Most community associations manage to conduct their business with a reasonable degree of civility. Unfortunately, the rude behavior seen more frequently in our society at large sometimes rears its ugly head in the community association setting.
Even more disturbing is the thankfully rare occasion when an association director, officer, employee, or property manager becomes the victim of repeated threats of violence.
The purpose of this article is to describe a statutory remedy designed to assist victims of such behavior.
Florida Statute 784.046 ('the Act') provides for a protective injunction against repeat violence. 'Violence' as defined by the Act includes assault and stalking. Generally, assault is an intentional threat by word or act to do violence to another person. Stalking is generally defined as willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly following, harassing, or cyberstalking another person. Harassing and cyberstalking occur where a person engages in a course of conduct directed at a specific person that causes substantial emotional distress in such person and serves no legitimate purpose. In deciding whether a victim has actually suffered substantial emotional distress, courts will not use a subjective standard, but whether a reasonable person similarly situated would be so affected. The actual definition of those terms contains several additional elements, which are beyond the scope of this article. However, in deciding whether relief under the Act is available, you should focus on whether you have been threatened with violence more than once.
The remedy offered by the Act is an injunction, or court order, directing the perpetrator to stop the threatening behavior. The court can also grant additional relief it deems proper, and it is common to require the perpetrator to maintain a certain distance from the victim.
The repeat violence injunction procedure is designed to function without the victim being represented by an attorney, at least in the initial application stage. The clerk of the court must provide simplified forms and clerical assistance to the victim in order to prepare and file a petition for injunctive relief. The clerk may not assess a fee for filing such a petition, and the court does not require the victim to post a bond in order for the injunction to issue. Most counties have made arrangements to receive petitions for injunctive relief on weekends and after hours when clerks’ offices are closed.
The victim must execute a sworn petition alleging the incidents of repeat violence and must include the specific facts and circumstances that form the basis for relief. One of the acts must have occurred within six (6) months of filing the petition. The victim should be prepared to provide the clerk with the victim’s address, the perpetrator’s address, and a description of at least two (2) incidents of repeat violence. The victim should also include a description of the perpetrator in describing the incidents of repeat violence. The victim must be able to truthfully allege that they genuinely fear repeat violence from the perpetrator. It can be helpful for the victim to request in the affidavit and petition specific relief, such as requiring the perpetrator to stay off the victim’s property.
If it appears to the court that an immediate and present danger of violence exists, the court will grant a temporary injunction which shall be effective for a set period of time not to exceed fifteen (15) days. A full hearing to determine whether to grant a permanent injunction must be set before the expiration of the temporary injunction. Although the sworn affidavit is the only evidence required to issue a temporary injunction, if a permanent injunction is sought, testimony of witnesses and/or documentary evidence will be required at the full hearing. Once the court issues a repeat violence injunction, the Act requires the clerk to provide a copy to the Sheriff’s Office. The Sheriff’s Office then distributes the information electronically to other law enforcement agencies.
A violation of a repeat violence injunction can be punished by contempt of court, including fines and incarceration. In addition, law enforcement officers may use their arrest powers to enforce the terms of the injunction.