|Simple change in law could protect homeowners|
Letter to the Editor of The Charlotte Sun
By Gerry Townsend
Published August 6, 2012
is a mecca for individuals who are lured by beautiful weather, affordable
housing, low taxes, gorgeous beaches and the promise of paradise. Many
homeowners will find themselves living in homeowner or condominium associations,
also known as common interest realty associations. However, most people do not
realize that homeowner associations are not regulated in the state, and
homeowners have little consumer protections with regards to disputes with their
associations are governed by Florida State Law Chapter 720, but there are no
enforcement provisions in the law or a governing body which regulates
homeowners’ associations. A person who unknowingly buys in a dysfunctional,
poorly managed community will find dissension and decreasing property values.
Their dream of paradise can quickly become a nightmare.
a homeowner has a dispute with their association which can’t be resolved, the
only remedy is to pursue legal action either through mediation, arbitration or a
lawsuit. Therefore, the Legislature has placed the burden and expense of
enforcing the law on the homeowner, who is limited by amount of their personal
funds. The board of directors, on the other hand, has a distinct advantage in
legal challenges, because it has significant financial resources from
contrast, condominium associations and cooperatives are more strictly regulated
and are overseen by the Division of Business and Professional Regulation in the
state Division of Land Sales, Condominiums, Timeshares and Mobile Homes. Florida
condominium laws offer more consumer protections than HOA laws and the services
of an ombudsman. (A quick definition: A
condominium association is multiple residences in one building;
in an HOA, each unit is separate).
Problems and complaints arise out of the nature of homeowner associations. They perform quasi-governmental functions and must deal with various complex issues. However, the governance of homeowner associations rests on the volunteer directors, who are unpaid, untrained and often unqualified.
restrictions or covenants are formal contracts between members and the
association. If an HOA board refuses to enforce deed restrictions, comply with
the governing documents or address members’ concerns and take appropriate
action, the only recourse members have is to engage in costly legal action:
either mediation, arbitration or a lawsuit.
A report prepared by the Committee on Regulated Industries for the Florida Senate in 2008, states, “Arbitration of a homeowners’ association dispute may cost the parties as little as $500 or as much as $6,000 or more for the arbitrator’s service. Parties represented by an attorney would also have to assume that cost.” Court litigation is even more expensive, perhaps six figures or more.
the law may seem difficult for a number of reasons. First, the current political
climate is anti-regulation. Legislators are concerned about burdening the state
with additional costs of regulation during lean budgetary times.
Second, powerful special-interest lobbies, such as attorneys and management companies, are opposed to increased regulation. They have created an industry from the lack of regulation and board member training, since boards are heavily reliant on these professionals to help run associations.
The solutions are rather simple, though.
the Legislature needs to change Chapter 720, the laws for homeowners
associations; to mirror Chapter 718, the laws of condominiums. The two are
basically the same type of entities, namely common interest realty associations.
Second, the role of the condominium ombudsman should be extended to homeowners
costs of the increased regulation can be handled in a manner similar to
condominiums by assessing a nominal $4 per unit surcharge in HOAs. Just as it
does with condominiums, the state should require mandatory training and
continuing education for board members.
Finally, residents need to become more engaged in demanding change. Cyber Citizens for Justice (www.ccfj.net) is a Website devoted to resident advocacy in Florida and does have a lobbying arm.