A circuit court judge has ordered a Central Florida homeowners association to stop its practice of denying homeowner guests' entry into the community of homeowner as a way of forcing payment of past due assessments. Judge Marlene Alva issued a permanent injunction prohibiting the practice as a result of a 2011 lawsuit brought by homeowner David Acosta who lives in the gated community known as Alaqua.
The lawsuit alleges that in 2008 the association began refusing access to his family members, friends and other guests because he was past due on association dues. After unsuccessful attempts to get the association to work out the disputed balance and restrictions he took them to court. Acosta says, "They ignored every one of my requests to talk, even formal written requests for mediation."
He then asked the judge permission to pay his current assessments into the registry of the court, a move the association fought against. "I live here, of course assessments have to be paid." Acosta continues, "But if they won't work it out, what else can I do?" County records show he has been making timely payments to the court.
In April 2012 circuit court Judge Linda Schoonover, who initially presided over the lawsuit, granted Acosta's petition for a temporary injunction to stop the practice observing that the association threatened to prosecute homeowners as trespassers for violating the restrictions. "You just can't threaten to call the Sheriff and have the homeowner removed form his own property as a trespasser, it makes no sense," Acosta says. Apparently Judge Schoonover agreed, ruling, "There is a substantial likelihood of success on the merits and the public will be served by the Temporary Injunction."
Alaqua attorney James Gustino appealed the decision, but the appeals court upheld the temporary injunction. Acosta accomplished all of this without an attorney while facing off against three Orlando law firms simultaneously representing the association. He now has an attorney.
Central Florida gated communities began using this type of restriction in 2008 as a way of clamping down on homeowners not paying their dues. The practice first appeared in local news when Stoneybrook, an Orlando gated community, refused entry to a homeowner's son from returning home after completing active duty in the military. The family hired an attorney to fight the restrictions, but the motion for temporary injunction never went before a judge. Orange County court records show two other Stoneybrook homeowners were unsuccessful in obtaining temporary injunctions.
Gustino convinced the association to change its declaration and formally authorize the gate restrictions. But Judge Alva ruled all the formal meetings held with association members were illegal and void. The case is headed for trial to determine how much Mr. Acosta is entitled to for damages. For now, it is a victory for all homeowners in the neighborhood David Acosta calls home.