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Valencia Reserve is a community in Palm Beach County, Florida. The Valencia Reserve Homeowners Association has a fitness center which is part of the Association's property. According to the Association's declaration, the fitness center is available for use of the owners, family members, guests, invitees and tenants. The specific language of the declaration provides that the Association's property is not intended for the use and enjoyment of the public, but is expressly reserved for the private use and enjoyment of the Association, the owners, their family members, guests, invitees and tenants in accordance with the declaration. A clause included in the declaration provides that every owner and family member, guest, tenant, agent or invitee of an owner shall, except as otherwise provided in the declaration, have a permanent and perpetual, nonexclusive easement for ingress and egress over, enjoyment in, and use of the Association property. The easement rights provided in the declaration were specifically provided to be subject to the right of the Association to establish, amend and/or abolish uniform rules and regulations pertaining to the use of the Association property.
The Association contracted with a vendor to be the exclusive provider of fitness services in the fitness center. The Association also enacted a board-made rule prohibiting private trainers, instructors, physical therapists and massage therapists from working in the fitness center. The Brownes, authorized residents of the community, paid for their own personal trainer not affiliated with the Association's vendor to accompany them to the fitness center. He was only present when invited by the Brownes, did not attempt to gain business from other residents and never entered or remained in the fitness center solely for his own convenience at any time without the express or implied invitation from the Brownes. The Brownes filed suit against the Association in Palm Beach County Circuit Court seeking a declaration from the court concerning their rights, an injunction and damages for what they alleged were breaches of their rights by the Association. They alleged that the Association exceeded its powers granted by the declaration by excluding their personal trainer from working with them at the fitness center by enforcing the new rule banning private trainers. The Brownes argued that they were permitted to have their trainer with them since he was an invitee for whom the Declaration expressly provided an easement. The trial court entered an order finding that Browne's trainer was not an invitee, but was a licensee who was not expressly provided an easement in the Declaration.
The Brownes filed an appeal to the 4th District Court of Appeal which ruled that the trial court had misapplied the law. Basically, the appellate court held that the trial court had misconstrued the trainer as a licensee when, based upon the undisputed facts, he was an invitee. The distinction was important to the outcome of the case and the lot owners' rights since invitees were specifically granted easement rights in Valencia Reserve's declaration. Since the trainer was being paid by the Brownes, he was construed by the appellate court to be on the property for a mutually beneficial (among the Brownes and the trainer) business purpose, so he would be properly classified as an invitee under the law.
The appellate court not only ruled that the Brownes' trainer was an invitee with a right under the Declaration to use the facilities with the Brownes, the court also ruled that the trial court had mistakenly approved the Association's board-enacted rule. The appellate court restated the often-quoted proposition that a board of directors may not enact a rule which is inconsistent with the rights conferred expressly or reasonably inferred by a declaration of covenants or declaration of condominium. Because the Declaration expressly authorized invitees, the appellate court held that it didn't matter whether the Association had a reasonable basis to implement the rule; the Association was held to not have the legal authority to adopt the rule.
If your association has recreation facilities and wants to impose limitations on the ability of your owners to invite professionals to provide instruction or other services, careful consideration will need to be given as to what legal rights are provided in your declaration to owners and their invitees. If there are broad easement rights granted similar to those in the Valencia Reserve's declaration, only an amendment to the declaration will limit the owners' rights. If you have any question about the effect of your own governing documents provisions, consult your association's legal counsel.
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