"CALL" A GRASSROOTS ORGANIZATION?

A Belated April Fool's Day Joke?

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

Published April 9, 2007

 

Donna Berger always makes me laugh. That's about the only positive thing I can say about her!

 

Last week she made me laugh again when she claimed to an interested condo owner that CALL actually is a “grassroots group"!
Just read the e-mail yourself:

From: Berger, Donna

To: XXXXX

Sent: Thursday, April 05, 2007 

Subject:  I am confused

 

Hi XXXXX,

 

Yes, our organization is a grassroots group for members of common interest ownership communities which includes both board members and unit owners. We oppose legislation that imposes undue costs and burdens on communities and their members.

 

If you have questions about specific issues, let me know.

Donna D. Berger
Attorney at Law
Executive Director, CALL

 

Emerald Lake Corporate Park
3111 Stirling Road
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33312-6525

Tel  954 985-4163
Fax 954.985.4176
DBerger@becker-poliakoff.com
www.becker-poliakoff.com

I guess then these are the grassroots organizers?

Copied Filing from the Division Of Corporations:

COMMUNITY ASSOCIATION LEGISLATIVE LOBBY, INC.


PRINCIPAL ADDRESS 3111 STIRLING ROAD FORT LAUDERDALE FL 33312


MAILING ADDRESS 3111 STIRLING ROAD FORT LAUDERDALE FL 33312


Registered Agent
Name & Address

BERGER, DONNA D ESQ.
BECKER & POLIAKOFF,P.A.
3111 STIRLING ROAD
FORT LAUDERDALE FL FL333-12

Officer/Director Detail

Name & Address

Title

POLIAKOFF, GARY A
3111 STIRLING ROAD
FORT LAUDERDALE FL 33312

P

BECKER, ALAN S
3111 STIRLING ROAD
FORT LAUDERDALE FL 33312

D

The leading members of this "grassroots group" are attorneys from the law firm of Becker & Poliakoff, the biggest specialized law firm in the State of Florida . Their goal clearly is to improve the income of their firm -- absolutely nothing else! A few other specialized attorneys have joined the club -- all with the same goal in mind: MAKING MORE MONEY!

The way I see CALL Membership: Board members use association dues to pay a lobbying group that is fighting owner-friendly bills in Tallahassee

Here is Donna Berger's interpretation of the pending association bills.  She tries to convince these board members how “bad” some of the actual consumer-friendly bills are.

Here is her latest summary, dated April 5, 2007:

----- Original Message -----

From: <Dberger@becker-poliakoff.com>

To: xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Sent: Thursday, April 05, 2007 

Subject: WHAT COMMUNITY ASSOCIATION BILLS ARE CURRENTLY BEING DEBATED?

 

Dear XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX,:

 

It has been an extremely busy Session in terms of community association legislation.

 

Thanks to so many of you who have already weighed in on Rep. Julio Robaina's HB 1373, this bill was amended two weeks ago at its first committee stop. 1373 was pared down from 221 pages to 80 pages. The regulations regarding homeowners' associations were removed but all of the onerous condominium and cooperative restrictions still remain. This bill's next stop will be the House Council on Jobs & Entrepreneurship which is chaired by Rep. Ron Reagan ron.reagan@myfloridahouse.gov (850-488-6341). 

Committee members are: 

Representatives Don Brown Donald.brown@myfloridahouse.gov (850-488-4726); 

Jennifer Carroll Jennifer.carroll@myfloridahouse.gov (850-488-5102); 

Carlos Lopez-Cantera carlos.lopez-cantera@myfloridahouse.gov (850-488-4202); 

Dave Murzin dave.murzin@myfloridahouse.gov (850-488-8278); 

Ralph Poppell Ralph.poppell@myfloridahouse.gov  (850-488-3006); 

Steve Precourt Steve.precourt@myfloridahouse.gov (850-488-0256); 

Garrett Richter garrett.richter@myfloridahouse.gov (850-488-4487); 

Trey Traviesa trey.traviesa@myfloridahouse.gov (850-488-9910); 

Will Weatherford will.weatherform@myfloridahouse.gov (850-488-5744); 

Ronald Brise Ronald.brise@myfloridahouse.gov (850-488-4233); 

Charles Chestnut charles.chestnut@myfloridahouse.gov (850-488-5794); 

Terry Fields terry.fields@myfloridahouse.gov  (850-488-6893); 

Wilbert Holloway tee.holloway@myfloridahouse.gov (850-488-0766); and 

Curtis Richardson curtis.richardson@myfloridahouse.gov (850-488-1798).

