Legislators to weigh tougher laws to govern condo associations

Article Courtesy of The Sun Sentinel

By Joe Kollin

Published January 15, 2008


A committee of legislators will hold five hearings throughout the state in the next two months to determine if Florida needs tougher laws to prevent condo, co-op and homeowner associations from stealing owners' money.

House Speaker Marco Rubio on Monday announced the creation of the seven-member Select Committee on Condominium & Homeowner Association Governance. He appointed Rep. Julio Robaina, R-Miami, who is making a career of fighting for the rights of unit owners, as chairman with six other state representatives including Franklin Sands, D-Weston, and Joseph Gibbons, D-Hallandale Beach.

Rubio gave the committee subpoena power to force reluctant board members, accountants, lawyers and managers to testify and provide records that they have refused to give to unit owners who have the right to see them. All testimony and documents will be public.

In his letter creating the committee, Rubio said he wants it to examine "accounting, budgeting, audits, theft by officers and directors, elections and access to records." He also wants the committee to consider "state regulation of condominiums and cooperatives by the Department of Business & Professional Regulation."

The committee will meet in Sunrise, Miami Beach, Orlando, Tampa and Tallahassee and must issue its report and recommendations by March 3, the day before the start of the Legislature's annual 60-day law-writing session. Dates for the hearings should be announced later this week.

Three cases of alleged theft involving south Florida condos last year led to Rubio's decision to create the committee.

In Hallandale Beach, police arrested four people in the theft of $1.4 million. In that case, the condo association's former president has pleaded no contest to fraud. Cases against a former manager, maintenance supervisor and plumbing contractor are pending.

In another case, prosecutors have charged the former president and treasurer of a Davie condo association with 11 counts in connection with the theft of more than $250,000 in owners' money. In Hollywood, a former condo association treasurer is facing charges stemming from the theft of $13,000 of association funds.

Trials should be held later this year.

This will be the third legislatively created committee since 1990 to hold hearings and recommend laws to rein in the power of associations. It is the first to have subpoena power and the first to include homeowner associations and co-ops.

By including condos, co-ops and homeowner association, the committee could enact protections for an estimated 50 percent of those living in Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties.

The 2003 committee, which Robaina also chaired, heard what he called "horror stories" from hundreds of condo residents. The new committee will primarily deal with individual owners who suspect criminal activity by their boards. By dealing with individual complaints, he said, the committee will see problems and determine what laws are needed.