A Condominium Owners Association (COA) will inevitably be involved in disputes with members of the association. While most of those disputes are quickly and easily resolved, some lead to costly and time-consuming litigation. Prior to 2021, arbitration was the only alternative dispute resolution (ADR) option authorized under Florida law for condo disputes; however, an amendment to the law now allows mediation as an option.>
Understanding Alternative Dispute Resolution
Alternative Dispute Resolution refers to a variety of methods used to resolve disputes outside a courtroom, meaning without the need to litigate the issue in a traditional court. Arbitration and mediation are commonly used forms of ADR. Although they are similar, there are some important differences. Both involve a neutral third party that helps resolve the dispute; however, in arbitration, the third party decides the outcome whereas in mediation the third-party attempts to guide the parties toward a resolution.
Understanding Florida Law
Prior to the change in Florida law, a condominium dispute was required to go through the state’s arbitration process governed by the Division of Florida Condominiums, Timeshares, and Mobile Homes before the case could proceed to traditional litigation in court. Parties to a condo dispute may now choose between the Division’s arbitration process or the pre-suit mediation process unless the dispute involves elections or recalls. In that case, the dispute is still required to go through the Division’s arbitration process.
The Benefits of Mediation in a Florida COA Dispute
Generally, mediation offers the participants more control over the dispute resolution process. Both sides choose the mediator and participate in the mediation process. Unlike arbitration, the mediator does not decide issues at dispute. Instead, the mediator tries to help both parties reach a mutually agreeable resolution. If a settlement that resolves all disputed issues cannot be reached during mediation the dispute can proceed to traditional litigation.
Another important benefit of mediation is that it offers a faster way to resolve a condo dispute. Arbitration through the Division typically takes several months (or longer) to complete. Moreover, the losing party has the right to essentially appeal the Arbitrator’s decision and ask for a trial in circuit court. Conversely, when a demand for mediation is served on a party, they must respond within 20 days. If the Respondent declines the request for mediation a lawsuit may be filed immediately.
Finally, mediation is a cost-effective alternative to traditional litigation. Arbitration through the Division is similar to the pre-trial court process, meaning significant legal fees will usually be incurred by a condominium association throughout the process. When mediation is agreed to in a condo dispute, however, both parties are equally responsible for paying the mediator’s fee. Furthermore, if one party refuses to participate in mediation, that party cannot recover attorney’s fees and costs even if they prevail in a subsequent lawsuit.
Consult the Tampa Bay Business Mediation Attorneys at Lieser Skaff Alexander
If your Condominium Owners Association is involved in a dispute that is headed for litigation, mediation is a cost-effective alternative that can help resolve the dispute expeditiously. Our experienced mediator has the experience and skills needed to mediate your COA dispute and reach a mutually agreeable resolution.