TALLAHASSEE MEETING JANUARY 28. 2004
More An Opinion Than The Actual Minutes
Florida, February 2, 2004
By Jan Bergemann, Member of the HOA Task Force

The actual story of this final meeting on January 28, 2004 is really short. Since most of the actual decisions were made long ago, it was more or less just business as usual. The industry members outvoted the consumer representatives and obviously felt really good about it.

Consumer activist Karen Gottlieb made a presentation regarding Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation – SLAPPS.  Barbara Gugliotti’s letter and her presentation greatly impressed the panel members, who finally voted in favor of a motion to propose serious reforms to stop this abusive form of silencing critics.  Gugliotti had been threatened with litigation after she testified at the task force meeting in Tampa on December 8, 2003. 

The final wording is still open, but this proposal will be separated from the package otherwise promoted by the industry-task force members.

And to make it very clear, there are some good proposals among the recommendations, but without enforcement they are just null and void. And as a package they are useless.


Since the promised presentation by the Florida Association of Realtors regarding disclosure was still not ready, the
disclosure part of the draft proposals was discussed. After some changes, there
was an agreement about the wording.
But like all the other proposals – lengthy wording without teeth! It will move the disclosure law from FS 689.26 to FS 720. The provisions were useless for
consumers when named FS 689.26 -- and will be useless under FS 720. Without possible enforcement and punishment, it will be just another part of FS 720 that
pays lip service, falsely claiming consumer protection.

After lunch we listened to a tag-team
match between Co-chair William Sklar,
Joe Adams (CAI-FLA) and Robert Jones (Florida Conflict Resolution Consortium).

 
Joe Adams, Ft.  Myers, Attorney
Community Associations Institute 
They made sure that the proposed legislation, already favoring industry interests, also included all the goodies favoring the interests of attorneys. 

My presentation shows clearly that the discussed proposals are actually dangerous for homeowners. We don’t want radical changes – we want protection against the deep pockets of the industry and the greed of the service providers. Even if there are many well-run associations in Florida, the percentage of associations with serious problems is growing by the day. See comment made by the Co-chair, William Sklar, Esq., who stated:  "In the vast majority of associations there is litigation." 

If we ignore the problems and wear blinders, the growing problems will become even bigger.   As consumer advocates, we will ask Florida legislators not to sponsor this proposal. 

The industry members were happy to vote in favor of these proposals, which will increase the power of the industry.  Homeowners will be further demoted in status to second-class citizens.   I abstained from voting, despite various complaints and statements to the effect that regulations don’t allow members to abstain. I feel it is a serious conflict of interest to vote on a bill proposal, knowing that I will oppose it with everything I can muster.

Honestly, quite a few of the members should have abstained from voting during many of the motions. “CONFLICT OF INTEREST” was permanently written on the wall.


The main players in this task force farce tried to downplay the failure of this task force, which had been formed to “harmonize and improve relations between homeowners, homeowners’ associations and other related entities.”

DBPR Secretary Carr was quoted as saying: “I am delighted with the product that has evolved!” 

Task Force Co-chair William Sklar said: “The proposal may not go as far as some would like, but it goes farther than what was envisioned when the task force was created.” 

 
DBPR Secretary
Diane Carr
If that is really the case, we could have saved a lot of time and money – and frustration! 

We heard many testimonies by interested citizens during the various meetings.  One proposal clearly stood out:  Homeowners all over Florida were clearly in favor of a regulating agency.  The cry for justice was heard all over: “We need enforcement of the Statutes. Without teeth and enforcement, all the proposals are just lip service to calm down the many consumers complaining all over Florida.”

And these statements definitely clash with more testimony we heard at the end of the meeting. Two citizens had to make their presentations in writing, due to health problems.

Gene Lauro from Lakeland underlined his request for a regulating agency in order to create an even playing field.  He warns of the problems for homeowners: “It is not maintaining property values as they want you to believe. Their purpose is Power and Control.”

Philip Castronova from Lake Worth said that the task force has only created 46 extra pages of lip service with no teeth. If the Task Force cannot recommend or is not willing to recommend a new agency paid for “by the people for the people,” then let’s propose writing into the 46 proposed pages "Accountability.”

David I. Goldenberg, Ph.D., from Boynton Beach asked to provide an appeal mechanism to quickly remedy improper actions by any board of a homeowners’ association.

Val Lucierfrom Pompano Beach stated: “Legislation without an enforcement agency to back it up, won’t work. Boards Of Directors have been given selective enforcement power.”

Stephen Comley from Fernandina Beach pleaded for an investigation of the DBPR (quote): “THAT THIS TASK FORCE MAKE RECOMMENDATIONS THIS DAY TO RECOMMEND TO GOVERNOR BUSH AND THE LEGISLATURE TO TAKE THE NECESSARY STEPS TO INVESTIGATE THIS ARM OF THE DIVISION.”

And Monica Sadler came all the way down from Illinois to provide each of the task force members with a “symbolic gesture” that is intended to represent the acronym H.U.G.S. -- Homeowners Urging Government Supervision. 

The known cases of abuse of homeowners are piling up. So were the letters from outraged homeowners pleading with Governor Jeb Bush and the DBPR to create some sort of consumer protection. A quote from an article by Associated Press, dated 2-1-04, says it all: “Legislatures in Florida, Texas, California, Arizona and Nevada have held hearings on the idea. But all have bowed to lobbyists' objections that new laws would inhibit associations from acting!” 

Who cares about the human beings?

We all know this isn’t the truth. The actual reason:  It would hurt the pocketbook of certain service providers. Actually, this statement was part of an article about a retired couple losing their home to foreclosure for $120 in unpaid association dues!

We will see a very interesting session starting in Tallahassee next month. Conflicting bills will be filed; some consumer supported, some industry supported.

But it seems we consumers will have to take our issues to the polls on November 2, 2004. And we will work hard to convince the silent majority of homeowners all over Florida to vote in favor of legislators willing to protect homeowners’ rights.

Or do legislators feel that they can ignore the will of their constituents and rely solely on campaign contributions from the industry to get re-elected?

But despite all the negative comments, consumer activism scored a big victory. We came out of these task force hearings stronger than ever before. We found many new supporters of the cause.  We made contact with many small local groups trying to achieve similar goals.  We value the improved public relations created by the media.  This was just the start of something much bigger! The many homeowners testifying at these hearings sent a clear message to all Florida legislators: “We are here to stay and will not go away until feasible solutions are found!  We didn’t ask for band-aids, we asked for help from the legislators. And even if the attorneys and industry members on the task force refused to ‘hear’ what we had to say, our message will be taken to the elected officials in Florida.”

Homeowners and condo-owners in Florida need protection by a strong government agency with enforcement power. We are willing to pay for it. It’s a small price to pay to stop abuses in associations.
And the task force meetings clearly showed that the fairy tale about “just a few disgruntled homeowners complaining” is absolutely false. 

We homeowners can represent ourselves – and we know what’s good for us! 

We don’t need self-appointed industry speakers representing our interests. There are already too many foxes guarding the henhouse!


Homeowners and Condo-Owners need a strong voice in Tallahassee
Let the PEOPLE speak!
Final Report
TASK FORCE HOME NEWS PAGES