|ARBITRATION SECTION REFUSES TO DEAL WITH NEW CONDO RECALL LAWS|
Opinion By Jan Bergemann
Published September 9, 2017
I never had much use for the folks who call themselves “ARBITRATORS” working for the Division of Florida Condominiums, Timeshares, and Mobile Homes. But the latest nonsense coming from Chief Arbitrator James Earl is more than just ridiculous.
The so-called Condo Crime Bill (HB 1237) radically changed the recall process for condominiums. The wording clearly states: “THE RECALL IS EFFECTIVE IMMEDIATELY!!!!” Everybody involved in these issues knew, that this law will be effective JULY 1, 2017 after the Governor signed the bill into law. It even says so in the bill itself.
Well, a “recalled” board – the recall petitions were served after July 1, 2017 – decided, with the support of their attorney, to ignore the newly enacted laws and just continue “Business As Usual”. They did what was right until June 30, 2017 – but in the meanwhile the clock has been ticking and the law changed. Did it go over the head of the association attorney – or did she just chose to ignore the changes to the law?
Yes, there has been a lot of discussion that the newly worded recall provisions in FS 718.112 might be dangerous and may even fail to offer due process, but nevertheless: The NEW wording was signed into law by Governor Rick Scott.
Now read Earl’s “FINAL ORDER OF DISMISSAL”. Believe me, I wasn’t sure if I should laugh or cry about his reasoning for refusing to arbitrate this case. I came to the conclusion that it is so ridiculous that it isn’t even funny.
FS 718 clearly states that all condo recall cases have to be filed with the Arbitration Section of the Division and that they have sole jurisdiction.
Now here comes Earl, who is normally not shy making up laws or coming up with interpretations that fit his personal agenda, claiming that he can’t arbitrate this case because FAC 61B hasn’t been changed yet and, according to his own words, it may take another 6 months to complete the task of changing the Florida Administrative Code to acknowledge that the law has changed dated July 1, 2017.
Earl now puts the responsibility to “interpret” the new laws on the local court, a decision that is a clear contradiction of the intent of the Florida Legislature, who wanted recall disputes going to arbitration, a less costly and time-saving solution.
With other words, for about 8 months the newly created recall provisions are useless, because the folks in charge of changing the FAC in a timely manner can’t get their “shit” (excuse my language!) together and do what needs to be done.
I can only wonder if a government agency tasked with enforcing the laws created by the Florida Legislature is unable the create the necessary rule changes in a timely manner in order to make sure that the existing laws are obeyed by at a time when they are effective.
This recall in the Sunbrook Condominium Association, Inc. is now sitting there for more than 7 weeks without being any closer to a solution. Earl was sitting on it for five weeks without doing anything. The owners who signed the recall petitions in their community as protest against the actions of the sitting board, feel – rightfully – defrauded and abandoned by the government agency paid to enforce the laws. They relied on the wording of the new law, but are utterly disappointed to see that obviously nobody cares that a new law was enacted. Their money is being wasted as we speak – and the news law saying “RECALL EFFECTIVE IMMEDIATELY” is clearly being ignored.
What I learned from this nonsense created by Chief Arbitrator James Earl: A law enacted by the Florida Legislators is not effective from the day as stated in the original bill, but only at a time when some lowly government workers feel that they should get their act together and change the Administrative Code accordingly.
I am totally disillusioned with the Division of Florida Condominiums, Timeshares, and Mobile Homes. As usual, they prove that they are a useless regulatory agency wasting condo owners’ money. Actually, when Kevin Stanfield was appointed Director, I had hoped that the Division’s work ethic would improve, knowing that Stanfield had the necessary knowledge to deal with the daily problems of Florida’s condo owners. He had attended many town hall meetings over the years and had listened to the multiple complaints of board members and owners.
But in all reality things have gotten even worse since Stanfield took office as director of the Division. It seems to be now common practice that complaints by owners are rejected in the first attempt. It seems the Division has developed a form letter sent to owners who filed a complaint telling them either that the Division had “no jurisdiction” or that “the investigation failed to show any proof of wrongdoing”. That excuse is in my opinion especially “funny” when the witnesses named by the complainant were never asked for testimony or documents that showed the proof of the alleged wrongdoing were never inspected.
I can understand why many homeowners here in Florida are not very enthusiastic with the idea to make the Division as well the regulatory agency for homeowners’ associations.