How a real estate escrow dispute is settled in Florida, depends on who is holding the money. There is one method used if a title company or attorney has the escrow funds and a completely different path if a real estate broker has the money. Many real estate firms don't keep escrow, because of the strict regulations and state oversight. Most of the broker offenses investigated by the Florida Real Estate Commission involve improper handling of escrow accounts.
Determine the basis for the dispute. There are contingencies in the Florida contracts that allow the borrower to walk away from the transaction under certain conditions -- damage discovered during a home inspection, low appraisal value or inability to obtain financing. Contractually, the borrower is entitled to the escrow money. Whether the seller agrees with that or not, is a different question. An endless number of issues also exist, that are not so clear-cut.
Request a release of escrow form from your real estate agent and ask the other party to sign it. If that is unproductive and the title company or attorney is holding the funds, ask them to mediate the problem to see if a compromise can be worked out. If that isn't satisfactory, then you will most likely have to file a lawsuit in civil court and make your case in front of a judge.
Discuss the matter with the real estate broker, if the funds are in the company's trust account. Florida law allows the broker to disburse the funds to the appropriate party if the broker feels that the case is clear. In order to contest that decision, the other party to the transaction has to sue the broker in civil court. If the broker can't decide who should receive the funds, it is the broker's responsibility to notify the FREC that there is an escrow dispute, and then immediately initiate one of the four prescribed methods of conflict resolution.
Discuss your options with the broker holding the funds. The possibilities are mediation, arbitration, litigation or requesting FREC to decide the case. While mediation is not binding, it is a way to try and find an acceptable compromise. Arbitration is legally binding and the parties must agree to abide by the decision. Litigation involves filing a lawsuit in civil court. If FREC orders the broker to disburse the funds to one party, and the other party disagrees, the only recourse is to sue the broker in civil court for the funds.
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