An Opinion And Report By Jan Bergemann 
President, Cyber Citizens For Justice, Inc. 

Published February 20, 2008


More than 130 interested owners were present in the small conference room in the North Tower of the Hurston Building on February 16, 2008 at 10:00 AM when Chairman Julio Robaina opened the third hearing of the House Select Committee on Condominium and Homeowners Association Governance. Actually, there wouldn’t have been room for more people, since nearly all seats were taken. Since the meeting room was small, many owners who wanted to speak at a meeting and who live between Orlando and Tampa were asked to attend the Tampa meeting next week.  In Tampa the meeting room has a capacity of more than 300 seats!


The meeting started with testimony from owners and board members that had been invited -- or subpoenaed.  Just a few of the board members followed the "invitation" of the Select Committee and more subpoenas are yet to come. It was interesting to hear that attorney Randall Roger's clients all chose not to follow the invite.  Randall Roger, who owns a small law firm in Boca Raton, was quoted in an article of the Daily Business Review last Thursday (quote): "Playa del Mar attorney Roger responded this week to Robaina’s first letter, saying the board, property manager and he were willing to discuss concerns but they would be available to the House committee only during regular business hours." Gee, what a generous offer! They'll have their chance in Tallahassee , where the meeting is on a Monday during business hours!


It sounds similar to attorney Leigh Katzman's offer at the Pembroke Pines meeting, when Katzman told the representatives that he would gladly look over any legislation they intend to file and let them know if it's OK.


Honestly, the arrogance of some of these attorneys is just amazing. Maybe they should be more interested in explaining to their clients that it is a violation for boards to withhold official association documents. Blaming the committee members for demanding records from boards is absolutely ridiculous. These attorneys should realize that they are supposed to represent the association and its members, not some board members who are obviously violating Florida statutes.


“There is a McCarthyesque paranoia sweeping the landscape, fueled by this select committee,” said attorney Gary Poliakoff of Becker & Poliakoff in Fort Lauderdale .  (Quote from Daily Business Review article dated February 14, 2008)  In my opinion this quote just shows that these attorneys are the problem, definitely not the solution! 


Representative Robaina's statement in the same article is definitely a lot more credible than that of these specialized attorneys, whose biggest excuse for all the known problems is that "just a few disgruntled owners are complaining"!


Here is what Robaina said: (quote) "But, these lawyers, instead of helping us get access to records or reporting possible fraud in associations they represent, are doing more to bury or hinder these investigations by this committee or by any other agency trying to investigate.”


Just because citizens ask for enforcement of existing laws, does that mean that they can be labeled as "disgruntled”?


Sometimes I really wonder if these attorneys take themselves seriously.


The audience heard more than seven hours of testimony from outraged owners and board members, who mostly complained about the total lack of enforcement, about the DBPR DIVISION dropping the ball, and board members that knowingly ignore the laws, because they know that they will not be held accountable.


We heard the story of an Englishman, who came here to spend his winter months in Florida , only to get involved in a lawsuit that has so far eaten more than $487,000 of his savings -- just to obtain access to association records. He won in Appeals Court, but is still waiting for records and reimbursement of his legal fees.  Definitely not great advertising for his countrymen, who might consider investing their money in real estate here in Florida .


Another outrageous story involves the complaints filed against community association manager Robert Dugger, Sr. -- the first one -- of many -- still unresolved since 2002!


And here a selection of some of the cases that were presented to the committee members:

  • A developer still forcing owners to pay dues to his private company, despite turn-over years ago, but unwilling to account for the collected dues.

  • A town home community , whose owners had single insurance policies for their homes since Day One, but whose owners were outright threatened by DIVISION employees to get a master policy or be fined by the Division. Funny, normally DIVISION employees are nowhere to be seen when owners ask to enforce the statutes!  This was a clear example how misguided the DIVISION really is!  Since Division employees used "language unbecoming" at the meeting, DIVISION Chief Mike Cochran was forced to personally apologize!

  • About an association moving all reserve funds into one account called “INFRASTRUCTURE” without a vote of the members, and the association attorney threatening with the association filing for bankruptcy if any owners would dare to challenge this "board decision."

  • Misuse of association funds:  Board members paying themselves -- in an association that has long ceased to officially exist with deed restrictions long expired.  But the owners are still forced by the board to pay dues under the threat of liens and foreclosure.

  • A developer declaring bankruptcy, abandoning the remaining lots and leaving a small group of owners in a defunct association, unable to pay all the bills. Life savings going up in smoke and owners finding liens placed on homes they paid for in full.

  • A convicted felon, this time from the UK, getting elected as president at turn-over without official election, working with a CAM with no current license, avoiding disclosure of financial records. Owners trying to speak up are being threatened! Free speech, obviously unknown in this community.

  • A board pushing strict regulations that make video-taping the meetings nearly impossible, even prohibiting the taping of the question and answer portion of board meetings.

Jan Bergemann made a PRESENTATION to the committee members that concentrated on homeowners' association issues, elections in associations and the total lack of enforcement. The failure of the DBPR to regulate and enforce the statutes as required created serious problems in our condominium associations. Without a simple tool to enforce rules and statutes, legislators can add another 200 pages to already lengthy statutes, but it will not do any good for the owners. 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.

Richard Spears, Chairman of the Coalition of Community Associations, spoke about recent discussions among the groups representing owners.  These discussions may prove productive for homeowners and associations alike.  Spears then asked the Select Committee to give favorable consideration to (committee member) Rep. Kevin Ambler's "Home Court Advantage" bill.  Should a trial run in the Tampa area be successful, Ambler’s bill will provide for local resolution of community association disputes, taking local community standards into consideration. Spears also reported that Rep. Andy Gardiner's HB 679 (Sen. Bill Posey is filing the Senate companion bill) is aimed at solving some of the problems in FS 720 raised by homeowners at the hearing -- non-payment of board members, disclosure to potential home buyers of the existent Community Development Districts, and certification that board members are familiar with an association's documents prior to assuming a seat on the board.  There was no time to discuss the bill's amendments to FS 718.


Committee members heard as well many suggestions regarding legislative changes that owners think are necessary to stop the abuse in the associations. But the number one request was always: ENFORCEMENT OF THE LAWS AND ACCOUNTABILITY OF THE PEOPLE IN CHARGE. Does that sound like the "whining of a few disgruntled owners"?


The meeting is best summarized with the words of Chairman Julio Robaina (quote): “The turnout of the meetings held thus far throughout the state are a clear indication of the considerable problems concerning condominium and homeowners association property owners and the need for this Select Committee. The Committee members and myself are determined to continue to work diligently listening to the serious issues plaguing condominiums and homeowner’s associations throughout Florida and implementing legislation in to provide an effective solution.”