Limited Data Is Available Regarding Number of

Mandatory Homeowners' Associations; 

Options Exist for Information Gathering and State Oversight


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

Published February 11, 2010


OPPAGA (Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability) published its report about the State of Florida's mandatory homeowners' associations.


It more or less confirms what we had said all along: Approximately 2.5 million families live in homes that are unregulated -- and the State of Florida doesn't even have proper data regarding their existence.


OPPAGA's proposal to change this total lack of data and to collect the much needed information is the same simple suggestion I had made in 2004 during a meeting of the House Committee on Judiciary, chaired by then House Representative Jeff Kottkamp.


Add two simple questions to the form for the Annual Business Report for not-for-profit organizations.

1.) Are you a mandatory homeowners' association regulated by FS 720?
2.) If yes -- how many homes/lots are in your association?


Within a year we could finally work with real data -- and leave the guesswork out of our discussion. At the time of my proposal Peter Dunbar dismissed it and termed it complicated and expensive. But we know all the facts of his self-serving statements that often lack facts!


We would have known latest in December 2005 that there are enough mandatory members of homeowners' associations to finance a regulatory agency for HOAs with all the bells and whistles -- including an Ombudsman Office -- with an annual $4 fee from each owner, without having to use tax money from any general tax fund.


All it takes are a few sentences in a pending bill asking the Secretary of State to add these two questions to the Uniform Business Report form. And it's neither complicated nor costly. Actually, it would take a computer programmer maybe 10 minutes -- and the data can be processed electronically.


The reason why it wasn't done: Special interest -- attorneys and lobbyists like Peter Dunbar, Esq. -- convinced our legislators that it wasn't necessary. These attorneys knew exactly that it would be just a matter of time that HOA reforms would be enacted and a regulatory agency created by the legislature once the exact data was on the table -- no longer open to guesses. The exact data combined with common sense leaves no other option.


Many of the facts quoted in this OPPAGA report are well known. We know the attempts in other states to regulate HOAs. We know about the problems owners in mandatory HOAs are facing. In the last few years we saw many hearings of Task Forces, Select Committees, Living Study Councils and big Town Hall Meetings -- you name it, we had it! Names and locations changed, but the panel members always heard the same complaint from homeowners: NO PLACE TO TURN TO, NOT EVEN WITH SIMPLE QUESTIONS. More than 5 million people live in these mandatory homeowners' associations  -- and they have no place to turn to, except costly private attorneys and overloaded courts.


The chart providing side-by-side comparison of state regulations (Exhibit 1 -- Page 5) for condominiums/cooperatives and homeowners’ associations speaks for itself. The solution for HOAs always ends with: "pursue through court system."


That opens the question: What did the more than 5 million people living in Florida's HOAs do to the Florida legislature to be plainly ignored like this?


But one statement in the otherwise well-written report really is disturbing and paints a totally false picture (Page 4): "The review indicated that approximately 95% of homeowner disputes are solved through either pre-suit mediation or arbitration, which is typically more efficient and less expensive than the judicial process."

Mediation, as created by FS 720.311, has actually a very low success rate and is more used to bully owners with threats of outrageous legal expenses than to really mediate. And it costs an arm and a leg. Don't forget many of our local courts offer easy mediation free of charge. It's a big cash cow for attorneys. According to OPPAGA sources, this information was supplied by Peter Dunbar -- again.


This "solution" is a great cash cow for his colleagues -- and that's why Dunbar supplied the obviously false number. The number is clearly borne by his personal agenda -- not by facts. It is most likely the most financially damaging provision in FS 720.


As we all know, mediation only works if two parties approach the meeting in good faith. You have heard enough in the last few years to know that good faith is the last thing to expect in association disputes.


The important part of the above sentence is: "....arbitration, which is typically more efficient and less expensive than the judicial process." That is exactly what we have said for years, but the less expensive part is exactly the reason why special interest attorneys are fighting it. We are talking greed, not protection of more than 5 million citizens!


Hopefully, our legislators are reading this report carefully -- and realize finally that they treated their citizens living in mandatory homeowners' associations as stepchildren of our society. This really has to change in order to create a much better quality of living in our community associations.


Let's face it: USA Today reports that " China's homeowners get small taste of democracy" when living in HOAs. But if HOAs are in China a small taste of democracy, it should here be considered a big step towards dictatorship!  Let's face it: What China calls communism is actually more a dictatorship that oppresses free speech -- and more! Is our society sinking to the same low level?


Florida has a unique problem compared to other states that are listed in the OPPAGA report: Florida is built on growth -- and more growth. We need more people from up North to move to Florida -- to retire to The Sunshine State -- not only to fill the empty homes left by our large elderly population whose death rate is higher than in other states.


Remember, Florida has no real source of income to speak of -- only retirees and tourism. Our economy "stinks" (sorry for lack of a more fitting word) and our real estate market plainly collapsed. 


Do you honestly believe that folks from up North are enticed to move to Florida when they hear the community association horror stories from family members or former neighbors who moved to Florida ? Not only does the media in the states up North report about Florida's community association wars and the horror stories of Condo/HOA Commandos, but the tales from disillusioned retirees visiting relatives for the holidays or who move back to where they originally came from are worse for Florida's reputation than any positive advertising could make up for. 


The OPPAGA Report offers good options -- if our legislators are willing to listen and act on them!


Thanks to the OPPAGA staff -- Rose Cook, Elizabeth McAuliffe, and Rich Woerner -- for writing a great report. It's now up to our elected officials to do the right thing and create the necessary protection for more than 5 million of their constituents!