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“From Justice As A Foundation All Rights Flow”

Presentation Select Committee Orlando

February 16, 2008

Honorable Representatives, Ladies and Gentleman,

My name is Jan Bergemann, and I’m president of CCFJ, a grassroots organization trying to create legislative reforms regarding mandatory associations.  We are working with owners, for owners and for the benefit of owners!  I was a member of the HOA Task Force Governor Jeb Bush created in 2003.  But, with three homeowners opposing ten industry representatives and two government agency employees voting with the industry you can imagine that our input was very limited.  We were able to push a few very good reforms, but without giving owners a simple tool for enforcement of these statutes even the best laws will not help.

The most ridiculous sentence in the existing statutes can be found in FS 720.302(2):  The Legislature recognizes that it is not in the best interest of homeowners' associations or the individual association members thereof to create or impose a bureau or other agency of state government to regulate the affairs of homeowners' associations.

Best interest of whom:  The attorneys and service providers?  One thing is sure:  It’s definitely not in the best interest of the homeowners!

This sentence is long outdated, makes absolutely no sense and should be the first sentence deleted in a rewrite of FS 720.  In 2004 more than 2.2 million homes were located within mandatory homeowners’ associations.   That’s a lot of families who depend on statutes that are only enforceable if you have lots of spare change at your disposal.  If the legislature finally creates a regulatory agency for HOAs, combine it with the Condo Division and charge $4 annually for each home, you will have a huge amount of funds available to build the Cadillac of regulatory agencies -- with enforcement and education.  Plans are ready to roll and can be fully implemented within a year!  But the Division has to be revamped and staffed with people willing to do the work.  I guess you are all aware that we are collecting funds to sue the Division for failure to do the job – and we have nearly reached our financial goal.  Considering that most of the donations received for that purpose were in the $10 - $50 range, you can see how many unhappy condo owners it took to reach this goal.  Actually, we are waiting for the newly appointed secretary, hoping to finally see a secretary willing to do the job required to create a functioning agency that is not giving our government a black eye!  Otherwise, we will go forward with our lawsuit as planned.  A Tallahassee law firm is waiting for our: GO!  Owners need a place to turn to, to get official answers and a place where arbitration finds fast and inexpensive solutions. 

I hope you are aware that many owners paid higher special assessments to their associations than they paid for property tax and property insurance together.  The Florida legislature could easily put a stop to financial mismanagement, uncontrolled spending, and even clear embezzlement in our associations and stop the financial bleeding many of our neighbors just can’t afford any longer.  We need enforcement and accountability of the people in charge.

Fair elections are considered the foundation of democracy.  I can assure you that many Banana Republics have fairer elections than we see in our associations.  Elections in associations are plainly a joke and a sitting board can stay in power forever, surviving the challenge of opponents by using holes in the election provisions that are bigger than the holes in Swiss Cheese.

 I’ll give you some examples:

  • Ballot voting with two-envelope system: Sitting board gets ballots, outer envelope shows who mailed ballot.  Any ballot from opponent goes in the shredder, not in the ballot box. 

·       Nominating Committee:  The sitting board appoints a “friendly” nominating committee that only nominates the sitting board members.  When ballots are sent out, already determining the outcome of the election, all opposing candidates are told that they can nominate themselves from the floor.  Too late, because the majority of votes already have been cast.

·       Another popular method:  Fine opponents and their friends a few days before the annual meting and declare that they are not eligible to vote or run for office – “members not in good standing.”  A few checks for monthly dues are “misplaced” and owners are told at the meeting that they can’t vote since they are not members in good standing.  Checks are “found” the next day!

·       And if everything goes wrong for the sitting board, they – or their attorney – can still declare the meeting closed because of lack of quorum – even if the room is full of people.  The going explanation:  Sue us if you don’t like it!

These are just a few examples of a multitude of tricks to keep the old board in power.  Please understand that association attorney and the management company are very interested in keeping the old board in power.  They guarantee continued income!

We are seeing abuses on a daily basis.  From levying speeding fines – just based on observations – to threats and intimidation to blackmail attorney’s fees out of owners – without being the prevailing party according to the statutes, we are seeing it all.  Simple record requests can cost a fortune – as you have heard – and it is not a matter of ability to provide the records – there are many simple methods available -- it is a matter of knowing there is nobody willing to force the boards and management companies to show these records!

But the biggest problem for owners: No place to turn for help – or just plain information.  Desperate owners trying to get simple information are being told by government agencies:  HOAs are not regulated.  Please contact an attorney for information!

AARP and LULAC (League of United Latin American Citizens), the two biggest consumer organizations in our nation, have recognized that HOA reforms and regulation are necessary.  The AARP published the BILL OF RIGHTS for HOMEOWNERS in ASSOCIATIONS, caused by listening to the complaints of their members.

This Bill of Rights is actually a bill template.  With the help of the author of the AARP Bill, David Kahne and other owner-friendly experts from around the nation, we have rewritten the Florida HOA statutes, using the proposals of the AARP Bill to word a bill that follows the guidelines of the template.  David Kahne was guest and main speaker at our HOA +Condo Conference in Broward County on February 2.  Kahne explained the reasoning behind this important bill – important for the protection of the many families living in mandatory associations. 

Going into details would be too complicated and take too much time.  You find our bill proposal at:

Honorable Representatives, please consider that many of your constituents are looking at you, hoping that you will finally listen to the owners whose homes are under siege!  We owners need your help!

Many owners really appreciate your willingness to listen, trying to help.  One owner in Miami wrote me after last Saturday’s meeting in Miami Beach :  “If I would have known they really mean business, I would have been there.  But over the time we heard too many promises – and nothing ever happened!”

In the name of many owners:  Thank you, Representatives, for giving owners some hope that something will finally happen to stop the abuse, financial mismanagement, uncontrolled spending, and even clear embezzlement in our associations.


Thank you for listening to our concerns!