Courtesy of The Margate News
March 10, 2013
a daunting task. Convincing over half of the homeowners in your community that
something is amiss with your homeowners association (HOA) board. Some will slam
the door in your face, others will call you names. You’re faced with an uphill
battle where rumors and aspersions are the weapon of choice and the opposition
will do everything in its power to convince the community that you’re
misguided in your mission.
Then again, some homeowners might
listen to what you have to say.
Three homeowner meetings and nearly 200 signatures later, a
group of Paradise Gardens III homeowners have acquired enough
signatures to recall five of their nine Directors on the
Board. Organizers of the recall say the Board is overspending
on legal fees, limiting member speak and secreting emails,
among other allegations of misfeasance and
underperformance. PG III is a 55 and older single family home
community on Margate Boulevard comprised of about 332 units.
fees a bone of contention for PG III homeowners
to HOAs fractured by leadership attrition, poor member turnout at meetings and a
lack of communication among board members and their constituents, the PG III
community is divided. It is run largely by legal counsel retained to advise the
Board - not homeowners, and is governed by the state’s 720 Statutes, a
labyrinth of laws that while protect homeowners from rogue leadership, stack the
deck in favor of boards in matters of association rulemaking and litigation.
In PG III’s case, three of nine board members have organized a recall against
the other six. For weeks they knocked on doors, handed out literature and
organized meetings at their clubhouse. Ron Travia, board member and recall
organizer, told MargateNews.net that he and others have been left out of the
decision making loop by board executives. The president and vice president of
the association have been meeting via email without a legitimate quorum present,
he said, and making decisions with the board attorney without consulting others.
“It’s illegal, Travia said. “There’s nothing in the 720s that allows
these two to have meetings over email and it’s definitely not in our
covenants. They’re circumventing rules and regulations for their own agenda.
We need to get rid of these six and start fresh.” With regards to the other
four of six, said Travia, they vote alongside and support the misfeasance
of board executives and are up for recall as well.
President of the association, Phil Beracha, said accusations made by Travia are
baseless. No email meetings took place and the Board never restricted homeowner
speak at meetings. Beracha said Travia and others have intimidated homeowners
into thinking something’s wrong.
“The allegations are false. They got everyone revved up, using all the
buzzwords…legal fees, spending. I would sign the recall too if someone scared
me into it,” Beracha told MargateNews.net.
Unique to PG III is the community’s recent revitalization of covenants,
required by Florida law when HOAs let access to home titles lapse after 30
years. The community revitalized back to its original 1971 covenants last year,
then paid an attorney $5,300 to update the document. Homeowners in the community
wanted to know where the work product was and why it wasn’t delivered within
the 90 days specified after revitalization. One said the property management
company can’t do their job without the document in place, while another
expressed concern that in the absence of updated covenants the community would
lose its ability to conduct homeowner interviews and enforce rules. “We need
to do background checks. We need to know who is moving in next door,” shouted
At a meeting of the membership last week, PG III homeowners, one after the next,
expressed disappointment with the board on a number of fronts. First, for
allegedly restricting member speak at homeowners meetings. Property owners say
they should be allowed to speak on any agenda item – not have to wait until
the end of a meeting or expect to be abused by the board when disagreeing.
“We’re not stupid, we need to talk to each other with respect,” said
longtime resident Rosemary Tobia.
By introducing new policies on code of conduct and homeowner speak at meetings,
Beracha told homeowners his intentions were to do that, but was dismissed by
homeowners who said they weren’t included in crafting new rules. “It’s our
community, not the boards. We need to have a say in what goes on here,” said
resident Steve Simpson. “This isn’t a court of law. We’re homeowners.”
Second, since revitalization, the mortgage on the association clubhouse has been
in limbo. The Board attorney has suggested a quitclaim deed to the
association’s property management company to improve lending conditions, but
it’s the first homeowners heard of it and were outraged by the concept.
“Have we shopped around for bids from lenders?” more than one asked. “Why
would we want to deed our property over to a third party?”
