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

Published March 4, 2014


The discussion about Pro and Con for adding mandatory homeowners' associations regulated by Florida statutes 720 to the jurisdiction of the Division of Florida Condominiums, Homeowners’ Associations, Timeshares, and Mobile Homes is again in full swing. 


Last week Senator Alan Hays filed SENATE BILL 1348 -- part II of the HOA Reform Bill  -- the follow up to H7119 enacted last year.


The main provisions of this bill: Creating consumer protection through the creation of a regulatory agency for homeowners' associations and HOA election reform -- much needed in the eyes of many homeowners living in HOAs.


Let's make no mistake: The Division as is has many flaws -- improvement is definitely needed -- but it is still a lot better than NOTHING -- and that's what these HOAs have in the moment: Nowhere to turn to, not even for simple questions.


Before getting into the actual discussion of pro and con, let's quickly take a look at the list what a Regulatory Agency with Ombudsman's Office would provide for HOAs:


Division of Florida Condominiums, Homeowners’ Associations, Timeshares, and Mobile Homes:

  • Educational information by phone and through educational publications

  • A Website with official information (incl. Q&A) and official interpretations of existing laws regarding FS 720.

  • The Florida Administrative Code -- more detailed interpretations of wording of statutes; good guidelines to "read" the Florida statutes.

  • Declaratory Statements (formal written positions taken by the Division on the laws and rules the division is authorized to enforce and interpret; in other words: It's a binding ruling without the cost of litigation).

  • Bureau of Standards and Registration -- reviews and approves all public disclosure documentation prepared by developers to the public.

  • Bureau of Compliance -- ensures compliance with statutory and administrative rule requirements, primarily through the receipt and resolution of complaints filed with the division.

  • Arbitration Section -- Arbitration is definitely faster and less expensive than litigation through the court system. Arbitrators are specialized on these specific statutes and don't need -- like many judges in our lower courts -- education on how these laws work. Anybody who feels the need for access to regular courts can still file a "Trial De Novo."

Office of the Community Association Ombudsman:

  • Educational information -- including various forms. 

  • Election Monitors -- neutral specially educated people supervising elections if requested by petition.

Over the years our organization helped to create many owner-friendly laws. Since the Florida legislature created FS 720 (formerly FS 617.301-312) in the year 2000 lots of provisions -- good and bad -- have been added. But owners still run into boards, CAMs and attorneys who plainly tell them: "Yes, you are right! But you just don’t have the money to force us to obey by these new laws!"


Should only owners with lots of money -- able to afford costly court litigation -- have the privilege of being protected by the existing laws? Wouldn't that mean that FS 720 only provides protection for owners with lots of money to spare?


Everybody knows the old saying: "The best laws are only working if these laws can be easily enforced!"


And that is in the moment definitely not the case with the laws of FS 720. Creating a regulatory agency is not about creating "more government" -- it's all about consumer protection.


We hear already certain people screaming: "It creates more government, added cost and is preventing access to courts" -- and the list goes on!


But take a look at who these folks opposing the creation of the Division of Florida Condominiums, Homeowners’ Associations, Timeshares, and Mobile Homes really are: Folks who are afraid that the existing laws could be easily enforced -- taking away dictatorial powers from these people -- and service providers who are afraid that easy enforcement of the laws would lower their profits. 


Honestly, would it be so bad if the existing laws really serve the purpose of creating enforceable rules in these communities?


Take a look at the services (see above) such a "regulatory agency" would provide. Then take a look at the budget line "Legal Expenses" of your HOA. Do you know how much of your money is being spent just to get simple answers to simple questions -- answers that may even be wrong since they reflect the private opinion of your association attorney and not the official interpretation of a government agency?


In my opinion paying $4 annually to finance such an agency is a steal considering al the services you get for this low price considered in this bill.


And if all goes well legislators already consider lowering the cost to $2 annually for all the different associations regulated by the Division. That would make it an even bigger steal. Make no mistake, even with $2 annually the State of Florida could still finance a Cadillac among government agencies.


So, before you listen to all these folks trying to tell you to oppose this bill, think twice what you love more: A more peaceful community caused by easy enforcement of existing laws -- or the status quo where powers to be are ignoring the laws telling you that you don't have the money to enforce these laws.

In my opinion there are only two reasons for opposing this law: POWER HUNGER and/or GREED!


Is that what you want to support by opposing the bill?