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

Published October 1, 2010


Homeowners living in community associations are always told that they signed a contract and have to obey it. But what about the other parties to the contract -- developer and association? Are they not bound by the same contract?
People unfamiliar with community associations are always wondering why these associations are riddled with litigation. And even if you are familiar with the many problems in these associations, are you aware that a wide majority of these lawsuits deal with issues caused by one party to the contract changing the original contract without the consent of the homeowners?

Especially developers and their so-called successors are known to change the existing contracts without asking the owners. Many of them rely on the fact that most homeowners are not able to financially sustain a lawsuit to fight for their rights.


But the dreadful economy and the dead real-estate market are forcing more and more owners to fight for their rights in order to protect their homes [Please see links to many recent cases below!]


Developers, amazed at the audacity of these owners willing to fight for their rights, normally answer with frivolous libel/slander lawsuits aimed at bleeding these owners financially dry. 
And if it's not the developer, it's the so-called successor, who only too often fails to be the "legal" successor. We have read about the developers raising dues sky-high, trying to sell unprofitable golf courses to naďve homeowners and just changing the final date of turn-over to prevent owners taking control of their community.


In the THE CASCADES OF GROVELAND HOMEOWNERS' ASSOCIATION, INC. [ASSOCIATION LIFE IS NEVER BORING!] the original developer Levitt & Sons defaulted on the loan. The bank had receiver Andrew J. Bolnick [SEE: NATURE WATCH] appointed. Bolnick then changed the voting rights by amending the deed restrictions without owners’ approval. The bank then sold the properties acquired through foreclosure to another developer, who is definitely not a developer-successor, but is equipped with a sweetheart deal caused by these unapproved amendments. You can read all the legal allegations in a lawsuit filed by one of the homeowners [CLUNEY vs THE CASCADES OF GROVELAND HOMEOWNERS’ ASSOCIATION, INC]. In my opinion this is the sentence in the filed lawsuit that explains the whole issue best: "The Supplemental Declaration adversely alters the proportionate voting interests appurtenant to the Subdivision by creating an additional 216 votes (one vote per acre of proposed Phases 4 and 5) notwithstanding that the Declaration, as originally recorded, did not authorize such a procedure, and only authorized voting rights upon: (a) the platting of those phases into actual, bona-fide, platted lots; and (b) the annexation of those lots into the Subdivision."


It seems pretty obvious that the Supplemental Declaration of Restrictions and Protective Covenants dated March 7, 2005 violates § 720.306(1)(c), Fla. Stat. Lengthy discussions about this issue took place -- without being addressed properly.


And the letter from Alan B. Taylor, Esq. to the association explaining that a lawsuit will be filed if the issue isn't addressed properly was not triggering any real reaction. The answer from the association to the initial demand letter, sent by attorney Thomas R. Slaten Jr. on August 24, 2010 is maybe good for a laugh: "The Board has been addressing and continues to address these issues in the best interest of the community." [SEE COPIES OF LETTERS]

Thomas Slaten, Esq., shareholder of the law firm of Larsen & Associates, P.A. in Orlando., and members of this firm have a reputation among homeowners to have “their own interpretations" of the laws -- and what's good for communities. [See: SOME CALL IT ENFORCING DEED RESTRICTIONS -- OTHERS CALL IT HIGHWAY ROBBERY!]

If the problem is being addressed -- as Slaten claims -- why is nothing being done to remedy the situation that is costly for the homeowners?


And once the lawsuit was filed, the association and its board president Eric Sorkin still didn't want all the owners to know the full truth.


In an e-mail to the community members Eric Sorkin wrote:

A few hours ago the Association’s Board of Director’s was made aware of a lawsuit filed against the Association.
The following statement is from our Association counsel.  As you will see when you read our counsel’s statement below, the board has been advised not to make any additional comments.
"Stephen and Donna Cluney recently sued the Association in Lake County Circuit Court, Case # 10CA4156.  Due to legal restrictions the Association cannot provide a copy of the lawsuit.  However, you may visit the courthouse to review the court file or visit the clerk of court's website to follow the case on-line.  On advice of counsel, the Board of Directors must refrain from discussing the details of the case.  However, we wanted to notify you of the suit and let you know that Larsen & Associates, the Association's legal counsel, is defending the Association."
Eric Sorkin

Actually, once a lawsuit is filed, it becomes public record -- no questions asked. Claiming legal restrictions for not providing a COPY OF THE LAWSUIT is just another excuse to keep many owners in the dark about the fact that they are paying more than they actually should -- see lawsuit!

This lawsuit is another example of a family which is finally sick and tired of seeing their home and their life-savings going down the drain. It is really disgusting to see.  Folks that saved all their lives for their dream retirement homes in the Sunshine State are treated badly and used as cash cows by developers.

If this doesn't change really fast, Florida 's real estate market and economy will collapse even further.  The lax laws and the total lack of enforcement of the existing laws have stopped the flow of retirees and snowbirds -- formerly the biggest source of income for the State of Florida .