Florida Legislative Session 2004
  Reforms For Condo-Owners And Homeowners?
By Jan Bergemann
Posted 5-11-2004

The legislative session 2004 is over and -- despite all the hoopla -- two majors bills are ordered enrolled that will seriously affect statutes regulating homeowners’ and condo-owners’ associations.

I would like to thank all legislators and their assistants who helped to achieve some of the success we had in pushing for reforms for mandated properties.  And we hope that some of the legislators, who voted against reforms this year, will change their minds next year. 

And I would like to thank the members of CCFJ, Inc. and the many homeowners and condo-owners, who came all the way to Tallahassee to testify, who wrote the piles of e-mails and letters to legislators and who made the telephone calls.  We made a great step in the right direction!

I definitely don’t want to forget our great allies who worked with us to achieve our goals!   The leadership of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 11 and Humberto Sanchez with his friends from the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) rallied the troops in Miami/Dade County.  Vince Larkins and his group from the Fair Housing Center of the Greater Palm Beaches (FHCGPB) helped in the Palm Beach County area.

Joe Gorman and Russ Day from the Property Owners Association in the Villages (POA) and Channing Gerber and the members of Concerned Homeowners in Partnership (CHIP) supported our cause in Central Florida. And last but not least, our friends, Gordon Commeé from Property Rights Florida (PRF) and Bob Janauskas with his Consumer Advocacy Network (CAN), offered lots of support.

This list will hopefully grow before the next session starts.  Only united do we have a chance to succeed with our goals of legislative reforms to protect Florida’s consumers.

We are just getting started.  Please help and support our efforts until we have the consumer-friendly statutes in Florida we all need in order to be able to say again:

We owners should be able to make the necessary decisions to protect our life-savings, not industry partisans with nothing else on their minds than taking our hard-earned money!

Both bills – SB 1184/HB 411 and SB 2984/HB 1987 – have many things in common, some paragraphs are even totally identical.  SB 1184 started out as a very small bill relating to community associations. But it quickly ballooned into a large bill, ending up with 88 pages of text that still needs to be analyzed in detail. The remainder of Condo bill HB 1223/SB2498 ended up in this bill, as did Homeowners’ Association bill SB2984/HB1987 and the Community Development District bill SB 1392/HB 533. 

If you’re not confused enough, here is the official summary of all the bills that contributed to the bill finally enrolled:
S1184    GENERAL BILL/CS/CS/CS/2ND ENG by Judiciary; Health, Aging, and Long-Term Care; Comprehensive Planning; Campbell; (CO-SPONSORS) Lynn; Garcia; Smith  (Similar CS/CS/2ND ENG/S 2984, Compare H 0411, H 0533, H 0589, 1ST ENG/H 0611, H 0747, H 1223, H 1663, H 1987, CS/1ST ENG/S 1392, CS/S 1402, 2ND ENG/S 1938, S 1990, CS/CS/S 2498)

The part of the bill hardest fought by opposite parties was the condo bill, a work product of the House Select Committee on Condominium Governance under Chairman Julio Robaina, who tried to create the necessary protection for condo-owners against many of the known abuses.  But special interests -- like attorneys afraid of losing their cash cow and board members afraid of losing their power -- were able to chip away from the many well-intended issues.

What’s left for condo-owners?
The basic foundation future bills can build upon:

  • Ombudsman’s Office -- Able to enforce many of the existing regulations without creating huge lawsuits. The success will widely depend on Governor Bush, who is left with the responsibility to appoint the first ombudsman. Condo-owners in Florida can only hope that Governor Bush does appoint an honest attorney, willing to take on the real problems.
  • Advisory Council on Condominiums – Functions:  Receive, from the public, input regarding issues of concern with respect to condominiums and recommendations for changes in the condominium law and review, evaluate, and advise the division concerning revisions and adoption of rules affecting condominiums.
  • Frequently Asked Questions and Answers – Another attempt to provide necessary disclosure
  • Grandfathering Rental Rights – Protecting owners from amendments disallowing rentals of units. This was planned to go even further. But the little old ladies with their little puppies were left in the cold.  Maybe they didn’t lobby enough? 
This will create quite some improvements to the condo law, but more changes are definitely necessary to protect owners from the many abuses the House Select Committee on Condominium Governance heard about. 

We have about ten months to convince certain board members that their fellow-owners and neighbors are their friends -- not the specialized association attorneys, who are using these associations as a convenient cash cow.  And not to give association dues to support the lobbying efforts of a trade-organization, which will fight any consumer-friendly legislation in Tallahassee.

Also added to the bill were provisions for the governing of Community Development Districts, mainly dealing with providing for the enforcement of deed restrictions and elections of board members.

Suspiciously absent:  Any provisions dealing with the disclosure to the prospective buyers.  It seems the industry is here as well fighting against providing the consumer with a fair summary of what to expect when buying into these districts.  People are left clueless on purpose, because it’s pretty obvious that some buyers would change their minds, if they had the knowledge that monthly and annual dues can change quickly and that the developer is in charge for minimum six years, making the financial decisions without having to ask the homeowners.  This will be a priority for next year.  Buyers should be aware that there is Taxation Without Representation!

