Most owners in Florida know that when they want to buy or sell their unit or house that they need to contact the community association, or its attorney, to get an estoppel letter. Both the Florida Condominium Act and Florida Chapter 720 regarding homeowners associations specifically devote sections to estoppel letters a/k/a certificates of assessments. See 718.116(8) and 720.30851.
But what is an estoppel letter/certificate and why is it important to me? An estoppel certificate is a letter from the association that states any amounts due and owing for fees and/or assessments for a particular unit or house that is valid for 30 days from the date of the letter. The reason it is important is that once you purchase the property, you become liable for all past and present debts on that property. Although there is no statutory form of an estoppel letter, §720.30851 Fla. Stat. requires that the certificate be signed by an officer or authorized agent of the association stating all assessments and other moneys owed to the association by the parcel owner or mortgagee with respect to the parcel. However, it is good practice to include or request within the estopple letter/certificate: the name of the association; the name of the unit/parcel owner; description of the property; the total amount owed to the association; the date through which that total amount is owed; instructions on where to send the payment and signature of an officer of the association or authorized agent.
Upon request of the estoppel letter, the homeowners’ association may charge a reasonable fee for the preparation of the letter, however, an interesting caveat of §720.30851(3) Fla. Stat. states that if the certificate is requested in conjunction with the sale or mortgage of a parcel, but the closing does not occur and no later than 30 days after the closing date for which the certificate was sought the preparer receives a written request, accompanied by reasonable documentation, that the sale did not occur from a payor that is not the parcel owner, the fee shall be refunded to that payor within 30 days after receipt of the request. The refund is the obligation of the parcel owner, and the association may collect it from that owner in the same manner as an assessment as provided in this section. As with any legal transaction, knowledge is power. According to http://www.stateofflorida.com/facts.aspx (StateofFlorida.com) approximately 1,000 people move to Florida each day. Many of those people come from areas that do not have homeowners’ associations and new Florida residents are often surprised to learn that even though the homeowner may be up to date on their mortgage payments, that failure to pay homeowners’ fees and assessments can lead to foreclosure as well, regardless of your current mortgage status.
If you are considering purchasing property governed by a homeowners’ association or if you already own a home within a homeowners’ association and find yourself in need of legal advice regarding a dispute with the association, the knowledgeable attorneys at The Orlando Law Group, PL can help.
Author: Jeffrey W. Smith, The Orlando Law Group
Jeffrey W. Smith is an attorney for The Orlando Law Group. His practice focuses on veteran appeals, family law, and civil litigation. He is a veteran of the United States Marine Corps, serving in Operation Desert Storm in the Middle East and Operation Restore Hope in Somalia. Jeffrey is a graduate of Oviedo High School and lives in Oviedo with his family.