Published September 19. 2003
BY CHRISTOPHER CURRY
In what is becoming an annual Tallahassee tradition, efforts to revise the state law dealing with homeowners' associations will start again next week. A task force on proposed reform will begin a series of monthly meetings the governor's office called in response to resident concerns that the state does not regulate homeowners' associations.
"For two years we have been trying to get the Legislature to pass a bill," said task force member Jan Bergemann. "The legislature nearly passed it last year but in the last day of the session, when the Senate and House were fighting, it got cast away like so many other good bills."
The statewide Internet-based group, of which Bergemann is president, Cyber Citizens for Justice, has argued that while homeowners' associations watch residents with mandatory membership fees, deed restrictions and property liens, no one seems to be watching homeowners associations. There is a state statute dealing with homeowners associations, but no state agency to regulate them or enforcement provisions for associations that violate the somewhat vague requirements of the statute, he said.
The group, which has members from St. Augustine to Miami-Dade County, wants increased regulation and full disclosure of deed restrictions and all association membership and assessment or dues requirements before a prospective buyer purchases a home. They would also like to see alternative resolution procedures set up so homeowners could avoid going through costly court cases with associations.
"We may have many local organizations in Florida, " Bergemann said. "But local doesn't work very well in Tallahassee. So we've united and we're going to go to Tallahassee and tell legislators that this is not one group of disgruntled residents here and another group of disgruntled residents there, this a large group of your constituents."
Two groups in the Marion County area, Concerned Homeowners in Partnership and the Property Owners Association of The Villages, have joined Cyber Citizens for Justice's push for reform.
Cherrywood resident Chan Gerber, vice president of Concerned Homeowners in Partnership, said those who criticize the broad power of some homeowners' associations often find themselves labeled as "troublemakers" by fellow residents. But he said those residents may change their way of thinking when they clash with an association over deed restrictions, assessments or lack of resident representation on some boards.
"I believe the homeowners' association concept is flawed. That is really the crux of the matter," Gerber said. "To me, it is not the American way. Because within these communities you have all three branches of government, the legislative, the judicial and the executive, all rolled up into one board of directors. There are horror stories galore of people spending tremendous amounts of money on lawsuits with their homeowners' associations."
Members of the Department of Business and Professional Regulation homeowners' association task force include that state agency's deputy director, a representative from the State Attorney General's office, representatives of the real estate and development industries and several attorneys.
The group's first meeting is scheduled next Wednesday. The agenda includes discussion of whether homeowners should share the right condominium owners have to fly the United States flag and other military service flags, and if more groups in the state will fall under the legal definition of homeowners' association.
Julie Baker, the group's co-chair and the deputy director of the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, said it was too early to say if the meetings would result in proposed changes in legislation.