Homeowners to get heard about associations

Tallahassee is coming to Charlotte County.

Article Courtesy of The Sun-Herald
Published November 30, 2008
By Steve Reilly

DEEP CREEK — Tallahassee is coming to Charlotte County.

Area residents of deed-restricted condominium or other homeowner associations will have an opportunity to have their voices heard by Tallahassee representatives.

A special town hall meeting will give residents an opportunity to offer their thoughts on how the state can improve its oversight of condominium and homeowner associations. The general topic to be discussed is “owner friendly legislation.”

Florida state representatives Julio Robaina, R-Miami; Paige Kreegel, R-Punta Gorda; and newly elected Rep. Ken Roberson are expected to attend and serve on a panel at a town hall meeting, scheduled from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday at the Lutheran Church of the Cross 2300 Luther Road in Deep Creek.

The panel will listen to what residents in deed-restricted associations have to say. Besides the state representatives, the panel is scheduled to include Mark Benson of the Regulatory Council of Community Associations, attorney Barbara Billot Stage, Charlotte County Commissioner Bob Starr, Cyber Citizens for Justice President Jan Bergemann and Area Representative Kim Jakubaitis, former president of the Deep Creek Section 20 Property Owners Association.

The agenda will include a general discussion of community associations, a homeowner association survey, homeowner association reform bill, questions and suggestions from the audience.


“This great event ... will be another stepping stone to achieve association reform that is long overdue,” according to the Cyber Citizens for Justice, a watchdog citizens group that organized the event. Jakubaitis said it’s important that residents turn out and share what they think the state can do to improve communities with either homeowner or condominium associations.


Earlier this year, Cyber Citizens polled 1,033 association members and residents throughout the state about possible reforms to state oversight. The greatest support — more than 96 percent in favor — called for the accountability of association board directors and preserving homeowners right to speak at association board meetings.

Legislative possibilities

Robaina visiting Charlotte County isn't arbitrary.

During the Legislature's last session, Robaina chaired the Select Committee on Condominiums & Homeowner Association Governance that held public meetings in Miami, Tampa and Tallahassee. The committee listened to hundreds of homeowners complain about malfeasance and other mismanagement issues of deed-restricted and other association boards -- as well as exorbitant attorney fees charged to associations.

Out of those meetings, the committee heard a large consensus of residents felt more fiscal accountability of the association boards was needed. People also claimed association board members abuse of their power in deed-restricted communities.

Robaina wants to hear from Charlotte County property owners in single-family homeowner associations if they would want the same state oversight condominiums are afforded.

Condominium associations pay $4 per unit for a state-appointed ombudsman, Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation mediation and other oversight protections for condo owners. However, single-family, deed-restricted and other homeowners associations are basically on their own.

The DBPR does mediate homeowners association disputes; however, as the law stands now, homeowners associations pick up the costs for the DBPR's mediation.

Jakubaitis is among those who would like to see DBPR become more effective in its oversight.

Ombudsman duties

No one from the Florida DBPR condominium ombudsman office could be reached for comment, but according to the ombudsman's state Web Site, the ombudsman's duties include:

* Preparing and issuing reports and recommendations to the governor, department, division, Advisory Council on Condominiums, or proposed legislation, rules and other governance of condominiums.

* Acting as liaison between the division, unit owners, boards of directors, board members, community association managers, and other affected parties.

The ombudsman are expected to develop policies and procedures to assist unit owners, boards of directors, board members, community association manager, and other affected parties to understand their rights and responsibilities as set forth in this chapter and the condominium documents governing their respective association.

* Monitoring and reviewing procedures and disputes concerning condominium elections or meetings, including, but not limited to, recommending that the division pursue enforcement action in any manner where there is reasonable cause to believe that election misconduct has occurred.

* Making recommendations to the division for changes in rules and procedures for the filing, investigation, and resolution of complaints filed by unit owners, associations and managers.

* Providing resources to assist members of boards of directors and officers of associations to carry out their powers and duties according to state laws.

* Facilitating voluntary meetings with and between unit owners, boards of directors, board members, community association managers, and other affected parties when the meetings may assist in resolving a dispute within a community association.

* Appointing annual election monitors when 15 percent of the total voting interests in a condominium association -- or six unit owners, whichever is greater -- may petition the ombudsman's office to appoint an election monitor to attend the annual meeting of the unit owners and conduct the election of directors. All costs associated with the election monitoring process shall be paid by the association. The division shall adopt a rule establishing procedures for the appointment of election monitors and the scope and extent of the monitor's role in the election process.

The Fort Lauderdale ombudsman's office, which handles complaints, received more than 16,000 calls last year. The office tries to return calls within 24 hours.

Bill Raphan, supervisor of the ombudsman's office in Fort Lauderdale cautioned that while his office helps to diffuse problems, it doesn't actually mediate disputes. Instead, Raphan said the ombudsman's office is a "neutral resource" that points residents in the right direction and educates residents what can and what cannot be done.

"There has to be a balance about how much government oversight," he said. "(Condominium associations) are still private corporations."

Condo residents with questions can call the ombudsman's office at 954-202-3234.

Other thoughts

Bob Toth, however, isn't sure new legislation and oversight are the answers. Toth, president of the Seminole Lakes Association, suggested state regulations can become too cumbersome and ineffective.

"If residents would only make the effort to elect qualified residents to be directors, many of the minor abuses noted (of associations in news reports) would disappear," Toth said. "My reading of history convinces me that bad government results from too much government."

Glen Cook, a Lake Suzy resident, has been at odds with his condominium association. But like Toth, he believes condominium owners need to take more responsibility for their associations.

"Most people living in condominiums don't understand their condominium documents or (state law)," Cook said. "Most are snowbirds who come down to entertain themselves, play golf and go out to eat."


Cook also sees one of the "biggest problems" with state legislation is the lobbying groups -- made up of attorneys whose firms representing association boards --shaping and writing the laws. He cited Becker & Poliakoff's Community Association Leadership Lobby -- CALL-- which, according to the law firm's Web site, represents the interests of the Firm's 4,000-plus community association.