New law governing homeowner associations

awaits Gov. Bush's signature
Article Courtesy of The Sun Sentinel

By Patty Pensa
Published: June 1, 2004


A stroke of the governor's pen is all that's needed to bring millions of homeowners across the state some relief from autocratic associations.

The bills, if signed into law, would bring sweeping change to a growing segment of private life the Legislature virtually has left alone.
It would make records of homeowners associations more accessible, give residents the right to participate at meetings and restrict boards from imposing liens on homeowners with unpaid fines.

Disputes between homeowners and their boards could be resolved through trained mediators throughout the state.

"This is a major victory," said Bill Sklar, a West Palm Beach attorney and co-chairman of the Homeowners' Association Task Force convened by Gov. Jeb Bush last year.

The task force, charged with improving relations between homeowners and their boards, provided the meat for the two bills, SB 2984 and SB 1184, that passed during the last legislative session.

Homeowner advocates on the task force, though, still want a state agency to mediate homeowner disputes and enforce its decisions.

That idea failed to win support from the 13-member task force, but advocates plan to push for it in the coming year.

"The bottom line would be there has to be a regulatory agency," said Barbara Katz, a vice president with the community group Coalition of Boynton West Residential Associations.

Katz, however, said the task force work was by no means a waste. Efforts to pass homeowners-association reform have failed in recent years.

The task force, along with publicized cases of association abuse, gave the effort momentum this year, Katz said.

"The time has come for things to be done," she said.

Katz said she and task force member Jan Bergemann, president of the advocacy group Cyber Citizens for Justice, plan to continue working for a regulatory agency.

State-trained mediators, provided for in the legislation, do not preclude homeowners and their boards from ending up in costly litigation, Bergemann said. Their decisions are not binding.

Mediators should be able to keep many cases out of court, Sklar said. It will be less costly to pay a mediator $200 than to first turn to a lawyer, he said.

The legislation provides other significant benefits for homeowners, Sklar said, such as protection against association-imposed liens and developer-initiated lawsuits. Developers have sued homeowners who have complained about them at government meetings. The new law would end that practice.

There are indications that Bush will sign one of the two versions of the bill, Sklar said. SB 1184 contains condominium and HOA reform, while SB 2984 contains only the HOA reform.

Bergemann said the bills, which contain much of the same measures, are a step in the right direction.

"It clears up a lot of issues and solves a lot of problems," he said.