 

In addition to emailing these Committee members, please continue to let your own State Representatives and Senators know the potential impact HB 1373 will have on your communities. SB 2816 (the senate companion bill to HB 1373) still contains the original 221 pages so please discuss that bill as well.

 

In addition, CALL is currently tracking the following bills:

1. SB 314 sponsored by Sen. Geller is the condominium termination bill which is very likely to pass as it has the strong support of the Real Property Section of the Florida Bar and is one of their highest priorities. A very similar bill passed the Legislature last session (unanimously) and was vetoed by Gov. Bush because he felt the threshold to terminate could be too easily attained. Hearings were held around the state this summer to strike a balance between the property rights of condominium owners as a whole against the rights of a lone holdout who opposes the termination plan. The bill was modified to address those concerns and is now working its way through the process as SB 314. Neither Governor Crist nor the DBPR is currently opposing the bill. This bill has gone through all of its committee stops and will go to the full Senate for a vote as soon as it is put on the Special Order Calendar. The bill provides a method of terminating condominiums in the event of: economic waste, disrepair of the property, and when continued operation of the condominium is made impossible by law or regulation.

 

In the event of economic waste, the percentage needed to terminate is the lesser of the lowest percentage of voting interests needed to amend the declaration or as provided in the Declaration for termination of condominiums. There are special provisions in this bill for the termination of timeshare units. Optional termination can be effectuated by 80% of the units owner. Mortgagee consent is not required unless the plan of termination will result in less than full satisfaction of the mortgage lien;

 

2. HB 433 sponsored by Rep. Carl Domino passed out of the Safety and Security Council with one negative vote cast by Sen. Rudy Garcia. 433 contains language which would make it easier to amend condominium documents that are currently burdened with lender consent requirements; extends MRTA reinstatement procedures to voluntary homeowners' associations and contains revisions to the mediation procedure for HOA's. This bill also contains language which would allow a majority of owners in a homeowners' association to petition the board to implement reserves as well as language restricting an HOA board's architectural control rights. This is basically the same bill as last year's HB 391 which was passed unanimously by the House and Senate but was vetoed by Gov. Bush over concerns regarding a sprinkler retrofit extension and the mediation language. The sprinkler language has been removed from the bill this year and the mediation language has been revamped;

 

3. SB 396 sponsored by Sen. Margolis) is a Condominium Conversion bill which deals with certain converter reserves and insurance fixes. This bill would require additional disclosures in contracts for the sale or lease of residential units and clarifies that the definition of condominium common expenses includes the costs of certain insurance or self insurance. The bill also requires notice for special assessments for self insurance purposes. This bill contains incremental insurance fixes that attempt to make commercial self-insurance funds more attainable;

 

4. HB 923 sponsored by Rep. Ambler is known as the Home Court Pilot Program which would establish a pilot mediation program in Hillsboro and Pinellas counties. This bill has many problems including the fact that community association managers can serve as magistrates with apparently no experience requirement while attorneys serving in the same capacity must have 5 years experience. The program will consist only of complaints regarding the reasonableness of any deed restriction to real property or fines imposed for failure to comply with a deed restriction. There are constitutional problems with this program as well since it restricts access to the courts. The bill was amended at its first committee stop but it still has problems;

 

5. SB 348 sponsored by Sen. Mandy Dawson would prohibit associations from requiring a prospective buyer of a property to present evidence of any financial status or to make a monetary deposit to the association so long as such prospective buyer has been approved by a lending institution to obtain the financing that is necessary to purchase the property. If it passed, this bill would impact many communities that run background financial checks on potential purchasers to ensure that those purchasers can meet their monetary obligations once they become community residents;

 

6. SB 714 sponsored by Sen. Siplin is back again for the third year. This bill would prohibit associations from liening/foreclosing and/or pursuing a monetary judgment for amounts less than $2,500 and would remove the association's ability to recoup attorney's fees and costs. Known as the anti-foreclosure  bill, SB 714 would greatly impact an association's ability to timely and efficiently collect its assessment stream in order to ensure the continuation of essential community services;

 

7. SB 1844 sponsored by Sen. Ring would require attorneys handling collection matters for association clients to accept a 90-day payment plan for their attorney's fees when pursuing a delinquent owner. It is anticipated that this bill will be amended with more reasonable language but in its current form it could greatly reduce the number of attorneys willing to handle collection matters for associations and thus increase the costs related to that process;

 

8. HB 1365 was sponsored by Rep. Gibbons at CALL's request. This bill contains emergency powers language to assist boards dealing with community preparations pre-storm as well as dealing with post-storm reconstruction issues. Currently, this bill is not moving and needs your help if it is to be amended on to a moving community association bill; and

 

9. SB 250 sponsored by Sen. Posey would require developers to pay maintenance on unsold units that the developer is leasing or renting.

