In The News

Florida "Baker Act" Protects Residents of Miami Beach HOA

by Eric Glazer

Every now and then, even though I have represented community associations for several years, a problem arises unlike any I have handled previously. Last month was one of those times.

A long time client, a homeowners' association in Miami Beach, informed me that one of their unit owners was suffering from a mental illness that was striking fear in the hearts of the community's residents. More specifically, this unit owner was walking around the common property mumbling to himself that he was going to burn down the building and kill all the residents. To make matters worse, he was observed carrying around knives and deliberately destroying condominium property by tearing apart upholstery and breaking locks on doors.

This same unit owner would routinely curse and scream at the other residents making some of them afraid to leave their homes, especially those that are senior citizens. In fact, the unit owner also presented the board with copies of medical documentation which proved that he is currently under psychiatric care, is HIV positive and an alcoholic.

When the client asked for help, my immediate response was to inform them to call the police. They informed me that the police tried to help, but an arrest could not be made since they didn't see or hear any of this disturbing behavior.

Fortunately, Florida law provided a remedy called the Florida Baker Act. Among other things, the act allows a judge to order a law enforcement agency to take a person, against their will to a facility to be examined by a psychiatrist if there is reason to believe that the person is mentally ill, is not receiving treatment and there is a substantial likelihood that without care or treatment the person will cause serious bodily harm to himself or others in the near future.

I advised the board to assemble as many witnesses as possible who would sign affidavits for the judge to read. After reviewing 12 affidavits, the petition and the medical records supplied by the unit owner, the assigned judge executed the pick up order.

A few days after the unit owner was picked up, I received a telephone call from the unit owner's family. Quite frankly, I expected to be screamed and yelled at for pursuing this course of action against their relative. However, the family was actually thankful and relieved that their relative was finally going to get the medical and psychiatric treatment he was in desperate need of.

It should be extremely clear that this remedy should only be pursued against those persons who have a mental illness. It is only designed to protect the person and others from actual harm. In fact, meritless attempts to "Baker Act" an individual can cause the movant to be sued under Florida Law for unlawful imprisonment and other causes of action. This powerful tool should only be utilized under extraordinary circumstances. Fortunately, for all involved, this matter is currently being dealt with by the courts in a manner that addresses the medical needs of the unit owner with the safety concerns of the community.

For more information you may contact Glazer & Sachs, P.A. at One Emerald Place 3113 Stirling Road Suite 201 Fort Lauderdale, Florida 33312. Telephone: (954) 983-1112.