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The Florida Senate

2006 Florida Statutes

Section 720.311, Florida Statutes 2006

720.311  Dispute resolution.--

(1)  The Legislature finds that alternative dispute resolution has made progress in reducing court dockets and trials and in offering a more efficient, cost-effective option to litigation. The filing of any petition for mediation or arbitration provided for in this section shall toll the applicable statute of limitations. Any recall dispute filed with the department pursuant to s. 720.303(10) shall be conducted by the department in accordance with the provisions of ss. 718.112(2)(j) and 718.1255 and the rules adopted by the division. In addition, the department shall conduct mandatory binding arbitration of election disputes between a member and an association pursuant to s. 718.1255 and rules adopted by the division. Neither election disputes nor recall disputes are eligible for mediation; these disputes shall be arbitrated by the department. At the conclusion of the proceeding, the department shall charge the parties a fee in an amount adequate to cover all costs and expenses incurred by the department in conducting the proceeding. Initially, the petitioner shall remit a filing fee of at least $200 to the department. The fees paid to the department shall become a recoverable cost in the arbitration proceeding, and the prevailing party in an arbitration proceeding shall recover its reasonable costs and attorney's fees in an amount found reasonable by the arbitrator. The department shall adopt rules to effectuate the purposes of this section.

(2)(a)  Disputes between an association and a parcel owner regarding use of or changes to the parcel or the common areas and other covenant enforcement disputes, disputes regarding amendments to the association documents, disputes regarding meetings of the board and committees appointed by the board, membership meetings not including election meetings, and access to the official records of the association shall be filed with the department for mandatory mediation before the dispute is filed in court. Mediation proceedings must be conducted in accordance with the applicable Florida Rules of Civil Procedure, and these proceedings are privileged and confidential to the same extent as court-ordered mediation. An arbitrator or judge may not consider any information or evidence arising from the mediation proceeding except in a proceeding to impose sanctions for failure to attend a mediation session. Persons who are not parties to the dispute may not attend the mediation conference without the consent of all parties, except for counsel for the parties and a corporate representative designated by the association. When mediation is attended by a quorum of the board, such mediation is not a board meeting for purposes of notice and participation set forth in s. 720.303 The department shall conduct the proceedings through the use of department mediators or refer the disputes to private mediators who have been duly certified by the department as provided in paragraph (c). The parties shall share the costs of mediation equally, including the fee charged by the mediator, if any, unless the parties agree otherwise. If a department mediator is used, the department may charge such fee as is necessary to pay expenses of the mediation, including, but not limited to, the salary and benefits of the mediator and any travel expenses incurred. The petitioner shall initially file with the department upon filing the disputes, a filing fee of $200, which shall be used to defray the costs of the mediation. At the conclusion of the mediation, the department shall charge to the parties, to be shared equally unless otherwise agreed by the parties, such further fees as are necessary to fully reimburse the department for all expenses incurred in the mediation.

(b)  If mediation as described in paragraph (a) is not successful in resolving all issues between the parties, the parties may file the unresolved dispute in a court of competent jurisdiction or elect to enter into binding or nonbinding arbitration pursuant to the procedures set forth in s. 718.1255 and rules adopted by the division, with the arbitration proceeding to be conducted by a department arbitrator or by a private arbitrator certified by the department. If all parties do not agree to arbitration proceedings following an unsuccessful mediation, any party may file the dispute in court. A final order resulting from nonbinding arbitration is final and enforceable in the courts if a complaint for trial de novo is not filed in a court of competent jurisdiction within 30 days after entry of the order.

(c)  The department shall develop a certification and training program for private mediators and private arbitrators which shall emphasize experience and expertise in the area of the operation of community associations. A mediator or arbitrator shall be certified by the department only if he or she has attended at least 20 hours of training in mediation or arbitration, as appropriate, and only if the applicant has mediated or arbitrated at least 10 disputes involving community associations within 5 years prior to the date of the application, or has mediated or arbitrated 10 disputes in any area within 5 years prior to the date of application and has completed 20 hours of training in community association disputes. In order to be certified by the department, any mediator must also be certified by the Florida Supreme Court. The department may conduct the training and certification program within the department or may contract with an outside vendor to perform the training or certification. The expenses of operating the training and certification and training program shall be paid by the moneys and filing fees generated by the arbitration of recall and election disputes and by the mediation of those disputes referred to in this subsection and by the training fees.

(d)  The mediation procedures provided by this subsection may be used by a Florida corporation responsible for the operation of a community in which the voting members are parcel owners or their representatives, in which membership in the corporation is not a mandatory condition of parcel ownership, or which is not authorized to impose an assessment that may become a lien on the parcel.

(3)  The department shall develop an education program to assist homeowners, associations, board members, and managers in understanding and increasing awareness of the operation of homeowners' associations pursuant to this chapter and in understanding the use of alternative dispute resolution techniques in resolving disputes between parcel owners and associations or between owners. Such education program may include the development of pamphlets and other written instructional guides, the holding of classes and meetings by department employees or outside vendors, as the department determines, and the creation and maintenance of a website containing instructional materials. The expenses of operating the education program shall be initially paid by the moneys and filing fees generated by the arbitration of recall and election disputes and by the mediation of those disputes referred to in this subsection.

History.--s. 61, ch. 95-274; s. 50, ch. 2000-258; s. 23, ch. 2004-345; s. 20, ch. 2004-353.

Note.--Former s. 617.311.