Elected officials get an earful about condo association laws

Article Courtesy of The Sun Sentinel

By C. Ron Allen

Published February 1, 2009

Boca Raton - Some came in wheelchairs, others with walkers or canes.

By any means necessary, more than 150 residents from Hialeah to Port St. Lucie told state representatives Saturday that they need to further reform the laws governing condo and homeowner associations.

"I am shocked that it is so egregious," state Rep. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach, said after the four-hour meeting at Florida Atlantic University. "I had no idea that the transgressions are so egregious and so shocking."

"We certainly did [get an earful]," state Rep. Franklin Sands, D-Weston, said. "A lot of people had a lot of issues. We have to take that information back and we have to respond to it responsibly."

The problems were varied, but the most prevalent were harassment or retaliation against owners who speak out against the board or a board member; abuse of power by associations; and the lack of protection for owners when boards act inappropriately.

The seminar, sponsored by Cyber Citizens for Justice, a statewide organization of condo owners linked by computer, was a learning experience for several homeowners who discovered several of their rights were being violated.

At least 15 of the attendees said their associations distribute a list of homeowners who are delinquent in their dues at the monthly meetings. But panelist Chandra Parker Doucette, a real estate and investment law attorney, said that was a violation of the law.

"You absolutely have the right to know that of the unit owners, 20 of them are not paying their dues," Parker Doucette said. "What you don't have the right to know is who they are."

Names only become public if the association files a lien against the homeowner, she added.

Several members expressed frustrations over being denied information from their associations on the grounds that the information requested is "under litigation."

Matters pending litigation are not privy to discussion. However, condo owners have a right to know that they are involved in active litigation, Parker Doucette said.

"You have the right to know that you are paying your lawyer to defend 67 lawsuits that you're probably not going to win," she said.

Parker Doucette told the body that everything that is filed in pending litigation is public record. "If you have curiosity about what's going on in pending litigation, go down to the courthouse and you can look up everything that's happening in the court case. But your association does have the requirement to give you the information if you ask for it," she said. "What they're not allowed to discuss openly with you is strategy or settlements."

There was a consensus that residents need to be more involved in their associations and not wait until they are in a quandary to seek help.

"It's all about when your ox gets gored," said Jeff Chester, a resident of Century Village in Deerfield Beach, a community of 12,000 residents and 8,508 units. "I deal with hundreds of residents, and the ones that come to the meetings are the ones who wanted to do something but were told no."

Sachs agreed that residents need to be more involved.

"Robert Frost once said that good fences make good neighbors. It's not that board members are not well-intentioned," she said. "They just need stricter regulations in order to give them guidance on how to run an efficient and compassionate homeowners association."