Department of Business and Professional Protection

An Opinion By Jan Bergemann

Published January 17, 2005


If you're just Joe Citizen and try to complain about some ongoing irregularities with a certain profession -- or if you are even an owner residing in a condo-association -- you may not be very welcome in the government agency, which was named Department of Business and Professional Regulation by legislators trying to protect Florida’s consumers a long time ago.


In my opinion, Secretary Diane Carr and some of her top executives have made it an art to avoid investigating consumers' complaints.  Instead DBPR protects the entities this agency is supposed to regulate. 


And since the next legislative session is just ahead of us, we might consider putting in a bill for a name change for this agency?


My suggestion: "Department Of Business And Professional Protection”! 


This would make it immediately clear for the consumer what obstacles he/she will face if contacting this agency. Many consumers still go to this agency, financed by tax dollars, under the impression that a complaint filed against a profession would yield some good results. But mostly lots of money, effort and time are squandered before these consumers realize that they have turned to the wrong place. I think this name change would help to avoid a lot of serious disappointments. 


In former times Governor Jeb Bush replaced the DBPR Secretary about once a year, due to the many loud complaints. Many citizens had hoped that would happen as well with Secretary Carr, but so far the governor seems determined to hang on to her, despite the many complaints coming in daily. 


We think it should be a no-brainer that the whole DBPR executive staff should be completely removed to create a new beginning. It is about time!  Anything less than a fresh start would be just like using a band-aid after major surgery!


This agency, despite not creating too many ugly headlines -- no children disappeared -- is about as ineffective as it gets and in my opinion the real reason for many of the problems unit-owners all over Florida are facing on a daily basis. If the regulating agency is not doing its job, the professions supposedly regulated by this agency are invited to violate every rule in the book. 
                              "If the cat's away, the mice will play!"

Last year's public hearings of the House Select Committee on Condominium Governance made it clear that condo-owners, who were supposed to seek help from this department, are now looking for other places to find the necessary help. Only now they realize that there are no other places to turn! It seems pretty obvious to everybody with a little insight that the condo service providers have cornered the market and there is no place for Joe Condo-Owner to go.


Condo-owners don't trust the DBPR, not only in regards to the Division of Land Sales, Condominiums, and Mobile Homes. Many citizens are convinced -- I'm one of them -- that the department often is in cahoots with the industry -- the same people they are supposed to regulate!


As a result some determined legislators, under the leadership of Committee Chairman Julio Robaina, created the office of the Ombudsman. Condo-owners found it even more amazing when they saw the CAI-Legislative Action Committee lobbyists and attorneys sitting next to Secretary Diane Carr and Division Chief Michael Cochran, opposing the condo bill SB 2498 during Senate Committee hearings.


Secretary Carr may have been a gifted lobbyist, but she obviously still hasn't gotten the message that she no longer is an industry lobbyist.  Her current job is supposed to be working as the head of a government agency that is charged with protecting consumers against certain industries and professions. Maybe if she had stopped lobbying after taking over as Secretary of the DBPR and had taken care of pressing business within the agency, we wouldn't see the troubles we see today!


The DBPR has always been target of heavy criticism. The OPPAGA report “Review of the Bureau of Condominiums Complaint Investigation Process,” dated March 1998, is one very strong example and already showed the same problems that are now discussed again.  Nothing changed, matters have only gotten worse!

The excuse of “reduced staff” is definitely not valid.  During the last HOA Task Force meeting in January 2004, DBPR executives quoted numbers of staff being reduced from 160 to 92. Let’s face it:  Neither the 160 nor the 92 have ever done the job they were supposed to do, according to the guidelines.  Considering that condo-owners pay estimated $5 million into the condo trust fund to have these services provided, it clearly fails the minimum expectations.

And there is always the suspicion of conflict of interest and possible misconduct.

