Discontent flaring up in deed-restricted communities 

Article Courtesy of The Sun-Herald
Published October 7, 2008
By Steve Reilly


A new survey suggests a number of residents in deed-restricted, association-controlled communities throughout the state are upset.

The survey by the Cyber Citizens for Justice Inc., a watchdog group for residents in condo and homeowner associations, asked 1,033 association residents throughout the state about possible reforms to state oversight of homeowner associations. 

While not calling for an outright revolution, the vast majority of the survey's respondents do want greater state oversight of homeowner associations and protections from potential abuses by their homeowner associations -- including some of the state protections already established for condominium owners.

"The survey is a strong statement that (association) reforms are wanted and needed," said Jan Bergemann, founder of Cyber Citizens. The survey results are posted on the Cyber Citizens Web site at www.ccfj.net .

Thirty years ago, Bergemann said, condominium and deed-restricted association laws were written to benefit "anyone who made a buck at it."

"(Condo and homeowners) have to understand they have to be the ones in charge," he said. "If not, then they will lose."

Charlotte and other area residents will have their chance to have their voices heard directly by local state legislators and State Rep. Julio Robaina, R-Miami, who chaired the state's Select Committee on Condominiums & Homeowner Association Governance. A public meeting has been scheduled for 1 p.m. Dec. 6 at the Lutheran Church of the Cross, 2300 Luther Road in Deep Creek.

Earlier this year, Robaina's committee toured the state and listened to hundreds of homeowners testifying about abusive treatment by their associations, malfeasance and other mismanagement issues by association boards and reports of exorbitant attorney fees charged to associations. 

As a result of that tour, Robaina said the big issues among the complaints were the lack of fiscal accountability of the association boards and the abuse of power by board members. Robaina saw some of his committee's recommended reforms adopted as condominium regulations. 

However, before taking on other homeowner associations, Robaina wanted to know if single-family residential owners would be willing to pay a similar small annual fee to the state as condominium unit owners now pay for their oversight. He said the Cyber Citizens survey confirms much of what he's heard, and it indicates statewide support for greater oversight of homeowner associations: Single-family residents under deed-restricted associations are willing to pay $4 for state protection like condo owners, he said. 

In Florida, unlike single-family residence owners, condominium owners pay a small $4 fee per unit for a state ombudsman, intervention of disputes and other state oversights.

Local voices

Robaina is looking forward to meeting with Charlotte County and other residents in December.

"I see it as an opportunity to hear from people what else they may want to see addressed," Robaina said.

Locally, at least one former homeowners association president would like to see reform, especially for associations with authority over single-family residences.

"There's just no place for them to go (with complaints)," said Kim Jakubaitis, a past president of the Deep Creek Section 20 Property Owners Association. She hopes people will turn out and have their voices heard by the legislators. 

She is assisting with the organization of the December meeting and was one of the residents who testified before Robaina's committee. Jakubaitis knows first hand the problems homeowners can face if they come up against their associations. 

Jakubaitis filed a complaint with the Department of Business and Professional Regulation about irregularities in the association's 2004 election, when she first ran. Her complaint led a DBPR arbitrator to oust the former Section 20 board members, then seat Jakubaitis and other winners of the election on the board. 

Because her complaint involved the association's election results, the DBPR intervened; however, had Jakubaitis' complaint dealt with any other issue or abuse, she would have had to hire an attorney and fight the association in civil court. 

The results of the Cyber Citizens survey didn't surprise Jakubaitis.

"I hear from a lot of people who are frustrated and get calls from people having trouble with their (homeowner associations)," she said.

Barbara Roduner will also be at the December meeting.

Roduner, a Rolls Landing condominium resident, has had a run-in with her association board, suggested it improperly voted without a proper quorum when it wanted to spend $100,000 of the association's reserves. Because Rolls Landing is made up of condominiums, Rodunder said, the DBPR is already involved.

Ronduner believes people need to voice their concerns to Robaina and other legislators in December. Fear, she suggested, chokes a lot of residents' dissatisfaction with how their associations are run.

"People are afraid to say anything -- afraid, afraid, afraid," Ronduner said. She said she's been called "horrible names" because she brought what she saw as improper actions by the board to light. 

Survey says

From newspaper and other articles, the Cyber Citizens Web site documents reported homeowner and association abuses throughout Florida and other states. The Web site also acts as a clearinghouse of information on legislation and other calls for reform throughout the Florida.

"In the absence of unity, the efforts of citizens are fragmented by competing political parties, organizations, and the power and influence of lobbyists at various levels of government," the Cyber Citizens site declares. "Thus, many citizens are uninvolved and/or apathetic. They have no one to turn to for assistance."

All of the 14 survey questions calling for specific reforms saw many more yeas than nays. However, not all the questions saw equal support.

The greatest support -- more than 96 percent in favor -- called for the accountability of association board directors and preserving homeowners right to speak at association board meetings.

The least support -- no more than 77 percent in favor -- called for restricting long-term rentals of residential units if not permitted by original development documents and establishing time limits and restrictions on hurricane shutters. 

The survey did not merely act as a sounding board for disgruntled deed-restricted residents. It included responses from association board members, association attorneys and managers. Their responses to the survey pointed out differences.

"(The) responses of board members, lawyers, and (association managers) to these 14 proposed legislative assuredly do not accurately reflect the views of other homeowners in Florida HOAs," the Cyber Citizens for Justice Inc. stated in its analysis of any potential bias inherent in its survey. 

Not surprising to Bergemann, considering the vested interests lawyers, mangers and board members have in association management, they wouldn't be necessarily interested in the reforms residents want.