Thursday, June 18, 2009

Enforcement of Declaration of Condominium and Estoppel

In Curci Village Condominium Association, Inc. v. Santa Maria (4D08-2260), the Fourth District reversed the grant of summary judgment in favor of the condominium unit owner.

"This case arises out of landscaping modifications Santa Maria made to the backyard of her condominium unit...Before control of the Association was transferred to the homeowners, Santa Maria inquired whether she could put “decorative improvements” in her backyard. Richard Shan, who was a manager of the developer as well as the president and director of the Association at the time, told her that he “didn’t see a problem with it” as long as it did not impede the water runoff, was not permanent in nature, and did not require a permit. He told her that stones and mulch would be fine. When he gave her his “opinion” that it would be fine to make these modifications, he did so as president and director of the Association."

After reviewing the motions, pleadings, deposition testimony, reports, and other record evidence, the court entered an order granting Santa Maria’s motion for summary judgment and denying the Association’s motion. The court found that Santa Maria was entitled to maintain the decorative mulch and rocks along the limited common elements of her property. The court awarded Santa Maria prevailing party attorney’s fees and costs pursuant to section 718.303, Florida Statutes, and section 30.03 of the declaration. Curci appeals this judgment.

The standard of review applicable to summary judgment is de novo. Volusia County v. Aberdeen at Ormond Beach, L.P., 760 So. 2d 126, 130 (Fla. 2000)...The facts in this case show that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment to Santa Maria.

The declaration of condominium, which is the condominium’s “constitution,” creates the condominium a n d “strictly governs the relationships among the condominium unit owners and the condominium association.” Woodside Vill. Condo. Ass’n v. Jahren, 806 So. 2d 452, 455-56 (Fla. 2002). A declaration of condominium must be strictly construed. Palm Beach Hotel Condo. Ass’n v. Rogers, 605 So. 2d 143, 145 (Fla. 4th DCA 1992). Two sections of the declaration required Santa Maria to obtain written permission of the board prior to making improvements or alterations to her property or the common elements. Santa Maria was required to comply with the provisions of the declaration pursuant to its own terms and section 718.303, Florida Statutes.
[The unit owner did not dispute she did not receive permission. She asserted estoppel.]

The essential elements of estoppel are “(1) a representation as to a material fact that is contrary to a later-asserted position, (2) reliance on that representation, and (3) a change in position detrimental to the party claiming estoppel, caused by the representation and reliance thereon.”

In this case, as in Rolle, estoppel is inapplicable because the board of directors did not give Santa Maria permission to make the modifications, and Santa Maria could not reasonably rely on Span’s verbal representation to constitute the specific requirement of a written approval from the board.


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