 

You can view all of these bills by logging on to the CALL site at www.callbp.com and then using the Legislative Links category to access the Senate or House websites to pull up the bill you are interested in reviewing. When reviewing a bill, always look for the latest version which will be indicated by committee substitute numbers (i.e. if a bill has been amended one time it will be reflected as CS1). If a bill has not been amended, only the original filed version will be available.

 

You and your community members can make a difference in terms of the type of legislation that is passed. Be sure to read the bills and then send your emails via the Legislator Connect feature on the CALL site.

If you have any questions or concerns, please let me know. It's always a pleasure hearing from so many of you. 

 

Best Regards,

Donna D. Berger, Esq.

Executive Director, CALL

Now this "interpretation" of the pending bills is obviously the view of the firm, because Joe Adams, another well-known attorney of the law firm of Becker& Poliakoff, used very similar wordings in his weekly column in the Ft. Myers News Press.

Since we are talking "interpretation," here is my interpretation of the letter sent to the board members that are using association dues to finance CALL. From my point of view the letter reads as follows – between the lines:

Dear Board Members,

First of all, a big Thank-You for letting CALL use part of your association dues to finance our lobbying efforts in Tallahassee against owner-friendly bills that would decrease our profits. Please continue to help us stop legislative reforms that would have a negative impact on our income and significantly diminish our influence in your associations! That is one of the reasons why we are against mandatory education, because you might actually understand that you are lobbying against your own wallet!

There are many bills pending in the Capitol dealing with association issues, but the only one we really like is House Bill 1365, a bill sponsored by a new member of the House of Representatives, our own brave CALL member Joe Gibbons (D-Broward). We didn't tell him that the same kind of bill already raised a lot of eyebrows last year and would help us to increase our dictatorial stranglehold on association members. Major issues that would help us make even more bucks are provisions that allow boards to levy special assessments and, without owner approval, borrow money and pledge association assets as collateral. 

And for good measure we added the provision regarding revitalization of covenants in non-mandatory associations. That will guarantee us an extra-ordinary amount of income because we can be sure that people who moved out of mandatory associations for obvious reasons will fight this in court all the way! We told them to move out if they don't like homeowners' associations -- but we want to make sure we get their money anyway! 

But, so far, we didn't find any other takers -- not even a Senate sponsor! But to make sure that we don't miss out on the extra income from the revitalization, we added this provision as well to House Bill 433. We know that the referred to paragraphs in FS 720.403-407 are vague -- written that way on purpose and difficult to enforce -- with an opt-out date long expired. So far the legislators didn't catch it, so hopefully it will pass -- and our Governor is new and may not be aware of the discussion from last year when Governor Bush vetoed the bill that contained the revitalization language. We also added again the kill-stupid-mediation language into H 433, because we didn't want to see our income decreased by successful mediation. Gee, we had to agree to that language in 2004 after the meetings of the HOA Task Force, but we were never happy with that added protection for homeowners against lawsuits. 

Please, don't forget: We need these lawsuits to ensure our income. We can't buy our new Mercedes if we are only filing amended governing documents!

And -- Heaven forbid that H 1373 would have passed in the original version. It would have cut litigation in HOAs minimum into half and may have forced us to lay off a few of our beloved colleagues. We really can't have that! So, with the help of the Republican House leadership -- don't forget the Speaker is our former co-worker -- we had all the stupid HOA language removed that would have created regulation and oversight -- even accountability of the people in charge. And imagine the thought of fair elections in these associations? Many of the boards that financially support our lobbying efforts against consumer-friendly bills might lose in a fair election and may be replaced by board members who are not willing to give us a hefty share of the association dues!

We already lost quite a few of our strongest supporters due to fair elections and recalls during the last 12 months, can't afford losing more! Success: No fair elections in HOAs next year -- if the Senate doesn't wake up and senators suddenly decide that they no longer favor the idea of treating homeowners living in associations as third-class citizens, who can be double-taxed and used to make us specialized attorneys rich!