You want to know what could happen? Just read: THE HIDDEN COST OF LIVING

By far the biggest part of the bill deals with reforms of the Homeowners’ Association Statutes -- FS 720.  This part of the bill avoided many of the normal committee hearings and it is very obvious that this bill was pushed through the legislature without giving the public the chance to ask for amendments. And to make sure it passes, it was pushed as well through the chambers as SB 2984/HB 1987.  Actually, the House bill was only introduced by the House Judiciary Committee on April 13, 2004 and was never touched again until the final vote on the House floor. Maybe some creators of this bill were afraid that other committees would create some necessary amendments?

In order to avoid the imperative regulation and enforcement, the industry used the same excuse as in 1994:  “We don’t know how many associations there are in Florida and how many units are part of these associations!”  Actually, it’s getting boring.  Where there is a will there is a way!  In my opinion, it’s just a stupid excuse used to avoid regulation and keep the cash flowing for developers and attorneys, leaving the consumer unprotected.

There are some very good provisions in this bill, namely the SLAPP-suit issue and detailed explanations regarding “RECALL OF DIRECTORS,” an issue that has created many expensive lawsuits, some of them still pending. The arbitration provision by the DBPR hasn’t worked for condo-owners. Now why should it work for homeowners? This kind of arbitration only works if parties are willing to come to the table in good faith. But the hearings and many letters from homeowners are proof that “good faith” is not present in many of the legal issues. It’s deep pockets against homeowner. But many of the provisions of the bill are definitely a good step in the right direction.

It is amazing to read on Page 32 of the bill:  “The Legislature recognizes that it is not in the best interest of homeowners' associations or the individual association members thereof to create or impose a bureau or other agency of state government to regulate the affairs of homeowners' associations.”
Why are some people unwilling to tell the truth? It should actually read: It is not in the best interest of certain members of the Florida Bar to create an agency of state government to regulate the affairs of homeowners’ associations? 
That would minimum be truthful!

But actually this bill has as well some negative ”HIGHLIGHTS”! Just figure it out:

  • The association may charge up to 50 cents per page for copies made on the association's photocopier. Gee, somebody must desperately need a new Mercedes!
  • Display of Flag – According to the provisions of this bill, homeowners now have the right to display up to six flags on certain holidays. But there are no provisions about use of flagpoles and/or brackets. Should these flags be nailed to the garage door?  Certain people still don’t want to acknowledge that the lawsuits are not fought about the flags, but over the flagpoles used to display them.
  • But the biggest problem is definitely created by the disclosure statement. After removing all the “may not” and “can not” provisions, it now reads:                             7. THE DEVELOPER MAY HAVE THE RIGHT TO AMEND THE RESTRICTIVE COVENANTS WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE ASSOCIATION MEMBERSHIP OR THE APPROVAL OF THE PARCEL OWNERS.
This is more or less the same as asking the potential buyer to write a blank check to the developer.  It allows the developer to amend all of the deed restrictions, which are actually part of the purchase contract. The developer has more or less carte blanche to change all the things he had already promised when the buyer signed the contract.  That goes from monthly dues – developer could just double them without asking – to changes of even more serious kind.  My developer changed the deed restrictions from “24-hour guard” to “automated gate, paid for by homeowners’ dues.”  That gate only functions once in a while and definitely doesn’t help with security.  And if that wasn’t enough, he tried to change the use and building restrictions. One morning some of our neighbors woke up with mobile homes on the neighboring lots.  And that in a community that was promoted as a neighborhood of nice single-family homes – valued between $ 150,000 - $ 300,000.
Think that helps your property values? See: 
WHAT IS IT GONNA BE ? - Nice Single Family Homes or Mobile Home Park?

I don’t think that anybody who values his life-savings should sign a contract like that!  As a potential buyer, you should never forget:  Developers are there to make huge profits.  Developers are not interested in your welfare after the sale!

Another reason why we should tell our friends and former neighbors up North:

There is much to do to create more necessary reforms:

  • Condo-owners need more PROTECTION against abuses!
  • Homeowners finally need real REGULATION and ENFORCEMENT!
  • Potential buyers in Community Development Districts need DISCLOSURE!
And we all need to work on it!  You got involved in the issues when you purchased a home or condo in a mandated community.  Now help by protecting your investment!

We have to educate board members that they have a fiduciary duty to their neighbors, not to service providers like attorneys. Speaking of attorneys?  I still don’t understand how somebody can give attorneys the task to create more harmony?  Who needs attorneys, if there is harmony?

Let’s start to prepare now for the next round!  Even if the next session is still ten months away, it’s never too early to get ready.  We need everybody’s help!
Join our organization and help us create the reforms necessary to protect our life-savings and our families’ welfare. Only together do we have a chance to create a better Florida!

Senate Bill
1184 ER