CHIP partners make some headway
with legislators
By Robert E. Janauskas
Courtesy of the South Marion Citizen Online
Posted 10 -03 - 2003

We took the opportunity to meet members of the Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) Task Force on Homeowners' Associations (HOAs) at their initial 'organizational meeting' in Tallahassee on Sept. 24. Two specific items were part of the agenda, "Flags" and "HOA definition," pursuant to Chapter 720 F.S.

Although public input was limited to three minutes, chairman William Sklar permitted speakers to finish their remarks and comments about the agenda items. He was very generous with the time allotted.

His opening remarks were, on point, re: the complicated mission of the task force and he conducted the meeting with an enormous amount of patience and respect of members and the general public. Actually, I think, Mr. Sklar did a fabulous job.

A lively discussion ensued about the first item and our proposal to include a flagpole in any future amendment of current law re: display of the U.S. Flag.

The task force agreed to recommend the inclusion of recently enacted CONDO provisions, in Chapter 720, F.S. (HOAs), which permit the display of military flags on certain days and the inclusion of the current Florida flag as one that could be displayed at any time.

Regrettably, the members didn't grasp the meaning and intent of the right of an owner to install a flagpole on property they own and I told them so when I spoke about the second issue.

During the discussion of, "flags," member Rafael Penalver said, he was disappointed that members weren't provided time to express their views about issues they wanted the task force to consider before they began to discuss the agenda items. This, he opined, should have been the first business of the organizational meeting.

His opinion mirrored ours when we spoke about the first issue and offered a terse opening statement.

The chair agreed to open the floor to all members before bringing the second agenda item to the table for discussion.

It was interesting to listen to each member express their views about why they were appointed and views on particular issues.

I sensed opposition to any meaningful reform of HOA laws and disclosure during the sale of property in a deed restricted community. If you were there you might have a different opinion.

The chairman moved the discussion to the second agenda item, i.e., "Definition of a HOA."

Another lively discussion about different types, i.e., mandatory, voluntary, developer controlled, elected, appointed and master HOAs ensued.

Incidentally, during his opening remarks the chair indicated there were six items scheduled for discussion at future meetings. He was asked about the other four items.

Chairman Sklar stated they included, but were not limited to; recall of directors (binding arbitration), alternative dispute resolution similar to CONDO provisions, disclosure at time of sale and protection of purchasers.

During their deliberations, several members indicated they had a limited amount of time to reach a consensus on pertinent issues related to HOA regulation, full disclosure before contract for sale and homeowners' rights, etc.

We had an opportunity to express our views about the second issue and offered a proposal for the task force to consider adopting a Planned Unit Development Advisory Council in its final recommendations.

The purpose would be; discussion of meaningful reform, on a continual basis, after the task force has completed its mandate.

We compared this new council to the CONDO advisory council and were reminded, later, that it had been dissolved by Governor Jeb Bush for budget reasons.

The chair was very interested in this proposal and brought it to the floor for discussion.

Co-chair Julie Baker remarked that the CONDO advisory council was disbanded because the Governor wanted to save money and the council wasn't effective.

She indicated, the governor asked Secretary Carr to create the task force because the legislature failed to do so during the 2003 session.

While I didn't expect special consideration I was gratified when  Mr. Sklar agreed to allow me to rebut comments made by certain task force members.

First, I suggested, there is a pertinent reason for creating a PUD advisory council. It would be a long-term extension, of the task force, intended to protect the homeowners' rights.

While we don't expect the council to have regulatory power it would provide an opportunity to exercise our right to sit at the same table with the stakeholders and industry partisans while reviewing future recommendations of meaningful reform. This would diminish underhanded proposals and blind-siding of consumer activists by the legislature at the behest of those allude to above.

We informed the members that Julie Baker was partly correct, in that, the reason our task force proposal didn't pass during the 2003 session was, despite compromises with the Senate and stakeholders, a bill was passed in the Senate that did not include our concerns we expressed about homeowners' rights.

As a result, the last day of the session, we urged our House sponsor to pull our bill from the floor, ergo, Governor Bush heard our pleas and agreed to create the task force.

Finally, I concluded that Cyber Citizens For Justice is a statewide organization interested in representing homeowners' rights, unlike CAI which is a trade organization with a vested interest in representing homeowners' associations, other trades and vendors conducting business with HOAs.

Their representative, attorney Joe Adams, is seated as a member of the task force as is our president, Jan Bergemann from St. Augustine.

Overall, the task force had a good meeting and we're looking to their deliberations at future meetings scheduled in various state locations.

It was a pleasure for me, to go to the meeting with Channing Gerber, vice president of CHIP and meet several of our members, and the fact they took time to travel to Tallahassee to testify or provide moral support for those that did.

Gerber made an admirable presentation and his comments about the issues were on target.

Others will attend future meetings as we plan to testify and present our views about all issues discussed.

We hope to meet more of you at the next meeting scheduled in Miami on October 17, or one of the meetings scheduled elsewhere.

Agenda items are: removal (recall) of directors (binding arbitration) and alternative dispute resolution (mediation/arbitration).

We strongly urge interested members and friends to attend these meetings and provide input to the task force on the specific agenda items.

We understand you might not be able to do so. No problem. You can prepare your presentation and you'll be able to send to the DBPR contact via e-mail.

Think about this. If you don't participate the stakeholders and industry partisans will believe you don't care. I know you do.

While your preparing your remarks don't forget to visit our Web site, sign our Guest Book and consider clicking on that every present JOIN button.

You might not know, but Speaker of the House, Johnnie Byrd, created a Select Committee on CONDOs and HOAs to discuss broader issues related to these entities.

You'll find all you need to know about the task force and the House of Representative's Select Committee on CONDO's and HOA's at our Web site, at www.ccfj.net

While your there, sign our Guest Book and consider clicking on that ever present JOIN button. We are a statewide organization and need you. Thanks for your support.

Robert E. Janauskas is the Marion County (Area 3) contact for Cyber Citizens for Justice, (CCFJ) in alliance with: 
Concerned Homeowners in Partnership (CHIP); 
Property Owners Association in the Villages (POA); 
Fair Housing Center in Palm Beach (FHCPB); 
and Consumer Advocacy Network (CAN)