Cutting the Cable, a Dangerous Gamble
Many Associations include some form of service, be it water, electric, cable, sewer or telephone to name a few. When Assessments go into arrears, it is easy for an Association to be tempted to consider terminating services provided for by Assessments. The logic is not unfounded. The direct benefit received by a delinquent owner can seem significantly greater when it is characterized by 70 channels of HD cable and high speed internet. As a result, many Associations consider the possibility of suspending access to utilities for delinquent owners. Of course, the expected result of such action is to create a strong desire for the owner to become current. After all, who can live without television and internet?
True utilities, Water, Electric, Sewer and Phone service should not be suspended due to non-payment of delinquent assessments. Florida Statute is specific in this instance. On the other hand, television and internet arguably fall into a gray area which some have chosen to exploit in an effort to recover assessments. It is not completely clear whether locally provided cable and internet can be defined as utilities.
The significant danger to exploiting this grey area is alack of knowledge as to how the unit owner is making their phone calls. As mentioned above, it is clear that telephone service is considered a utility.Voice Over IP services such as Vonage utilize internet provider resources rather than phone lines to place phone calls and are being utilized in greater numbers due to their relatively low price point.
If the Association were to suspend a unit owner’ s cable services, and said owner utilized a Voice Over IP service, the Association would undoubtedly terminate the owner’s telephone service. This could result in a very strong argument that the Association has cut a utility as prohibited by statute. To further complicate matters, liability exposure in the event of an emergency that occurs while phone service is suspended would be immense.
There are other ways to recover assessments that are equally as effective as cutting cable. For example, association foreclosures can be successful in getting unit owners to pay as theproperty itself is in danger of being sold at foreclosure sale. For more information, please see the blog post regarding Association Foreclosures here.