This is a follow up to a story that I wrote in April 2012 concerning Trayvon Martin and how his case may affect your local Homeowners Association.
The Twin Lakes Neighborhood in Sanford, Florida was responding to an increase in crime in their neighborhood in early 2012. In their February 2012 newsletter to residences, the HOA named George Zimmerman as the watch captain for the neighborhood. They also instructed residents to report any crime or suspicious activity to Mr. Zimmerman in the Crime Watch Section of the newsletter. This was the same month in which the confrontation between took place.
In my previous article, I explained that this action may be considered a written endorsement of George Zimmerman and may expose them to a wrongful death lawsuit. Florida courts had previously upheld that an HOA could be held liable for wrongful death.
As expected, the parents of Trayvon Martin, filed suit against the Twin Lakes Homeowners Association. In addition to wrongful death, they also filed suit for pain and suffering, loss of earnings and expenses. To avoid an expensive legal fight, the Twin Lakes HOA decided to settle out of court with Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton, the parents of Trayvon Martin. The amount of the settlement was sealed, however, it has been reported that the total settlement was more than $1 million.
If the Twin Lakes Homeowners Association did not have insurance to cover this amount, the balance would fall on the homeowners of this neighborhood. This could come as an assessment on each property or higher monthly fees.
I expect that prudent Homeowners Associations across the country will review their practices and may consider changes based on the outcome of this situation.
I spoke with Kim Hollingshead, Attorney with Touchstone Title and Escrow, LLC, headquartered in Franklin, TN. “A homeowners association (HOA) owes a fiduciary duty to its members to preserve property values in the neighborhood. While a neighborhood watch program could serve this goal by increasing safety it should be created and maintained separately from the HOA,” Hollingshead stated.
Hollingshead also provided the following advice for homeowners associations.
- Check the liability insurance policy to confirm coverage.
- Register with the National Sherriff’s Association.
- Contact your local police and set up a meeting to discuss the program.
- Draft clear rules and procedures that follow the guidelines promulgated by the NSA and local police. Volunteers should never carry weapons and their first course of action should be to call 911 – suspects should never be confronted or pursued.
- Conduct criminal and personal background checks all volunteers. Check for prior convictions, mental or emotional stability, and trustworthiness. All volunteers should be fully vetted.
- Train volunteers and update training on a regular basis.
- Take neighbor complaints and suggestions seriously. (Zimmerman’s neighbors complained about his aggressiveness long before Trayvon Martin’s death.)
- Put as much daylight between the neighborhood watch program and the HOA as possible. The two should be separate entities with separate publications, uniforms, and websites. Do not make the neighborhood watch program an official program of the HOA and clearly state the separation on all communications with homeowners.
Neighborhood Watch was created by the National Sheriffs’ Association (NSA) in 1972 as a crime prevention initiative focused on neighborhoods and coordinated by the neighbors. The NSA claims that Neighborhood Watch is one of the oldest and best known crime prevention concepts in North America. In recent years the role of the neighborhood watch has been expanded to include an additional focus on preparing for disasters, emergency response and awareness of terrorism activities.
What Step Will You Take to Prevent the Next Tragedy?
Photo Courtesy of hsivonen under Flickr Creative Commons License