Homeowner leaders fight consumer group

on home, condo owner laws


Article Courtesy of the Sun Sentinel

By Patty Pensa
Published May 23, 2005


Community leaders throughout the state are joining the battle over homeowner and condominium association law in an effort to undercut the influential consumer group Cyber Citizens for Justice.

"They're the squeaky hinge and they make a lot of noise," said Dick Spears, past president of the Orange County Homeowners Association, who is organizing the effort.
The South County Coalition, which represents more than 200,000 homeowners in Palm Beach County, is on Spears' side.

Also involved are umbrella organizations from St. Petersburg and four counties: Sarasota, Hillsborough, Pasco and Leon. Spears said he expects leaders from Broward and Miami-Dade counties to join in a few weeks.

Though this year's legislative session recently ended, leaders of this new coalition plan to start talking to their legislators in coming months to win their support.

The coalition, tentatively called the Coalition of Community Associations, wants to make sure Cyber Citizens activists do not dilute homeowner and condo laws. Formed in 2000, Cyber Citizens has grown increasingly influential in Tallahassee.

Among the group's successes: a condominium ombudsman who serves as a neutral resource for unit owners, associations and board members, and a law that prevents boards from foreclosing on homes because of unpaid fines.

During the recent legislative session, association-based lobbies tried to resurrect the law allowing boards to foreclose for unpaid fines in any amount.

"We're not against legislation or people obeying the rules," said Cyber Citizens President Jan Bergemann, "but we're against boards changing the rules when they feel like it or making decisions that get into our wallets."

Bergemann and a legislative ally, Rep. Julio Robaina, R-Miami, contended that attorneys are pushing the new coalition. While there are some attorneys involved, Spears said they are not driving the coalition.

"These are basically homeowners," he said. "We're not interested in filling the pockets of attorneys."

Community associations already have the Community Association Leadership Lobby, which represents 4,000 clients of the law firm Becker & Poliakoff.

Members of the other association-based lobby, Community Associations Institute, do business with boards.

Robaina accused the association-based lobbies of spreading misinformation during this year's session, which ended in stalemate over homeowner association and condo laws. Members of the new coalition accused Cyber Citizens of the same.

"I'm not backing off," Robaina said. "I don't care how many groups are formed. I'm going to fight for anyone who's being abused [by their association]."

Bob Schulbaum, president of the Alliance of Delray Residential Associations, said Cyber Citizens activists unfairly characterize association leaders as tyrants.

"It would sound that it's endemic: that people are being persecuted by boards," he said. "Instead of trying to change how we live in these communities and destroy the lifestyle we have, it's up to [those residents] to leave."

While serving on Gov. Jeb Bush's Homeowners' Association Task Force last year, Barbara Katz said she heard quite a few horror stories but that most associations are not abusive.

"Don't tie our hands. You need rules, maintenance and to collect dues," she said.

Civic Leaders -- or More Community Associations Institute?