Condo Confidential

Robaina fights for condo owners' rights

Article Courtesy of The Miami Herald
April 24, 2005

Not many people have the guts or stamina to joust with developers, property-management companies, condo associations and the law firms that represent them.

Meet State Rep. Julio Robaina, who is not tilting at windmills as his deep-pocket opponents might have you think, but at a very real enemy: greed.

''The existing legislation strongly favors condo associations, not the condo owner, and change hasn't been a priority because the system makes money for those who give money to politicians,'' he said. "It's no surprise that the laws were written by attorneys and developers over 20 years ago who have used them to their advantage ever since.''

Lest you think that Robaina is just another disillusioned condo owner like me, think again.

He doesn't live in a condo nor does he own one. In fact, his district 117 -- which includes Miami, Coral Gables, Pinecrest, Palmetto Bay, Cutler Ridge and unincorporated Miami-Dade -- doesn't even have a majority of condos in it.

So why doesn't he mind his own business?

''Housing is as important an issue as education and healthcare,'' he said. "We are talking about the roof over your head. Old laws need to be tweaked and new ones need to be created to provide protection for unit owners when boards go astray.''

The former South Miami mayor has a sense of urgency about his mission.

''It's a crisis with 25 percent of the state's population in an association environment,'' he says. "By 2010, it is projected that 40 percent of the population will live in a condo or planned communities with homeowners associations, which is why we have to resolve the problems now.''

Last year several of Robaina's proposals survived in a bill that passed into law.

Grandfathered Rental Rights; the creation of a condominium ombudsman; Q & A sheets at time of contract to purchase; and a Condominium Advisory Council became effective July 1, 2004.

''The reason things are so bad in Florida,'' he said, "is that a majority of our condos are not primary residences, and so there's no one around to watch what's going on.''

He says the case of a recently arrested property manager on Brickell Key is a good example of corruption and abuse.

As monthly condo maintenance fees skyrocketed, the property manager is accused of supplementing his income by subleasing the condo owners' parking spots.

Property managers or supers on the take -- or those who are simply lazy but still get paid -- are the least of it.

Other problems Robaina points out include developers who hand pick boards so that they'll avoid being accountable for poor construction.

Then there are board members who receive kickbacks or use their positions to take vindictive action against their critics or receive special services from management, or simply break the condo rules that apply to everyone else.

''Conflict of interest is rampant,'' Robaina said. "Big money is to be made if you are an unethical person sitting on the board, and, even if it's not about money but power, it's still not right.''

Educating condo owners and the local police departments on economic crimes is a priority for Robaina.

Next year, he -- along with colleagues Rep. Gus Barreiro (District 107) and Rep. Juan Zapata (District 119) -- will be focusing their efforts on stricter regulations and enforcement by overhauling the department that oversees condos and Condo Association Management (or CAMs).

Their wish list includes mandatory audits; background checks and financial disclosures for board members; board eligibility for full-time residents only; and a legal method of pursuing economic crimes by board members, CAMs, property-management companies, developers or other parties involved.

Consequences! Accountability! What a concept.

''Change starts with one person,'' says Robaina. "It's nice to be known in Tallahassee as the condo man.''

Ms. Management is a huge fan of Robaina and hopes you are, too. You can reach him at