The infamous lawsuit Woodside v. Jahren caused the legislature to grandfather rental rights for condos.  But the opinion regarding this decision was co-authored by Gary Poliakoff (Law firm Becker&Poliakoff) and Karl Scheuerman (Lead Attorney DBPR Arbitration Section).

Harold Hyman, Regional Manager of the Bureau of Compliance – Margate -- is the brother of Michael Hyman, the senior partner of the law firm of Hyman, Kaplan, Ganguzza, Spector & Mars, P.A. This law firm actively represents many condo associations in the same area.  

Even though it may not necessarily be inappropriate, it definitely intimidates many condo-owners, whose associations are legally represented by these law firms.

The DBPR decided two years ago to assign the condo education courses to the CAI (Community Association Institute) at an annual cost of $500,000 paid from the condo trust fund. The Community Association Institute is a trade organization that represents the service providers.  The CAI is definitely on the other side of the fence than the condo-owners.  The LACs of the CAI are known for fighting consumer-friendly association reforms nationwide in the legislatures.  Their main players are the same attorneys who file many of the lawsuits that create the ugly headlines that can be seen daily in the newspapers.

And instead of teaching how to get along with each other, they teach in my opinion enforcement – and more enforcement!  How to create more lawsuits!

I personally spoke with Secretary Carr and explained to her the problems of these condo education courses.  Result:  She renewed the contract this year and now allows the CAI to add direct links on the DBPR website: http://www.state.fl.us/dbpr/lsc/condominiums/index.shtml

Advertising FREE condo education courses, just as though CAI officials are doing it out of the kindness of their hearts.  Deceived by this false advertising, condo-owners joined the CAI, only to find out real fast that they ended up on the wrong side of the fence!  Condo-owners are of the opinion that these misleading advertisements should not be supported by the DBPR. 


It should be made crystal clear that the CAI is being paid to provide these education courses with the condo-owners’ own money! 


Even better: Stop these education courses and the waste of good money now. Instead create unbiased information that will help all unit-owners, not only the ones invited to participate!


We saw the attitude of DBPR employees during the HOA Task Force meetings that were held from October 2003 through January 2004.  For example, in her capacity as Deputy Director of the DBPR and Co-Chair of the Task Force, Julie Baker had very little positive to contribute, but voted only in the interest of the industry partisans against the homeowners' representatives.


Florida’s citizens plainly don’t trust the DBPR and the executives representing this agency. I have heard over and over again that people say: “They are in bed with the industry and protect them instead of regulating them!”


The latest chapter of this sad saga is the new Condo Ombudsman. Appointed by Governor Jeb Bush -- and endorsed by many influential legislators -- a 67-year-old retired doctor and lawyer from Fort Lauderdale went to Tallahassee to take on a task many people thought would be too difficult in the first place. But his dedication quickly turned into disappointment when he was treated like an unwanted stepchild. I'm not arguing here the alleged failure to appropriate funds or the fight to get even the minimum of necessary equipment. The Ombudsman was told not to have interviews with the media  --  unless authorized by a quickly created “DBPR Spokeswoman.”  Then he was told that there is no money for the Ombudsman's Office. 


Amazing that there is money to create the position of a “Department Spokeswoman” and to pay the CAI for education courses. The preparation and adoption of educational and reference material is actually part of the duties of the Ombudsman, according to Florida Statutes 718.5012.


It seems that some of the top executives of the DBPR still can't live with the idea that the Florida legislature has created a watchdog for the DBPR -- located inside the DBPR. It was done because the required consumer protection supposed to be supplied by the DBPR clearly fails the minimum expectations.


The task to clean out the DBPR reminds me of the Greek mythology. The cleaning of 

King Aegeas' stables! But who will be the Hercules? Governor Jeb Bush -- under whose watch all these things are going on -- or some legislators who are getting sick and tired of hearing the permanent complaints from constituents that the DBPR is not doing the job it's supposed to do?

                Time will tell -- but citizens and media are getting restless!