Gag Order for Residents/Owners

8 Replies

I am now embroiled in a situation at my Florida condo where I have been fined tens of thousands of dollars for violation of a new rule. The rule, imposed by the five-member condo board, says no one who lives here can publicly disclose information about the community or its governance without the advance, written permission of the board. Have you ever heard of such a rule, or how it has been successfully challenged anywhere in the past? I’m scouring the country looking for a similar case or a legal expert with experience with whether such information is "private" and members who legally obtain it can be forced to keep it secret, or whether a fundamental First Amendment right to free speech might apply, especially where an owner has never signed any confidentiality or non-disclosure agreement before or after buying in.

Thanks!

Seems a bit self-serving and ****-eyed.  I've never heard of such a thing.  I'd assume intent is to control messaging to try to ensure property values are maintained...  What have you said?  What's the situation?  Sounds pretty backwards.  A fine has to be levied by those with the authority to do so!

What I have said in the lawsuit I have filed: The Declaration authorizes the board to make reasonable rules regarding the use of the property.  I argue rules that limit my ability to speak are neither reasonable, nor related to the use of the property.  

Their defense: A condo/homeowner association is a private, contractual business relationship in which residents voluntarily sign away even Constitutional rights when they agree to be bound by the rules set by a community association board.  And silly me, I always thought "inalienable" rights were fundamental to any other power in the country and that a community board cannot do what the Congress nor any court cannot do but it seems this issue has never been litigated.  

And yes, the rule is to stop messaging and comes in wake of my disclosures about things like $225,000 in overcharges by a former manager which slipped by the board, and the letting of a five-year, no-bid contract for which there was no competitive bidding as required by law.  

The association also argues that all the members and the association itself have a right to privacy which extends to an expectation that information lawfully obtained by any member is to remain private and not to be publicly disclosed.  I should also point out that no such expectation/agreement is written into the governing documents, nor did I or any resident ever sign a Non-disclosure or Confidentiality agreement to that effect. 

And, Jim, I've never heard of ****-eyed but that does sound like an apt description!  The issue is: where do I find a legal basis/precedent to knock this down before I spend ALL of my retirement fund standing up for this principle in my so-called Golden Years?

Who can help?

I've seen property managers that forbid owners/tenants from filing negative reviews. I guess you can get people to sign anything but I don't know how it's enforceable in court.

@Steve Wilson I don't know what state you are in; but this would be totally illegal in Colorado. Federally speaking a condo/HOA still has to abide by certain rules set forth by the IRS and absolutely must adhere to Fair Housing - those can't be "signed away". Just curious: with whom were you communicating that pissed them off so badly?

I am in the state of Florida.  You raise interesting questions re IRS regulations of non-profit corporations such as my condo association, as well as Fair Housing laws.  I'm wondering how, specifically, either might prohibit gag orders like the one my association is trying to enforce as a private property agreement.

I was communicating undisputed facts which I shared with my neighbors and anyone else who wished to see it on a website I created.  The board insists those facts, while true, are "private."  After all, they argue, who needs to know that a former property manager systemically overcharged us all more than $224,000, a fact the board never mentioned until I posted details on the website?  Or that our board committed all members to a multi-year contract for about $200,000 without bothering to get competitive bids as is required by Florida law?

I suggest you seek legal counsel with an expert in condo association law - at least for an hour to see what truly is what. You don't have to have the atty formally respond in a letter to their claim/fines, but I'd think it'd be worth it. If they persist with their claim, that's when you'll have to make the bigger $ decision. Good luck!  

Thanks, Larry.  I did do a load of research and spoke with numerous attorneys who specialize in condo law before hiring one to file suit on my behalf, last resort when the board had little incentive to resolve the issue.  

So, while I have already had to make the "bigger $ decision" to move forward, it isn't exactly a level playing field when one tries to stand up for a principle and challenge one's own association.  While you foot the bill yourself, your opponents are funded either by insurance coverage or with money from the association's treasury funded by all members.  Yes, when you prevail, you may recover your fees...but the other party knows it's a long, expensive road to that point and figures sooner or later, no individual can outlast them.

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