Opinion By Jan Bergemann
Published May 3, 2005
House Bill 1593 received a favorable vote by the Florida House of Representatives with 99 -11 votes. It gives power-hungry board members and greedy attorneys back the right to lien and foreclose on homes of association members who don't follow the party line. And it avoids the commandos having to prove in a court of law that violations actually occurred.
This decision would destroy a major achievement enacted on recommendation of the HOA Task Force, created by Governor Jeb Bush, from last year. House Bill 1987 created in 2004 a provision that disallowed liens and foreclosures for fines. Other states like California, Nevada and Arizona with large numbers of homeowners' associations have implemented similar provisions. We’ve all heard the many horror stories about families losing their homes for erecting a flagpole or minor infractions like putting a flowerbed in the front yard.
It seems last year's changes were too progressive for some of our House members. Cheered on by some specialized attorneys, who saw their earnings getting smaller and some power hungry board members, who were afraid that their accusations wouldn't hold up in a real court of law, these legislators -- see below -- saw fit to vote in favor of the so-called commandos, who are already looking forward to get their kangaroo courts back in shape and go after the people who don't stand at attention when some board members say so!
Representative Jeff Kottkamp, who sponsored last year HB 1987, the bill that created the consumer-friendly provision against liens and foreclosures for fines, and Representative Julio Robaina fought side by side to prevent the all important sentence becoming part of the bill:
A fine shall not become a lien against a parcel
unless it is imposed for violations of use restrictions on the land.
These few words would make a big difference for many families who will lose their homes -- or minimum huge part of their savings -- or retirement funds -- without having the protection of our laws. Don't forget, the Florida Homestead Protection Act protects criminals against foreclosure. However, owners who have a statue in their front yard are not protected against foreclosure! And this is definitely not funny!
Forty-five House members voted in favor of an amendment to remove this sentence from the bill, but it seemed the Republican House leadership was already poised to remove this important part of owners' protection.
That leaves the question for the political "WHY" of this total vote. Common sense will definitely not explain it, considering that legislators all over the nation are voting in favor of removing this draconian tool to subdue neighbors.
The vote of the Democrats is easy to explain. They would like nothing better than to embarrass Governor Jeb Bush and the opportunity to vote with the Republican House leadership against a provision that was enacted last year by the Governor and a work product of the HOA Task Force created by the Governor.
The vote of the Republican House leadership is much more difficult to explain. Even realizing that it would definitely not look good for the Governor, who touted these reforms as big achievements in 2004, they obviously didn't care that nationwide media is interested in association problems. Or they thought: ‘Who cares -- the Governor is anyway on his way out?’ Or did they have to repay some debts to special interests after last year's election?
The vote was definitely conscience against special interest! And it seems special interest counts for a lot more than conscience in Tallahassee!
It doesn't seem to be normal that legislators are willing to give dictatorial powers to non-government entities -- not in our society. Especially considering that already two State Supreme Courts (Virginia and Rhode Island) have ruled fines by associations unconstitutional.
If the Senate is willing to go along and votes in favor of this bill -- if it ever reaches the Senate floor -- it definitely leaves Governor Jeb Bush in a very awkward position:
The Governor gives it and the Governor takes it away?
Is that something Florida's citizens would like to see?
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