Recall organizer and Board member, Dave Vola, said he didn’t think quitclaim
was a good idea. It does nothing to limit association liability on the property
nor does it sufficiently protect the association against third-party claims
against the property. “It wasn’t anything the three of us came up with,”
he said. “They don’t include us in their emails.”
The hundred or so homeowners at the meeting expressed concern over canceled
homeowner meetings, improperly noticed meetings, special meetings and secret
meetings of the board. They wanted to know if rumors about email communications
were true and were insulted that the Vice President of the Association, John
Donadio, wasn’t present to answer questions from homeowners about allegations
against him. Donadio, say recallers, has been a center of selective enforcement
in the community, has been subverting homeowner rights, violating 720s and
acting surreptitiously in a manner inconsistent with community bylaws and
“John is home deathly ill with the flu and couldn’t attend the meeting,”
Beracha told homeowners. They didn’t believe him, some saying Donadio
“hung Beracha out to dry” at the meeting.
Another stickler for the hundred or so homeowners in attendance: the presence of
the Board’s attorney, Jay Levine, who most saw and met for the first time. He
attempted to bring order to the meeting that recall organizers say wasn’t the
board’s meeting because it was improperly noticed. “This is a lot owners
meeting,” said recall organizer and former HOA president, Ross Russell.
“We’re here to ask questions and meet about the recall.”
Levine explained his relationship with the Board and his role as their attorney.
He suggested the meeting was off to a rocky start and asked homeowners to be
civil “not nasty,” he said. After fielding questions from homeowners, Levine
admitted that both the community’s covenants and clubhouse mortgage was
stalled, but as the Board’s attorney had done his job. Homeowner’s then
suggested that Levine, as attorney to the Board, ensure the recall committee of
three file the recall correctly. “Help the three get it right,” suggested PG
III resident, Sue Banks.
Most in the room were in agreement with the recall, but some remained on the
fence. One said without a set of priorities drawn up by the community a new
board won’t be any better than the last. Another suggested that not all six on
the recall list were rogue and that too many personal vendettas were in play
among board members - evident in the way one accused the other of wrong doings
having nothing to do with business at hand.
Joyce Bryan, 14 years in PG III and former Margate city commission candidate,
said she’s tired of what’s going on in the community and “Whatever happens
we need to get passed it,” she said. “This is the second time board members
have been recalled in two years. We must move forward. I want the best for this
community and so do you,” she told homeowners.
Elsa Sanchez, a two year resident in the neighborhood, recited almost three
pages of a speech she prepared in which she questioned the board’s
relationship with their attorney, implying it was too cozy. Sanchez said she has
attended the majority of homeowners meetings and is disappointed with the way
neighbors are treated.
Still others, including Beracha, said there would be no reason for a recall
if more people attended meetings regularly, ran for seats on the board and took
the time to vote in association elections.
“If everybody comes to the meetings… we won’t have this problem
anymore,” said former PG III board member, Rusty Garret, who stepped down once
himself for alleged racial slurs while in office. “I stepped down because even
if one person didn’t want me on the board, I didn’t want to be on the
board,” said Garret, who apologized again to the community for his
Garret hopes board members in recall will step down voluntarily, if not, the
recall could go to arbitration, which would cost the community more in legal
Beracha told MargateNews.net he expects recall efforts to result in arbitration.
He said it’s likely that six of nine board members will find the recall
defective in some way and strike it down. If board members accept the recall,
they have five business days to surrender association property and documents in
their possession. If they don’t, they have five business days to file a
petition with the state for binding arbitration.
“The reason we have this board is because nobody turns out to vote. This is
the first time I’ve seen this many people at a meeting since I’ve lived
here,” PG III homeowner Betty Royer told MargateNews.net.
After collecting 188 signatures, more than needed to recall board members per
state statute, Travia told MargateNews.net the recall committee will be serving
the board this week. “We’re just waiting for a few more,” he said.