Article Courtesy of The Tampa
By D'Ann Lawrence White
April 1, 2017
RIVERVIEW — A Riverview family on the brink of losing
their home for failing to pay a $150 homeowners association fee has been
offered an 11th hour chance at mediation following news coverage of
rights attorney Ryan Torrens, who represents Tina and
Luis Lopez, said the law firm for the Rivercrest Master
Homeowners Association approached him about mediating
the dispute over the Lopez family's 2009 homeowners
The change-of-heart comes as state lawmakers are
considering a measure that addresses many of the issues
arising from the Lopez family's case, including a
requirement that homeowners' associations provide more
notice when members fall behind on fees.
The Lopez family actually offered proof they had paid
the fee in 2009. A former association board member told
the Tampa Bay Times its accounting practices were in
disorder at the time. Still, the Tampa law firm Bush
Ross placed a lien on the home in 2013 and ultimately
foreclosed on behalf of the Rivercrest association.
Tina and Luis Lopez purchased their two-story home for
$280,000 12 years ago. Last May, it sold to an
investment group at a public auction for $19,000.
Torrens attributes the new offer by Bush Ross to news
coverage of the family's plight. A mediation conference
is scheduled Tuesday. Bush Ross attorney Charles
Glausier told the Times the firm does not comment on
pending litigation except through court filings.
Tina and Luis Lopez had been ordered to leave
their house in the Rivercrest community of Riverview over unpaid
homeowners association fees. They now have a mediation
conference scheduled Tuesday.
Torrens said he represents several other homeowners involved in disputes
with homeowners associations represented by Bush Ross. All their cases
have been resolved since the Lopez story first was reported in January.
Another homeowner, Richard Amisson of Sun City Center, has filed a
complaint against Bush Ross with the community's Seniors Versus Crime
office, a special project of the Florida Attorney General's Office
established to cut down on crimes against senior citizens.
Amisson, who purchased his home in February 2015, said Bush Ross placed
a lien on his property for failing to make three monthly homeowners
association payments. The association later discovered it made an
accounting error. However, the lien was not removed.
The law firm recently offered to settle Amisson's case if he pays $400.
Amisson said he refuses to pay on principle.
"I'm stubborn and I won't be blackmailed," he said. "This is nothing
more than legal extortion, racketeering."
Jim Granan, manager of the Seniors Versus Crime office, said complaints
filed in his office are typically investigated by a volunteer and
referred to the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, which decides
which cases should be reviewed by the State Attorney's Office.
In this case, Granan said, the sheriff's office concluded it had no
jurisdiction because it was a civil rather than a criminal matter.
Attorney Torrens said he's never heard of a state attorney's office in
any of Florida's judicial circuits investigating a dispute between a
homeowner and an association, but he insists they have the authority to
pursue civil cases.
He said changing the law is the best recourse for homeowners. Some 2.5
million property owners fall under the jurisdiction of homeowners
associations in Florida.
Law firms throughout the state, Torrens said, prosper at homeowner
expense because the laws allow them to represent homeowners associations
for free, generating their revenue by running up late fees, attorney's
fees and interest from individual homeowners.
The laws governing homeowners associations, Chapter 720 of the Florida
statutes, do not require notification when overdue fees and fines are
levied. As a result, many homeowners don't learn they're racking up
debts until the matter is turned over to an attorney.
At that point, the law does require notification — 45 days before a lien
is placed on a property.
Rep. Charlie Stone, R-Ocala, is sponsoring a reform measure in the state
legislative session now under way. House Bill 295 would give the state
Department of Business and Professional Regulation, which licenses the
state's 13,000 homeowners associations, the authority to investigate
complaints against them.
The bill also prohibits liens for failure to pay fines and authorizes
the department to mediate disputes. But it contains no provision, as
earlier failed reform measures did, requiring earlier notification of
dues and assessments.
The Community Association Leadership Lobby, which represents more than
4,000 condominium and homeowners associations in Florida, has taken no
position on Stone's proposal yet. But lobby attorney Yeline Goin told
the Times it would be a mistake for the state to impose additional
regulations on associations because the cost of meeting them would
ultimately be passed on to property owners.
Goin defended the practice of imposing liens for unpaid assessments and
"That's how HOAs fund their budgets," she said. "You don't want to take
that right away from them. What if everybody in the community refuses to
pay their assessments and fines? The HOA wouldn't be able to pay its
bills. It could bankrupt the association."
In some cases, Goin acknowledged, associations pad their coffers by
taking over the titles on foreclosed properties and renting them out
until the bank or mortgage company does its own foreclosure and the
title is transferred.
She said her lobby encourages members to provide early notification of
dues and assessments but doesn't believe this should be codified into
law. The 45-day requirement before filing a lien is sufficient, she
The Rivercrest association should have a procedure in place to notify
homeowners sooner, Goin said.
"I know some HOAs aren't as aggressive as others with their
collections," she said. "But it's not a good practice to wait four years
to collect an unpaid assessment."