“Alligator Signs Questioned,” News-Press

“Alligator Signs Questioned,” News-Press

Q: Are “beware of alligator” signs legally required in Florida? (B.K, via e-mail)

A: No, though they may be a good idea where appropriate. The association can be held liable if someone is injured on the property due to the association’s negligence, and will very often be sued just because there was an injury.

Courts have generally held that there is no duty to protect against natural wild animals unless the property owner harbors the animal or has introduced non-native animals. However, in a 1986 case involving a University of Florida student bitten by an alligator while swimming in Lake Wauburg, a split court found that the University was not liable. The court noted that the injured swimmer disregarded clear warning signs on the premises. This suggests that the due diligence of a property owner will be taken into account.

My suggestion is to consult with the association’s legal and insurance advisors to determine what is appropriate for the individual community. The association can contact the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission for removal of alligators that constitute a nuisance or pose a threat. The nuisance alligator hotline can be reached at 866-FWC-GATOR (866-392-4286). More information about the program is available online at www.myfwc.com.

Q: My homeowners’ association is trying to fine me over five thousand dollars (one hundred dollars per day) for an alleged violation of our documents. Is the board allowed to fine more than the one thousand dollars as listed in Florida Statute 720.305 if it’s authorized in the association documents? (G.H., via e-mail)

A: The Florida Homeowners’ Association Act provides that a fine may not exceed one thousand dollars in the aggregate unless otherwise provided in the governing documents. Accordingly, governing documents may impose a financial cap higher than the statutory cap. The fine also cannot exceed one hundred dollars per violation, unless authorized by the governing documents. Fines may accumulate for ongoing violations, up to the statutory or documentary cap.

The same statutory caps exist for condominiums, except the governing documents cannot authorize higher amounts.

In both condominiums and homeowners’ associations, a fine cannot be imposed unless the subject of the proposed fine has received at least 14 days’ notice of an opportunity for a hearing before an independent committee.

Q: Is there a time limit on displaying signs in support of a political candidate? (M.N., via e-mail)

A: It depends on the terms of your association’s governing documents and applicable local ordinances. Some governing documents specifically permit political signs for a certain period of time, while others prohibit them altogether. The association’s rights to regulate political signs obviously raise “free speech” issues, which as far as I know, have never been addressed by the Florida courts. In general, the First Amendment only applies to governmental entities, although what case decisions do exist on this issue are somewhat inconsistent.

Even where an association’s governing documents are silent on the issue of political signs, they may still be regulated under local ordinance. Local ordinances governing political signs may provide, among other things, that political signs may not be displayed on public rights-of-way and must be located on private property with the permission of the owner. Some ordinances limit signs to one per candidate or issue. Some ordinances regulate maximum size of signs, and some limit the permissible duration for display.

As an example, the City of Punta Gorda requires that political signs be erected no more than 45 days prior to an election, and must be removed within 5 days after the election. There is an exception for candidates who progress from a general election primary to a general election. In those cases, the sign may remain in place until 5 days after the general election.

If a political sign remains past the timeframe provided in the local ordinance, it is generally a matter for the code enforcement authorities. I recommend that associations adopt specific criteria related to political signs and flags. As we all know and are living through, these issues can generate intense feelings.

Joseph Adams is an attorney with Becker & Poliakoff, P.A., Fort Myers. Send questions to jadams@beckerlawyers.com. Past editions may be viewed at floridacondohoalawblog.com.