Noisy Neighbors and Pitfalls for the Unwary
Steven R. Braten, Shareholder
Michael H. Casanover, Senior Associate
Paula S. Marra, Senior Associate
What happens when your neighbor’s pool pump and lights keep you up at night? That issue was recently addressed by Florida’s First District Court of Appeal in, Roebuck v. Sills, a case between two neighbors in a homeowners’ association. Sara Sills installed a pool pump and heater twelve to fourteen feet from Julian Roebuck’s master bedroom. Roebuck claimed that the noise from the pool equipment, and light from exterior lighting, were interfering with his sleep because they came on throughout the night.
Roebuck filed a lawsuit against Sills for common law nuisance and violation of the homeowners’ association’s declaration. Like nearly all homeowners’ associations, Roebuck’s association’s declaration included a nuisance prohibition. Specifically, the declaration provided “[n]othing shall be done or maintained on any Lot or Common Property which may be or become an annoyance to any other Lot in the vicinity or to its occupants, or to the Common Property.” Roebuck brought a lawsuit against Sills for breach of the declaration because Florida Law allows an owner within a homeowners’ association to bring a lawsuit against a fellow owner for failure to comply with the declaration.
The court found in favor of Roebuck for the common law nuisance claim and awarded Roebuck $10,280.00 to build a wall on his property to abate the noise, and prohibited Sills from using the exterior lighting or pool equipment between the hours of 9:30 p.m. and 9:30 a.m., except for once a year to clean the pool. However, the court found in favor or Sills on the breach of declaration’s nuisance prohibition.
The declaration did not define “annoyance or nuisance” in the community. Rather, the declaration empowers the association’s board of directors alone to resolve community nuisance-related disputes. The declaration required Roebuck to submit his dispute to the board of directors, which in turn was required to issue a written decision. Apparently, Roebuck failed to abide by the declaration and did not submit his dispute to the association’s board of directors.
Roebuck’s failure to follow the process under the Declaration resulted in the court finding in favor of Sills on the nuisance claim under the Declaration. While Roebuck prevailed on his common law nuisance claim and received a court order abating the noise, Sills was nevertheless awarded her attorney’s fees because she prevailed on the portion of the lawsuit to enforce the declaration, pursuant to Chapter 720, Florida Statutes. This case provides a good lesson that homeowners and community associations should seek the advice of an experienced community association attorney prior to bringing a lawsuit to enforce the association’s governing documents to ensure the enforcement process provided for in the governing documents and Chapter 720, Florida Statutes were followed before initiating a lawsuit.