Guess Who’s Coming to Speak? Florida Condominium Owners Have Statutory Right to Invite a Candidate for Public Office or a Public Officer to Speak in Common Areas.
With the midterm elections right around the corner in what can only be described as a politically charged environment, what would you say if a member of your condominium association wanted to invite a political candidate to speak in your community? Would your answer change if you found the candidate to be one who does not support your views on issues? Even worse, one you found to be repugnant? If you serve on a Board of Directors of a Florida condominium association, your answer to the request would have to be “yes” regardless of your personal opinions on the candidate.
Section 718.123 of the Florida Condominium Act is entitled “Right of owners to peaceably assemble” and Subsection (1) requires the board to allow any member to invite a public officer or candidate for public office to appear and speak on the common elements, common areas and/or recreational facilities.
If your board were to deny an owner the right to invite the candidate or public officer of his or her choice to speak in your community, your board could be sued for breach of the statute. However, this provision of the statute raises issues which may run contrary to your board’s desire to stay out of the political fracas by not inviting political candidates or existing public officials to speak inside your community. However, given that Florida condominium owners have this statutory right, the Board needs to discuss how to manage these requests if they ever materialize. Certainly, one person’s candidate of choice might not be another person’s “cup of tea” and this law allows just a single member of your community to invite a candidate for public office or a public officer in to speak on the common elements or association property without any sort of consensus on the invitation being extended.
A board who receives this kind of request should consider the following:
- What day of the week and time would impose the least inconvenience to residents who use the common areas for other purposes.
- Whether or not security will be required and who will pay for same.
- Whether or not your rules regarding the private use of the common elements such as a refundable security deposit should apply to this kind of political event on the common areas if a deposit is required when the common areas are reserved by members for other types of use.
- Whether or not to allow members of the general public or guests to attend the speaking event.
- Whether or not to impose time limits and other reasonable restrictions on the event.
- Whether or not to publicize the event to members.
Naturally, once an event like this takes place, it is likely that the Board will receive additional member requests to allow countervailing candidate voices to be heard. One of the few palatable things about political discourse these days is that you can choose to tune in or tune out, especially when you find the rhetoric to be distasteful. You can switch the channel, block the newsfeed or choose not to attend the local town-hall debate. However, when politics is invited into your community, the opportunities to avoid the rhetoric decreases.
It is anyone’s guess why the Florida Legislature thought the topic of allowing candidates to speak inside residential communities was so important that it warranted protecting that right by law. I suspect that it was borne out of the potential to address a large group of constituents in one place. This is certainly a convenience to political candidates and public officials but the residents in your community may not all welcome campaigning within the sanctity of their community, especially with the level of personal attacks and lack of decorum we see in today’s discourse.
I wonder if our state legislators would still see the wisdom in passing this law today. The last thing any of our condominium communities needs is more rancor and this provision in the Florida Condominium Act makes your private community a little less private by being denied a choice on this subject.