In a residential development governed by a homeowner’s association, it is common for the declaration of covenants and restrictions to require lot owners to properly maintain their lots in good condition. Typically, the association will periodically inspect the lots, and if a lot is not in compliance, it will send a written notice of violation to the lot owner to correct the deficiencies. If the lot owner does not comply, the declaration grants the association the authority to sue the lot owner to obtain a court order compelling the lot owner’s compliance (i.e. injunctive relief).
In Boyle v. Hernando Beach South Property Owners Assoc., Inc., 38 Fla. L. Weekly D2072 (Fla. 5th DCA 10/04/13), the Court held that the Association failed to sustain its burden to prove the lot owner breached the declaration provision which required the lot owners to “keep their lots in a neat, clean, and orderly condition.” The Association submitted sworn proof that the lot owner failed to properly maintain his lot because the “landscaping and trees need to be trimmed and properly maintained.” The Court stated that the Association failed to show how the landscaping and trees had not been properly maintained and trimmed, i.e. , was the grass dead or uncut, were the trees dead, or how were the trees untrimmed? The Association’s lack of evidence led the Court to conclude that it was unclear how the lot owner violated the declaration and what steps he was supposed to take to bring his lot into compliance. Thus, while the words used in a declaration may have a clear meaning, the party enforcing the provision has the burden to clearly show how it has been violated and what the breaching party must do to come into compliance.