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

Published September 24, 2010


It's really no wonder why no more retirees want to move into the new community associations in the former SUNSHINE STATE. Word gets around up North: Developers use retirees as cash cows, suck them dry and spit them out. And if these retirees dare to complain, because they can't afford the ever-increasing monthly assessments any longer, throw some frivolous lawsuits at them -- like SLAPP-suits. That will teach them to shut up and pay!


And all that with the blessing of our esteemed legislators who treat developers like an endangered species -- I guess some wouldn't be in office without the campaign funds from these developers. 


Florida makes a lot of hoopla about protecting the elderly -- even touts a Department of Elder Affairs. But when it comes to protecting their financial welfare, these elderly folks, who moved here believing all the propaganda about caring about the elderly and the so-called 55+ communities, are finding out that they are left to fight for themselves.


Homeowners complaining about the injustice in these community associations are always told: "Shut up! You signed a contract. You knew what you were getting into!"


But these contracts aren't worth the paper they are written on. With a few strokes of a pen and a fee of $59.50 to the Clerk of the Court, a developer completely changes the basic foundation of this contract these retirees once signed.


How would you feel if you signed a contract when buying a home that said that the Class "B" membership will be converted to Class "A" membership (meaning turn-over from developer-control) latest fifteen (15) years from the date of filing of the Declaration -- but shortly before the turn-over date is reached, the developer unilaterally files an AMENDMENT to this contract and plainly eliminates this important provision? 


Class B. Class B member(s) shall be the Declarant (as defined in the Declaration), and shall be entitled to three and six tenths (3.6) votes for each Lot owned. The Class "B" membership shall cease and be converted to Class "A" membership on the happening of any of the following events, whichever occurs earlier:

(a) Three months after ninety percent (90%) of the Homesites or Lots in all phases of the community that will ultimately be operated by the Association have been conveyed to Class "A" members; or

(b) Fifteen (15) years from the date of filing of the Declaration; or

(c) At such time as the Class "B" member voluntarily relinquishes its right to vote.


Would you be mad and feel betrayed? Wouldn't you scream "Bloody Murder," especially if the same developer continually raises your monthly assessments?


Exactly that happened to the residents of the Kings Gate retirement community in Port Charlotte -- and they surely were not "happy campers."

Kings Gate residents, developer clash

Believe me, I can surely understand that these homeowners are mad -- and aired their feelings in words and writing that might not have always been "politically correct." But in my opinion being "politically correct" stops when a developer abuses his power and strips retirees of their life-savings.


Developer Nathan Benderson -- Benderson Development Company LLC -- obviously wasn't too thrilled about the choice of some words used to describe him and his actions.


And he did what all the folks do when they don't want to hear how other people -- or their customers -- feel about their actions: He filed a LAWSUIT FOR DEFAMATION because of allegedly slanderous statements made during the meeting.


As a result of the publication by Snyder and others as yet unidentified members of KGRG of the defamatory statements, Benderson, Benderson Development and Kings Gate Homes have been held up to public ridicule, hatred, ignominy, humiliation, and the reputations, both personal and professional, of Benderson, Benderson Development and Kings Gate Homes have been damaged and prejudiced by the statements of Snyder and others as yet unidentified members of KGRG, which statements were defamatory per se. The statements were defamatory per se because they directly and without innuendo impute to Plaintiffs conduct, characteristics or conditions incompatible with the proper exercise of their lawful business, trade and profession.


In the lawsuit Benderson and his company as the plaintiffs claim that their actions these folks are complaining about were absolutely in compliance with the proper exercise of their lawful business, trade and profession. 


And I guess that is the big question: Can a developer unilaterally change the CC&Rs -- the contract the whole community association is based upon? Is unilaterally changing a contract lawful business?

I think only a court can really decide this -- and developers are obviously relying on the fact that there will be no court ruling, since the owners are already broke, due to the actions of the developer.


Another Count of the LAWSUIT (PAGE 8) deals with the fact that one of the owners compared Benderson with Adolf Hitler, according to the lawsuit: "Benderson is cut from the same cloth as Adolf."


Actually, that's what Benderson likes to read into it, because the complete paragraph gives this sentence a totally different meaning (EXHIBIT B):

All he wanted was for us at Kings Gate to not rock the boat by going to the media. As far as I can see he never wanted to give in on anything. I guess he proved that accommodating his wishes does not do a thing for us in K.G. I don't know how many of you remember that before WWII the Brits sent their Chamberlain to talk to Hitler. Adolf also promised to be a good boy and look where that got this world. Benderson is cut from the same cloth as Adolf.


On the other hand, what did Benderson expect these homeowners would compare him to?  The Virgin Mary or the Holy Saints?  His actions, like amending the CC&Rs, make him in the eyes of these homeowners a dictator.  According to Wikipedia, a "dictator is a ruler who assumes sole and absolute power." And like it or not, the first persons that come to mind when you hear the word “dictator” are Adolf Hitler and/or Joseph Stalin.


Benderson and his firm -- the plaintiffs -- claim to have suffered damages in excess of $15,000.  I had to laugh when I read the sentence in the lawsuit: "The actions and statements of defendants constitute intentional and unjustified interference ..."  Unjustified?


How about all the damages these homeowners suffered, caused by the actions of the plaintiffs? 


Many of these homeowners lost a lot more than just their good name and reputation. The actions of the developer put them in a financial bind -- or even financial disaster.


Let's face it: If the judge allows the developer to run all over these 55+ retirees, it shows that Florida allows developers to use retirees as cash cows, suck them financially dry and spit them out.