An Opinion By Jan Bergemann 
President, Cyber Citizens For Justice, Inc. 
Published December 18, 2006

One of the many recall battles in Florida is raging in the SHADDOCK ESTATES HOME OWNERS ASSOCIATION, INC. in Auburndale! And the actions are not very neighborly -- as usual in these community wars! But just by reading the website of the association ( it becomes pretty obvious that lots of misinformation is circulating, being cause for obvious mistakes and violations of Florida statutes that will in the end be costly for the members of this homeowners' association.

The number of these community wars is steadily growing -- according to information from the DBPR. Never before have they seen so many election and recall arbitration cases filed as they have seen in 2006. 

And it becomes more and more obvious that our legislature created a beast that -- slowly but surely -- is destroying our neighborly peace. There are four main reasons why this system fails the homeowners: Lack of Easy Understandable Statutes, Lack of Enforcement of the Existing Statutes, Lack of Accountability of the people in charge and Education of All Parties involved!

When the AARP published its BILL of RIGHTS for HOMEOWNERS in ASSOCIATIONS they knew exactly that serious changes are needed in order to protect the rights of homeowners in these associations. 

One of the major issues we are all facing is the total lack of education of many people in charge. Most owners who buy into these communities intend to buy a home, not a share of the association politics! And most of them are ill prepared to take over the reins of the community when they volunteer to serve on the association board. There are many who want to serve for the benefit of the community, but we see as well many "volunteers" that are driven by personal agendas: POWER and MONEY!

In the case of Shaddock Estates it would have definitely helped all parties involved if they would have had a crash course in Florida Statutes 720, regulating homeowners' associations, before the recall was filed. It's obvious that both sides didn't follow the guidelines word-for-word, but then it quickly escalated. In the minutes of the recall board meeting that took place on August 28, 2006 the board openly accused the Homeowners For Recall of forging signatures, obviously supported by some homeowners who "changed" their mind -- for whatever reason? Maybe because the two ladies who headed the recall movement got slapped with heavy fines on short notice? I would think twice if I would be told that a fine would be levied against me if I don't withdraw my petition -- or claim that I never signed it in the first place? Are these "neighbors" aware that they are accusing their neighbors of committing a criminal offense?!

And we see here the old trick of boards to declare a few petitioners ineligible to sign a petition because they are late with dues.  Before risking association money, boards should be forced to read the statutes and the guidelines. It surely would save a lot of grief, frustration and money!

And -- in order to show the rest of the community that the board means business and is willing to punish owners that dare to think of recalling the board -- they quickly file lawsuits against these "offenders," totally ignoring Florida Statutes 720.311(2)(a) (Dispute Resolution). This paragraph of the Florida statutes, created by the HOA Task Force in 2004, calls for mandatory mediation before a lawsuit regarding a covenant enforcement dispute is filed in court! Just another costly mistake?

We always hear that boards and management companies act on "advice" of attorneys, but often this "advice" seems to be very "far-fetched. It often sounds more like excuses used to calm down the owners who might raise concerns. I doubt that attorneys are willing to put this so-called advice in writing -- it might be too embarrassing?

I doubt that any attorney handed out the advice the board members of Shaddock Estates claim to have followed. It's too obvious that statutes and well-publicized arbitration rulings were ignored.

But a big part of the blame can be found with the Arbitration Section of the DBPR. More than 15 weeks have passed since the DBPR received the arbitration filing from the board of Shaddock Estates. The recall provisions in FS 720.303(10) are very clear. Add the issued guidelines and all the arbitration rulings and the outcome is pretty much predictable. Leaving us with the question: Why does it often take the DBPR many, many months to come up with the rulings? 

The length of time turns out to be very costly for the homeowners. Attorneys and boards are using it to file frivolous lawsuits, trying to scare the petitioners. Recalled boards finish their pet projects, wasting the money owners tried to save by recalling the board. No recall arbitration should last longer than two months before a final ruling is issued.  (That's already long enough considering that recalls are more or less a numbers' game!) Anything longer than two months is absolutely detrimental to the welfare of the owners!

Creating unbiased education for all owners should be one of main priorities of our Florida legislature! The necessary knowledge will prevent many of the mistakes we are seeing on a daily basis -- but the lack of education costs owners big chunks of money. Money is already in short supply considering that Florida's homeowners are under siege by huge property insurance bills and property taxes! Education can't prevent blatant violations of the statutes and governing documents -- that's why accountability is needed -- but it will definitely take away the excuse of "I didn't know better! I acted in good faith!"