An Opinion By Jan Bergemann
January 9, 2006
was always under the impression that mandatory arbitration for condominiums,
conducted by the DBPR, should shorten the judicial process and should seriously
reduce the cost of the legal procedure. It’s
very obvious that my impression was absolutely wrong!
Just look at the case of Bonavida Condominium vs. Joyce and Rueben Starr.
Dragging on for more than one year, this arbitration case focused on a cat, which in the meanwhile celebrated its 10th anniversary of living in the Starrs’ condo unit. With lots of motions, counter-motions and failed amendments, the Bonavida condo board has already spent nearly $20,000 of unit owners’ funds in legal fees on this ludicrous case.
And to the series of complaints, we can add the accusation of a party not acting in good faith on different occasions.
Then in October 2005 with a public hearing only three days away -- subpoenas issued and dozens of witnesses ready to testify on behalf of the Starr family -- the law firm convinced the arbitrator to "temporarily abate" the hearing. This temporary abatement gave the Bonavida board a chance to put forward an amendment to the condominium declaration that would finally "allow one cat in each unit." The board required however that condo unit owners’ ballots be mailed to the office of the board’s attorney! Some unit owners even claimed that their favorable votes "disappeared"! Not surprisingly, the amendment failed.
The whole case seemed far-fetched in the first place. According to written testimony, it appears obvious that nearly everybody knew that the Starrs’ cat had lived in the building for many, many years. Former board members even testified to that fact and added that other residents’ pets have lived and are still living in the building -- including in units of past and current board members!
So, why suddenly this legal move against another board member, Dr. Joyce Starr? Rumor has it that this particular board member had complained about mold in the building and ineffective management. See:
But whatever the real reason, arbitration over this matter definitely should not have lasted 14 months. It's an obvious waste of money and other resources -- in a building that had its share of problems, especially after the 2004/2005 hurricanes.
It is the responsibility of the DBPR arbitrators to ensure that attorneys don't overstep their boundaries and make expensive legal matters out of simple issues!
Just read the Respondents’ Request for Dismissal and you know what all was done to transform a simple matter into a case of "Supreme Court" dimensions.
cat has already lived in the condominium for ten years with the knowledge of
board members and unit owners.
a matter of common sense not to turn it into an expensive legal matter!