Don't Let One Greedy Attorney Spoil Your Association
Some open thoughts about Association Attorneys?
        By Jan Bergemann

Florida - 02-08-2003

It seems that the attorneys, who are "earning" their money by "counselling" homeowners' associations, are into name-calling again. In a recent column, headlined "Don't let one bad owner spoil meetings" Joe Adams, a well known attorney of the Becker & Poliakoff law firm, is at it again. From "Condo Commandos", "Recreational Complainants", "Avocational Dissidents" he is using all the well-known names created by the industry for homeowners who are not willing to follow the party line. But don't forget that these homeowners have a vested interest in the welfare of their associations, while attorneys are just hired guns who see these associations as a money-maker!

But don't forget who Joe Adams really is : the Chair of CAI-FLA, the Florida Legislative Alliance, the lobbying group of the Community Association Institute. This is the same group who many homeowners feel is responsible for fighting homeowner-friendly bills in Tallahassee. In my opinion with a very strong motive in mind: MONEY!

Attorneys and management companies, who create the membership majority of this trade organization, are definitely doing better financially if all is not well in HOA La-La-Land. If boards and homeowners are in agreement, attorneys may be used only for some tiny advice by phone, or some minor adjustments to the deed restrictions filed in the courthouse! Definitely not "Rainmakers" for attorneys. Some good fights among the homeowners will create some good lawsuits, meaning revenue, the real rainmakers for attorneys. Throw in some good liens and maybe some foreclosures for good measure and every attorney's bank account is in Seventh Heaven!

The law firm of Becker and Poliakoff is well represented at all levels of interest. Condo owners in the Ft. Lauderdale area are especially familiar with the name of Gary Poliakoff, who represents many boards -- not always to the advantage of the homeowners, as many claim.

Or take Ellen Hirsch de Haan, another attorney of this firm. She just returned from a big CAI conference in New Orleans, where many legal issues of associations were discussed. As a former Chair of the Board of the CAI, she sure knows her way around these circles.

Or take House Representative Marco A. Rubio, (R), District 111. He was obviously selected by the firm to keep an eye on the other legislators, just in case they might be tempted to support any homeowner-friendly bills? Or, with the words of another CAI-FLA executive: "to beat this bill with a stick until it's dead!  Just remember the letter sent out by a former CAI executive to all Florida legislators last year denouncing homeowner activists as "disgruntled radicals"?

In his column Joe Adams stated that conflict of interest -- among many other issues -- is often named as one of the problems. I guess he doesn't mean the obvious conflict of interest of lawmakers deciding which proposed bills which would reduce or increase their firms' income?

Homeowners may remember the big story of Texas Senator John Carona, owner of one of the biggest management companies and a member of the CAI, who stated in a letter (quote): "I'd like to provide you a little more information regarding SB 507, the Texas Residential Property Owners' Protection Act, which Representative Dutton and I passed last night....."
According to Texas homeowners it was definitely everything but a "Protection Act." In a comment the Texas Monthly stated in 2001 (quote) : Carona was shaking with rage because he wanted to delay a proposed consumer protection bill for a day so he could check with 'industry representatives,' and West had offered only a thirty minute respite....Poor Carona: a once-promising senator has turned into a tool of the 'industry representatives'. This happens all too often when industry representatives turn legislators. 
Could that be a real "conflict of interest"?

When talking to homeowners around the state it seems like the same attorney names always pop up in relation to consumer complaints. Names like Becker & Poliakoff, Paul Wean, Steven Mezer and Robert Tankel are household names for activists dealing with homeowners' complaints on a daily basis. Especially when boards are in danger of being ousted by unhappy homeowners, attorneys turn up the heat and try to find some angles to prevent this from happening. All too often they know that a new board will immediately end the business relationship with their law firm. 

Or see the case of the infamous "Eagles Reserve HOA"  where attorney Steven H. Mezer was at first the attorney on record for the homeowners' association. But the homeowners felt that he was part of the actual problem and officially fired him, according to information received from a former board member. Now he is working as attorney for the court appointed receiver and is filing liens and foreclosures against the homeowners who fired him.

It is absolutely amazing how such a small group of industry partisans could gain that much power in our nation. Please don't forget, their membership would easily fit into one small homeowners' association. But they are running the show and they are not afraid to falsely claim to represent as well the homeowners in Florida! What an obvious conflict of interest!

It is about time that the homeowners again will have a say in their own fate and will be allowed to make decisions to protect their vested interests. It is our home -- the American Dream -- which is threatened by professional interests. Professionals are necessary and they sure have a right to exist, but please in the role of the employee, not in the role of running the show, as some of them try to do. We need laws that protect the rights of homeowners, not those of money-hungry professionals.

So, just in case you are a homeowner interested in protecting the biggest investment of your life and are confronted with statements like "Don't let one bad owner spoil our meetings," you might consider responding with something like: "Don't let one greedy attorney spoil our association!"

   Please click here to read a letter to the editor in response to Joe Adams' column.