An Opinion By Jan Bergemann 
President, Cyber Citizens For Justice, Inc. 

Published March 25, 2010


Just in case you had hoped that our Florida legislature in its infinite wisdom would pass some bills that would help associations/owners deal with the fiscal crisis of unpaid dues and/or bank foreclosures, stop hoping and get prepared for another year with even more unpaid dues and bank foreclosures. All the bills dealing with these issues are dead, successfully killed by the banking lobby and the Republican "leadership".


Owners living in mandatory community associations have to get ready for another year of increased dues and special assessments. Why? Not only because more homes/units will default on their maintenance payments and more homes will go into bank foreclosures, but because the bills that are still in the running in Tallahassee will even increase the cost of doing business for community associations.  If these bills are enacted, they will allow service providers to charge even more – and give dictatorial boards the tools to subdue owners even more. It’s obvious that the political leadership in Tallahassee doesn’t care if more families lose their homes and the number of foreclosures increases.


I don’t understand the reporters writing for the major Florida newspapers. They are all beating around the bush and obviously would rather fill the pages with vague information than make the facts known. It looks like they want to sell newspapers rather than being the bearer of bad news for more than 4 million owners of homes/units in mandatory community associations in Florida. Good journalism should help to publish the important news, not to sell more advertising.


The only bills still alive that actually will have an impact on a majority of owners living in these associations are H561 (Rep. Ellyn Bogdanoff-R) and S1196 (Senator Mike Fasano-R). While H561 is still an owner-friendly condo bill that would help a lot to deal with various problems, it will most likely be merged with S1196 in order to cover up for the total downfall of the anti-owner bill S1196. In other words: The sponsors behind S1196 (CALL) are hoping that about 1.3 million condo owners (FS 718) are willing to throw 2.5 million homeowners (FS 720) under the bus -- by not asking Governor Charlie Crist to veto the merged bill. I can assure you that the good provisions in H561 are not making up for the many serious problems this bill will cause for homeowners living in homeowners’ associations regulated by FS 720.


There are still some other bills alive (H327, H337 and H959) but they either have limited impact (H327 + H337) or the committee hearings for the bill are taking place out of courtesy for the sponsors and the bill will die in the near future.


I hate to say, “I told you so!” but this outcome was predictable, considering that House and Senate leadership are special interest oriented and have in the last few years done next to nothing to deal with the growing problems for the citizens of this state. And it will not change as long as Florida’s voters continue to vote for the candidates with the nicest TV ads (paid for by special interest) showing the candidates making all kinds of promises that will be forgotten the day after the election, kissing cute babies or showing off their suntan.


Florida’s voters have to understand: These politicians are already bought and paid for by special interest and will do absolutely nothing to help us “lowly” citizens. Just look at the campaign fund reports and you know immediately who will not help us if elected!  Why is that so difficult to understand?


It becomes more and more important for board members and owners to understand who is really on their side and who really lobbies for bills that will actually benefit community associations and owners.


Community Associations Leadership Lobby (CALL) – the lobbying group of the law firm of Becker & Poliakoff) -- and Community Associations Institute (CAI) are the sponsors behind S1196. And despite the fact that unpaid dues and/or bank foreclosures are definitely the Number One problem of all community associations, this bill doesn’t even try to solve any of these problems that is driving more and more associations into bankruptcy.


Sure, it includes complicated provisions – only to solve with the help of attorneys -- that would force renters to pay if their landlords fail to pay. But don’t forget: It’s a renter’s market.  If renters are being harassed too much, they will not pay their rent for two months (to get their deposits back) and then they will move on to greener pastures – meaning no long-term help for associations.


Then there are some emotional band-aids – created for feel-good purposes only – that allow board members and other owners to harass owners who have stopped paying dues for whatever reasons. But these provisions will as well not really help to bring money into the association’s empty coffers, money to pay bills to avoid bankruptcy and worse.


But this bill contains a lot of provisions that will make a lot of things more expensive for associations and owners – benefitting the service providers. It will help to create even less transparency. It will allow board members to pay themselves and will again allow fines levied by kangaroo courts to be enforced by liens and foreclosures – creating even more foreclosures – as if we don’t have enough foreclosures yet!


It would add even more bulk contracts to the existing ones, adding to the problem that owners have to pay the share of the owners who stopped paying. Let’s face it: Bulk contracts are the reason why neighbors have to pay for neighbors who don’t pay. These bulk contracts are a major problem for associations already in financial difficulties. But who cares as long as the service providers make lots of profits!


Not to forget the reason why Representative Maria Sachs (D), who wants to become a senator in autumn, filed the House companion bill to S1196House Bill 1317: The creation of FS 720.31headlined recreational leaseholds; right to acquire; escalation clauses. Her husband – Peter Sachs – from the law firm of Sachs & Sax – made a financial killing by involving associations and members in battles over acquiring golf courses from nearly bankrupt developers and/or creating mandatory golf club memberships. Since they lost miserably in courts, leaving behind bankrupt associations and owners, Maria Sachs is now trying to help her husband’s firm with some inventive legislation. Another self-serving politician! How pathetic!


All in all: No real help – but lots of damage -- for associations and owners comes from this bill that is pushed by a lobbying group collecting money from association boards claiming to lobby for association-friendly bills. Actually, the bill is detrimental for the financial welfare of owners and associations alike. It only benefits service providers and dictatorial boards with a personal agenda.


That opens up the question to some board members still supporting CALL and CAI: “Isn’t it a great feeling to use association dues for lobbying against your dues-paying neighbors’ financial interest in order to get more dictatorial power?”