Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Trayvon Martin tragedy in Central Florida HOA highlights need to know what association volunteers are doing!

Hardly a person in Florida who keeps up with the news doesn't know the name Trayvon Martin and the circumstances surrounding the teenager's death on February 26th when he was shot and killed by a volunteer Captain of the Neighborhood Watch in a gated Orlando community.

The 28-year old volunteer, George Zimmerman, had apparently wanted to be a police officer at one time but that career never became a reality. While the coverage on this case has been constant, one issue that is not being discussed yet is what relationship the Homeowners' Association had to this Neighborhood Watch and to Zimmerman in particular.

In the coming weeks and months, more attention might turn to this Central Florida HOA especially in any civil actions the Martin family may bring. Many communities have volunteers that perform certain functions including grounds beautification and planning social events. However, the kind of volunteer security detail involved in this case creates all sorts of concerns and potential for liability.

In the Martin case, some questions for the HOA Board might be:

• Did the board request the creation of this Neighborhood Watch?
• Did the board appoint the volunteers?
• Was the board kept apprised of the Neighborhood Watch's activities?
• Did the board know that Zimmerman and perhaps other members of the Neighborhood Watch were patrolling the community armed?
• Did the board screen any of the volunteers including Zimmerman to determine that they were mentally and physically fit to serve this function?

There were incidences in Zimmerman's background that were troubling including a battery against an officer and resisting arrest. His record was expunged at some point which allowed him to carry a weapon. This tragedy is a cautionary tale for other associations out there.

Since many volunteers are not directors, officers or employees of the association, the association may have no insurance coverage whatsoever for their wrongful acts in the absence of a specific policy rider. While the Martin case deals with life and death, there are other cases where community volunteers exposed an association to discrimination and harassment claims. If your community has volunteers, you need to know what those folks are doing and you need to speak to your insurance agent to ensure that there is coverage in place should something go horribly wrong.


  1. Excellent article. The tragic murder of this young teen demonstrates just how ugly the quest for "uniformity" is. It also reflects how the HOA circles their wagons with the protection of their contracted law enforcement vendors. Why else would an investigation be stymied?

  2. Is this HOA a member of your organization? Are residents required to observer the HOA rules? Are the rules made without the vote of the residents in the community? Are the tenants denied a vote in HOA matters because they do not own property?

  3. Was Trayon a resident of the Community Association? Are his parents owners of a unit in the community Association?

  4. The Twin Lakes Retreat HOA is not a client of my Firm nor is it a member of our Community Advocacy Network. It is my understanding that Trayvon's dad visited frequently with a resident in this community and Trayvon accompanied him on some of those visits which was the case when the shooting occurred.

    Some governing documents require membership approval for board rules but most allow boards to pass reasonable rules without membership input. Tenants do not have voting rights in Florida's community associations unless someone gives them a Power of Attorney or a proxy. In this case, the members of this HOA can be facing large legal fees and a possible wrongful death award as a result of this volunteer's actions.

  5. did the board meets at least once a month to address the problems that was going on? like numerous breakins, the neighborhood watch guy harrassing black kids, and knowing about the stand your ground laws, did the parents ask if george will be patrolling the area with a loaded gun, and kids walking back and forth and coming home late at night? I mean didnt they ask these questions and also why is george knocking on people's doors and telling people what to do, like he is a boss or something, now he is claiming he is sorry, well he is the one who started all this mess, he was bias from the beginning. Neigborhood watch have to be careful who they put in charge because some people are just mental cases walking around.