In the State of Florida, what right does a condominium board have to prohibit a unit owner from installing hurricane shutters?

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When determining a condominium board’s right to limit or otherwise restrict a unit owner from undertaking a specific activity, the usual starting place is the condominium’s documents, such as the declaration or the bylaws. This is because condominium associations are generally left to their own devices when it comes to directing the manner in which they govern themselves. However, in the context of installing hurricane shutters, the Florida legislature believed legislative intervention was necessary.

By virtue of their location, condominium communities may be susceptible to various risks that may not exist in other geographic areas. In Florida, it is the risk of hurricanes that ordinarily take center stage.

Florida’s expansive coastline is reason enough to place hurricane damage at the top of the list of risk exposures. The extensive, and ever increasing, residential development along the coast serves to increase the concern. Moreover, the reluctance of an already diminished pool of insurance companies to sell affordable wind insurance policies to coastal residents without hurricane shutters, as well as the increasing difficulty experienced by many unit owners seeking board approval to install hurricane shutters, underscored the need for legislation.

Thus, in the context of hurricane shutter installation, Florida’s Condominium Act (the body of statutes governing Florida condominiums), rather than a condominium’s documents, controls the process.

Specifically, the Condominium Act requires each condominium board to adopt hurricane shutter specifications for each building, which shall include “color, style, and other factors deemed relevant by the board.” Moreover, the Act provides that notwithstanding any provisions to the contrary in a condominium’s documents, “if approval is required by the documents, a board shall not refuse to approve the installation of hurricane shutters by a unit owner conforming to the specifications adopted by the board.”

By implementing an express policy, and requiring adherence thereto, condominium boards are unable to rely on arbitrary, inconsistent, or unknown standards when considering a request to install hurricane shutters, thereby removing unreasonable obstacles often encountered by unit owners seeking to protect their property from potentially devastating hurricane losses.

In addition to protecting a unit owner’s right to install hurricane shutters, the Condominium Act also protects unit owners from being double-billed in the event they choose to protect their unit from hurricane damage. Thus, if a condominium association decides to install hurricane shutters for the entire community, the cost of which is to be borne by the entire community via an assessment, then those who have previously installed their own hurricane protection shall receive a credit equal to the pro rata portion of the assessed installation cost assigned to each unit. Without such a credit, unit owners would essentially be charged twice for electing to install hurricane shutters on their own.

Clearly, the State of Florida has a vested interest in reducing the risk of damage caused by hurricanes. Protecting the rights of unit owners to install their own hurricane shutters, and eliminating the potential financial penalties that such owners were previously susceptible to, ensures the State’s interests are protected in this regard.

And, since the legislature made protecting these rights a priority, prudence demands that condominium boards do the same. Any board decision denying a unit owner’s request to install hurricane shutters should be viewed cautiously. Otherwise, the board may find itself on the wrong side of a lawsuit.

To learn more about unit owners’ rights and condominium boards’ obligations, check out our catalog of State of Florida approved Condominium Management courses.