Condo activists urge board accountability at Deerfield Beach conference

Article Courtesy of The Sun Sentinel

By Joe Kollin

Published February 3, 2008


DEERFIELD BEACH - The first Florida conference to educate owners and legislators about the need for rewriting Florida's condo and homeowner association laws drew nearly 400 people Saturday.
"The biggest problem we see is the total lack of enforcement and accountability of the people in charge of our money," Jan Bergemann, president of Cyber Citizens for Justice, told the audience gathered in the clubhouse at Century Village East.
Bergemann's volunteer organization, which lobbies for laws to rein in the power of condo and homeowner association boards, sponsored the conference whose speakers included advocates for reforming state laws. They included former state condo ombudsman Virgil Rizzo and the Houston lawyer who wrote the American Association of Retired Persons' Bill of Rights for Homeowners in Associations.

Saying he had come to listen to help decide what laws need fixing was state Rep. Julio Robaina, R-Miami, chairman of the new House Select Committee on Condominium & Homeowner Association Governance. His seven-member committee last weekend held the first of five statewide public hearings to get the owners' side of things.
This time Robaina listened to suggestions for legislation to protect owners from boards, something once difficult to do in Tallahassee because of lobbying by advocates of the status quo.

"Now we have a large number of legislators who know we need new laws," Robaina said.

Robaina, whose committee's only remaining South Florida public hearing is next Saturday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. in Miami Beach, listed six areas where he said state laws need rewriting. They include making training mandatory for board members so they know their duties and responsibilities, empowering the state to better enforce condo and homeowner laws, requiring more transparency by boards in their proceedings and improving election monitoring.

The lawmaker warned contented owners not to relax.

"You may be in heaven now, but you're one election away from being in hell," he said.

Vera Fiore, a director of an association in Century Village of Deerfield Beach, said she liked hearing that Robaina will try to make training mandatory so directors know their jobs.

"It would give the rest of the residents confidence in the board," she said.

David Kahne, hired by the AARP's Public Policy Institute to write the Bill of Rights, said owners are starting to have an impact on laws.

"The issue is of emerging importance for all Americans, and for too long only one point of view was heard," he said. "The association perspective was widely published; it has been only in recent years that the homeowner's voice has begun to be heard."

That's necessary, Kahne said, because "we don't want associations infringing on our basic rights. If you're going to have power over my life you have to respect me and let me be myself, that's why I buy a home."