|MAGIC WORDS: "THE COURT MAY ORDER"|
By Jan Bergemann
Published February 9, 2013
We heard over the last few days quite a few comments about a proposal in Senate Bill 596 that would require owners to pay disputed dues and "assessments accruing during the pendency of the action, when due" into a court registry if they chose to defend the foreclosure lawsuit.
Please see exact wording of the bill proposal below!
The provision is based on the wording of landlord/tenant law (Chapter 83 Florida Statutes). It plainly is intended to deter frivolous lawsuits by owners against foreclosure with the goal to prolong the process and live in his/her home/unit longer without paying a dime -- at the expense of the due-paying neighbors.
Make no mistake: No matter WIN or LOSE, the association has the right to collect the monthly dues that became due during the pendency of the lawsuit anyway, with late fees and interest -- if not paid into the court registry -- or paid voluntarily. Disputing past due assessments doesn't free the owner from paying future dues to the association.
And before you start judging this provision, please note the magic word contained in the provision: "THE COURT MAY ORDER!" How much more due process can you expect from a law? It will be up to a judge in each individual case to decide if payments into the court registry should be made.
This proposed provision intends to serve as a safe-guard against owners who know that they have no valid defense against the pending foreclosure but defend it anyway with frivolous motions with only one goal in mind: To stay longer in their homes/units at the expense of the neighbors without paying a dime!
We heard from various sources claiming that this provision isn't consumer friendly. Let me just respond with another question: Is it consumer-friendly that neighbors have to pay for water, electricity, cable and other services for owners who aren't paying their fair share of the bill -- shares they agreed to pay in writing?
In an article published this week in the Orlando Sentinel, written by Mary Shanklin under the headline "Bill lets HOAs foreclose fast if dues unpaid" Donna Berger, attorney from the KGB lawfirm (Katzman Garfinkel Berger) was quoted as follows: "Is that really consumer-friendly?" she asked. "What if there are reasons they are contesting — because they never got notified, the special assessment wasn't properly passed or the management company is off by thousands of dollars? Yes, that happens."
No matter the reason, the assessments becoming due during the pendency of the foreclosure lawsuit have to be paid anyway. Management made a mistake? That's why the bill contains another provision Donna Berger was complaining about in her blog: Holding developers, or associations, or its assignees or agents liable for their actions. People should always be held liable for their actions, especially professionals who get paid for their services.
But even the best defense doesn't free owners from the obligation of paying properly assessed dues to the association. And it all hinges on the decision of a judge in every individual case if they have to pay monies into the court registry.
The question regarding "consumer-friendly" coming from Donna Berger really made me laugh. Don't forget, Donna Berger, as the Leader of CAN -- an attorney firm lobbying group claiming to lobby "FOR" associations -- was partially responsible for bills that passed in the last few years that were definitely not consumer-friendly because they allowed association boards to be accuser, judge, jury and executioner. No due process, no judge involved.
Let's face it: Donna Berger was the one who helped to get legislation passed that:
simply because the association claims the owner owes any assessments to the association for 90 days or more. The owner loses all of these rights without any hearing or due process rights whatsoever -- even if the management company just made a mistake as Donna Berger admits can happen!
Make no mistake, if the management company
or the board says you owe or you carry any minimal balance for more than
90 days -- an owner loses all the above privileges.
Remember: Under all the legislation passed
over the last 3 years with the help of Donna Berger and CAN, owners lose
all the above rights without ever having the opportunity for any hearing
or due process whatsoever.
In all honesty, I can only consider Donna Berger's statement regarding "consumer-friendly" quoted in the Orlando Sentinel article "PATHETIC" -- considering her prior support of punishment without due process!
In a News Report by Channel 9 -- Orlando" titled: "Proposed bill could make it easier for HOA's to foreclose on homes" another attorney, Orlando foreclosure defense attorney Justin Clark, rambles on about the powers of the HOA. "It's ridiculous,” said Clark. “HOA’s are like mini-governments already. They have so much power it's unbelievable. We need a bill to the contrary giving them less power."
He may not be wrong, and other provisions in Senate Bill 596 may address this issue, but the case he was talking about in this news report had absolutely nothing to do with the proposed provision regarding payment of dues into a court registry during pendency of a foreclosure lawsuit. The owner admitted that he "forgot" to pay his dues -- and they were actually fighting about the amount of attorneys fees being charged. As an attorney Clark should know, that he was trying to compare apples with oranges. In my opinion Clark, being an attorney, should be held to a higher standard when discussing pending bills than the owner, who may have been rightfully upset about the legal fees charged.
All I'm asking for is a fair statement regarding the actual provisions contained in a bill. Don't twist the issues so they fit into your personal agenda. And if you are an attorney and seem to be unable to properly interpret the wording of a bill proposal you might consider giving back your license.
Please read the actual bill proposal before you start commenting on the PRO and CON!