Q&A: Ahoy, Matey!

I reside in a 44 unit cooperative in Lighthouse Point, Florida. We have 15 docks that are common property owned by the cooperative. Our bylaws specifically state that they are property of the cooperative, cannot be sold and must be returned to the association when the unit owner sells his unit. The problem is none of the docks are ever returned to the cooperative because the dock holders sell them as they please for significant amounts of money ($10s of thousands of dollars). We have tried to get the board to do something but not only do they ignore us, the president of the board is also the Commodore of the Yacht Club, which was illegally established to control the docks. We are very frustrated and want to put an end to this.

—Money for Nothing

“In a cooperative, the building belongs to the association, and shareholders (members) who hold stock certificates in the corporation are assigned a proprietary lease for a particular apartment,” says Russell M. Robbins, managing partner of the law firm of Mirza Basulto & Robbins, LLP, which has offices in Miami Lakes and Coral Springs. “The bylaws control the operation of the cooperative and based on the language cited, it seems that the dock spaces are owned by the association and may be utilized by the shareholders on a ‘waiting list’ until such time as the dock user sells his share in the cooperative, when the dock would then be transferred to the next shareholder on the waiting list.

    “Unfortunately, the Department of Business & Professional Regulation (DBPR) Arbitration Section does not have jurisdiction over a dispute pertaining to title to any unit or common element, so this type of dispute would need to be litigated in Circuit Court. The most appropriate type of action is a declaratory action/injunctive relief to determine who has the right to utilize the dock spaces. Based on the sale prices of the docks, I expect this to be contested litigation and it is likely that the association’s directors and officers (D&O) policy may defend the association for its actions. The prevailing party in the action would be entitled to recovery of its reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs.”     

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