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

Published March 9, 2009


It becomes more and more obvious by the day: Homebuyers, who were lured into Florida's community associations with the false promise of associations protecting property values, are realizing that they have been had. They were sold a bill of goods that does exactly the opposite of what they have been promised when purchasing their dream home. The bad economy finally proves what we said all along: Homeowners' associations are a serious liability for the financially responsible homeowner. 


Potential homebuyers were told the sky would fall without these homeowners' associations. Nasty neighbors would paint their homes in outrageous colors and instead of flowers and nice gardening they would see rusty pick-up trucks on blocks on their neighbors' lawns. Actually, according to media reports, only two Florida homeowners chose to paint their homes in outrageous colors in the last ten years. In one case the homeowner used weird painting to protest a city decision. In another case, where a homeowner painted his home in the colors of his fraternity, the county quickly stepped in. And rusty pick-up on blocks? Just call code enforcement. You don't need a homeowners' association! 


Horror stories of high special assessments, seriously increased monthly dues, and "inventive fining" hit the media headlines daily. The only ones who are obviously unable to read are our government officials and legislators. Despite the outcry of many homeowners from all over the state, our Governor wants another STUDY -- this time from OPPAGA. You can study a problem to death -- or you can simply use it as an excuse to avoid doing anything. We had all kinds of official Select Committees, Task Forces, HOA Conferences and Town Hall Meetings in the past years traveling throughout Florida. The result was always the same: Homeowners demanded enforcement of the laws through a regulatory agency. How long do we want to study? Until all owners are flat broke?


Remember, OPPAGA wrote two excellent reports about the inefficiency of the DBPR -- and especially of the Division of Florida Condominiums, Timeshares, and Mobile Homes. What changed? Absolutely nothing! 


When Governor Charlie Crist appointed Secretary Chuck Drago, he appointed the most useless Secretary in the last ten years -- and believe me, we suffered through a bunch of bad choices for Secretary during that time. The Department of Business and Professional Regulation is DYSFUNCTIONAL -- plainly a waste of taxpayers’ money. The Division of Florida Condominiums, Timeshares, and Mobile Homes under the "leadership" of Chief Michael Cochran is a great example of a government agency that does more harm than good! And all of the money that the Division doesn’t waste -- every association pays $4 annually for each condo unit -- is being used by Governor Crist as his private piggy bank to fill budget holes caused by irresponsible spending. Condo owners are paying this money into the Condo Trust Fund to finance a regulatory agency that is supposed to uphold the laws in these associations. The moneys -- and the trust of the people -- are long gone!


Even the most supportive report from OPPAGA will not change the misery of many homeowners. The number of HOA problems will not drop like a rock -- maybe only if you're using the same rock Governor Crist used when talking about the property taxes dropping?


And it seems that Governor Charlie Crist, a former employee of the DBPR, is protecting his former colleagues on purpose. I just can't believe that anybody in Tallahassee is not aware of the totally dismal performance of this government agency!


And while our legislators are once again making sure that "the pork comes home"  -- or the favorite university gets some extra funding for personal gain -- homeowners living in community associations are losing their life savings and their hope that our state government  will do anything to protect them against greedy, power-hungry and outright incompetent officials. Retirees are losing their homes -- their American Dream they saved for all their lives -- because the elected government officials ignore their desperate needs.


Homeowners' association election provisions have more loopholes than a Swiss Cheese. And Banana Republics have more election safeguards than Florida's homeowners' associations. But considering what happens at our big government elections, Floridians are used to election shenanigans?


Developers are going bankrupt and there are no safeguards for the owners who paid their life savings for homes in devastated communities, owners being left with lots of unpaid bills and liabilities, without having a say in sorting out the mess the developer left them in!


Legislators are made to believe that the banks’ and mortgage companies’ failure to pay fees for the properties they acquired through foreclosure are the crux of all problems. This may be part of the problem, but not all of it. Any business person will tell you that it makes no sense to spend $50,000 in legal fees to recover $20,000 in unpaid dues!  (Just one example) 


The big problems are as well caused by irresponsible spending by association boards that can't read the writing on the wall. How about sending out 168 violation letters with the serious threat of legal action for brown spots on the lawn after hard freezes and water restrictions killed nearly all lawns in Northern Florida?


Times are tough -- the economy is bad, the real estate market even worse! There is no question about that. But Florida's citizens should be able to rely on their elected officials to try their best to protect their interests.


For the first time in modern history more people moved out of Florida than moved into our state. This trend wasn't caused by hurricanes or the bad economy. People just see the writing on the wall! The fact that Florida has the highest average age in the United States definitely causes an unusually high death rate -- it's no wonder that there are estimated more than 300,000 empty homes and condos -- and more to come! The solution offered by some legislators to stop the financial crisis: Let's build more homes!


Many more people are hoping that the real estate market will recover and they can sell their homes with only small losses! As soon as they are able to sell, they will flee Florida in a heartbeat. And since retirees up North are warned by the local media about Florida lacking law enforcement and being a paradise for scam artists, only a few newcomers will trickle into the state. Saying it with Jimmy Buffet's words: No more "cheeseburgers in paradise"! Our government officials successfully destroyed the "paradise" -- and turned the American Dream of homeownership into a Nightmare!


Never forget: Other countries are suffering as well from the world-wide economic crisis, but in those countries neighbors are not forced to pay for neighbors who default on their payments. Politicians in other civilized countries made this association system illegal before it got off the ground -- despite serious attempts from special interest. They quickly recognized that this system of community living was doomed to failure and put a stop to it before it could hurt their citizens.


But in this country, ruled by special interest, our government officials fail to create the necessary safeguards and protect their constituents' welfare, even after they must have  realized that this association system is detrimental for homeowners and their families.


One thing is sure: Postponing reforms until next year will come much too late for many families. Considering the economic crisis will get worse as predicted -- many more families will lose their homes. Not caused by the economy but by the unwillingness of our government officials to enact much-needed reforms in a timely manner.


Stimulus packages sound great, but surely don't help the homeowner who has tried to be financially responsible and paid his/her bills. These are exactly the people that get punished for having bought into these community associations and are still trying to pay their bills. Reward: They are even required to pay more and more -- courtesy of our elected government officials.


The big question: How long can their life savings pay for it? 


Our government officials love community associations because the system allows them to double-tax the owners. They are getting the full property taxes without having to deliver quite a lot of the services supposedly paid for by these property taxes!


Condo owners pay $4 protection money -- without getting the protection they pay for! I guess the Mafia was more reliable than our government?


Our nation was given birth by the American Revolution, starting with the Boston Tea Party. The founding fathers would turn in their graves if they knew what our elected officials made out of our "Land of the Free."


Abraham Lincoln's famous words, spoken in his Gettysburg Address in 1863, are often quoted as a definition of democracy: "…Government of the people, by the people, and for the people…”!


It looks like our Tallahassee government officials read it this way: "…of, by and for the special interest…"!


What will it take to make our government officials realize that they were elected to serve and protect the interest of Florida's citizens? 


The modern version of the Boston Tea Party?