Officials stress management oversight

Article Courtesy of The Hi-Riser

By Chris Guanche

Published February 7, 2008


One of the biggest difficulties any condo and homeowners association faces is who to hire to manage the property. And one Florida legislator wants to restructure the Department of Business and Professional Regulation to make it more responsive to the needs of owners.

"You can pass all the laws you want but they mean nothing without enforcement," said state Rep. Julio Robaina, R-Miami.

Robaina's comments came during a recent two-day condo and homeowners association conference sponsored by Deland-based Cyber Citizens for Justice. The conference attracted hundreds at its stops in Fort Lauderdale and Deerfield Beach as unit owners searched for solutions to a wide range of association issues. 

The purpose of the conference was to be informational. said Cyber Citizens for Justice President Jan Bergemann. "We want to hear ideas for reforms, not the typical gripes," he said. "There's more good than some want to recognize." 

In addition to several attornevs, an informational panel included former Florida Condo Ombudsman Virgil Rizzo. Robaina, who also serves as chairman of the House Select Committee on Condominium and Homeowners Association Governance, and Mark Benson, a member of the Regulatory Council of Community Association Managers. Benson cited education and lack of enforcement of managers as one major problem. 

Education is insufficient, and managers aren't accountable to the associations they work for, he said. One of Benson's goals is to license association management firms and put an end to the practice of hiring a licensed community association manager, who often takes the blame for a company's unscrupulous practices.

"They sacrifice this [manager], do whatever they're doing and then hire another one," Benson said.

A general restructuring of the Department of Business and Professional Regulation is necessary to make it more responsive to the needs of owners. Robaina said, specifically by increasing the department's enforcement powers. 

Rizzo said the state needs to act quickly to curb abuse and mismanagement in condo associations. 

"I hope that the Legislature sees that If they don't enact the statute against condominium abuse, they are condoning abuse," Rizzo said. 

Another area that needs improvement is fraud prevention, said David Kahne, a Texas attorney who wrote the AARP's Bill of Rights for homeowners associations. 

"Fraud is a big problem, but there's a bigger problem that leads to fraud, and that's arrogance," Kahne said. "If people will steal from the PTA, they'll steal from a condo."

But Kahne said fraud can be curtailed by boards enacting simple changes such as requiring that a professional engineer sign off on projects where the cost is estimated over a certain amount. 

Insurance and hurricanes were major areas of concern for owners who attended the meetings, but there were no simple answers for many. The state's My Safe Florida Home program assists homeowners with inspections and risk mitigation to reduce insurance premiums, but the program isn't applicable to condos.

Robaina said owners should band together and lobby the Legislature to make changes to the program, and then extend those to condos. 

Robaina also said condo associations should consider self-insurance pools or insurance bundling, adding that the insurance industry is moving toward risk mitigation as its insurance model.