 would be applied to this complex, which did not result in the complex being subject to the Condominium Act.

In considering the two-prong test from Jungle Den, while the constituency of the Association was exclusively condominium unit owners, the Court further concluded that the association there did not administer and manage “condominium property” as it was defined in the Statute in place in 1982.  As a result, it did not satisfy the second level of the test (functionality) and, consequently, was not subject to the Condominium Act.

For any condominium community in Florida that was developed with a master and/or recreation association, a thorough analysis should be undertaken by experienced community association counsel to make certain that the master and/or recreation association is following the correct law that applies to it.  Likewise, the same analysis should be undertaken for any master and/or recreation association to ensure that it is operating in accordance with the appropriate Statute and to avoid potential claims of improper governance.