We are especially happy that the "offensive" HOA language was removed before any legislator had to vote on it. Imagine the problem if enough representatives would have voted in favor or would have to suffer the wrath of the angry homeowners at the next election? What a disaster that could have been! But thankfully, we will have another year of uncontrolled financial mismanagement!

Actually, even if we always claim that a contract is a contract, why not change the contract if it serves the greed of our friends? No, I don't mean the condo owners. Other friends deserve our help, like Pete Dunbar, the self-appointed Florida condo-guru, who has helped us so many times with favorable statements that helped our cause against these few "disgruntled" owners who just don't want to hand their wallets over to us! Don't forget, these same owners didn't vote for Tom Gallagher in last year's primary, because they felt they couldn't afford somebody like Peter Dunbar in any powerful government position – Dunbar being Tom Gallagher's best friend!

So, who cares if Senator Geller's bill (S 314) is the equivalent of eminent domain for condominium owners? That even the "improved" language allows developers to kick families out of their homes for big profit? Maybe it might even create some more juicy lawsuits, if these condo owners try to defend their private property rights? Our advice to these folks (quote): "If this bill does become law and the termination horror stories become a reality, we can work to find a bill sponsor willing to change the language to defer to the percentages found in private covenants." Honestly, we don't want to get involved and these folks can still complain AFTER they lose their homes!

We have so far failed to figure out what Senator Jeremy Ring (well, he is new?) or Representative Franklin Sands were thinking when they filed bills S 1844 - H 1465. Imagine the idea of requiring a collection attorney to accept a 90-day payment plan for their fees, letting a delinquent owner off the hook? You better see to it that this stupid idea is defeated. This is our holy cash cow -- lots of money for very little work! Don't you dare touch this part of our easy income! Don't forget:  These delinquent owners are deadbeats anyway and can't afford to hire their own attorney, meaning we can really squeeze them! The positive thing of this bill: The language is still vague enough to allow us any interpretation of the provision we like! But we really prefer the bill to die!

Not to forget Representative Ambler's bill -- H 923 -- dubbed the Home Court Advantage Bill. As you can imagine, we are not really fond of it. When will these representatives learn that anything that even smells like it will help owners must be opposed by our lobbying group? We don't need any programs that might prevent us from filing profitable lawsuits -- frivolous or not! But since there is really nothing wrong with this honest attempt to find a feasible solution, we just throw in a few constitutional concerns -- always works! Not that we are very eager trying to protect the US Constitution -- remember our main organization, the CAI (Community Associations Institute) is fighting this professor from Rutgers in New Jersey, who is trying to tell the NJ Supreme Court that owners in associations should have constitutional rights. What is this world coming to? They signed their rights away at the gates! When will they ever understand this? Gee, there are always a few trouble-makers!

Don't forget that CALL was founded because the CAI is slowly but surely losing its credibility around the nation. Even legislators finally realized that CAI is really a trade organization for attorneys, managers and other service providers trying to squeeze money out of these owners who were dumb enough to buy their homes in mandatory associations. For years we were successful in selling CAI as an organization representing as well the interests of the owners. We tried hard to keep up the smoke screen, but the nasty headlines in the media really did us in. That's why it was important to create CALL to make legislators believe that we are a “grassroots group representing associations” -- even if we are the same folks who are Florida 's CAI members!

Please keep on paying us for our easy work by renewing your CALL membership!

Thank you for supporting our life-style!

P.S.: Many owners have asked why we are not aggressively involved in the property insurance battle, considering that especially the condo associations suffered badly from the outrageous premium increases. Please understand: 

  1. There is no real money in it for us attorneys -- high premiums or not! Actually, high insurance premiums will most likely lead to more liens and foreclosures for unpaid dues!

  2. It would create a conflict of interest since we are closely working together with insurance companies (CHUBB) -- and some of our managers and board members make a handsome profit by placing the valuable condo insurance contracts with the right agents!

If anyone asks -- just mention the AARP.  They didn't really get involved because of their close business relationship to The Hartford. And they claim to represent the interests of all the retired folks on a fixed income, who really suffer from the high premiums! So, don't blame us!

 

Wouldn't my interpretation be the more honest version, minimum from the owners' point of view? Hope you got a giggle out of my version. But it wasn't only meant to make you laugh -- please think about the true message contained within these lines!


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