By Betsy Barbieux, CAM, CFCAM, CMCA / Published May 2022
New managers learn in their pre-licensing class that covenants and restrictions contained in the declaration “run with the land.” Without some explanation, that phrase goes unnoticed but is important in the enforcement of those covenants and restrictions.
Visualize this. When the declaration of covenants is recorded in the public records in the county where the property is located, it’s as if they are buried in the ground underneath the community. They “run” or stay with the land. Visually, the warranty deeds of the owners would sit on top and change periodically from seller to buyer from seller to buyer, but the covenants and restrictions run with the land or stay with the land. They do not move or change with ownership of the lots or units.
Since the covenants are recorded in the public records, that means they are public! They are not a secret; they are not hidden. They are available to any and all who will look for them. This public-ness comes with a presumption. It is presumed since they are not hidden and are public, that owners are aware of them.
In fact, they should be aware because the title insurance policy they received at closing (if they used a closing agent or attorney) notes on Schedule B the declaration as an exception to their ownership along with their mortgage and likely some easements, mineral rights, or riparian rights. That means their ownership is subject to or encumbered by the covenants in the declaration just like their ownership is subject to or encumbered by their mortgage.
This presumption is similar to the presumption of the publicly posted speed limit sign. If a deputy sheriff were to stop you on a back road and ask you, “Ma’am, do you know how fast you were driving?” it doesn’t matter that the last sign you passed was 10 miles ago. Ignorance will not be an excuse because the speed limit sign was publicly posted. It could be said that when you received your driver’s license, you entered into a contract with the State of Florida saying that you would abide by all of the driving laws, which included knowing and obeying the speed limit. Because the speed limit sign is publicly posted, you are presumed to have known what it was no matter how long ago you passed it. So, ignorance is not an excuse.
Just like the publicly posted speed limit sign, the recorded covenants and other governing documents are not a secret. This means you can know in advance everything that’s going to be required of you before you buy into that community.
The governing documents create a contractual relationship between the association and the owners, the owners to the owners, and the owners to the association. That contractual relationship provides rights, responsibilities, and obligations of all parties. Anyone who lives on the property or visits as your guest or repairman is subject to the covenants and restrictions that run with the land. Granted, owners are supposed to tell their guests and repairmen not to park on the grass, but the restrictions apply to anyone on that land. Because of this public-ness and because of the presumption of knowledge, managers and boards of directors can assume owners know everything contained in the documents. However, we know that is not so, but it is the assumption.
This assumption is why managers and board members can and should enforce all the restrictions equitably on all the owners. By purchasing a home or lot or unit on that land and signing the closing documents, owners have obligated themselves to abide by those restrictions and covenants.
To be clear, a covenant is a commitment, agreement, or contract that grants a right or imposes a restriction on the real estate property or its owner. Covenants and restrictions maintain the quality of the property and lifestyle of the community. They are permanent restrictions and remain effective until the community is terminated. This is often called a deed-restricted community, and often you’ll see that phrase on the community entrance sign.
All condominium unit owners, cooperative shareholders, and parcel owners are entitled to due process under the documents, the statute, or case law as applicable. Due process means the manager and board of directors will follow the requirements in the governing documents to ensure equitable compliance to the community restrictions and rules.
Owners whose governing documents permit the rental of the units or homes are responsible for informing their tenants of the covenants and restrictions and rules for living in that community. However, the contract and enforcement of those provisions is supposed to be between the association and the owner (not tenant).
As board members and managers, we want all tenants to know and abide by the rules and regulations. But it is the owners who are responsible for providing that information or copies, not the association. This is the correct chain of command.
Boards and managers communicate with owners when enforcement is necessary to correct a tenant’s violation. The communication should be with the owner, not the tenant, since it is the owner who could be fined for the violation or have the use rights of the amenities suspended. In the case of a suspension, it would include the tenant being suspended from use of the amenities.
In recent years, the condominium law changed to allow a tenant to request access of and make copies of the declaration, bylaws, and rules regulations. That is an odd turn of events and certainly not the intended chain of command for communication or enforcement. Nevertheless, it is the current law for condominiums.
So, whether an owner, tenant, guest, or repairman, the covenants and restrictions apply to all because of their public-ness.
Betsy Barbieux, CAM, CFCAM, CMCA
Owner, Florida CAM Schools
Betsy Barbieux, CAM, CFCAM, CMCA, guides managers, board members, and service providers in handling daily operations of their communities while dealing with different communication styles, difficult personalities, and conflict. Effective communication and efficient management are her goals. Since 1999, Betsy has educated thousands of managers, directors, and service providers. She is your trainer for life! Betsy is the author of Boardmanship, a columnist in the Florida Community Association Journal, and a former member of the Regulatory Council for Community Association Managers. Subscribe to CAM Matters™ at www.youtube.com/c/cammatters. For more information, contact Betsy@FloridaCAMSchools.com, call (352) 326-8365, or visit www.FloridaCAMSchools.com.