Courtesy of The Sun Sentinel
Published October 17, 2007
number of complaints against condo boards has gone up dramatically in the
past five years.
Figures compiled by the state Division of Florida Land Sales, Condominiums
& Mobile Homes show condo owners filed 2,682 complaints against their
boards as of June 30, compared to 1,413 complaints filed in the year
ending June 30, 2002.
"Although we don't track the reasons people file complaints,
experience tells us that the increased number of unit owners, coupled with
a spike in complaints in the wake of the storm years in '03-'05, generated
the increases," said Alexis Antonacci, press secretary for the
division's parent agency, the Department of Business & Professional
complaints included repairs not made fast enough, no repairs at all, no
repairs because of insurance issues and complaints related to increased
assessments resulting from higher association insurance costs.
Also, Antonacci said, the number of condo units statewide increased
295,262 since 2003. That's more people to complain and more boards to
Other experts attribute the spike to more violations committed by boards
and more awareness by owners that they can file complaints. Making owners
aware during the past few years have been state condo Ombudsman Danille R.
Carroll's office, classes her staff teaches in Broward County and classes
provided statewide by the division.
Although the state collected $153,542.80 in fines during the past year and
$188,799.80 the previous year, most complaints don't result in fines. Only
42 cases closed during the past year resulted in fines; 43 the previous
The low number of associations fined is why many owners call the division
a toothless tiger. But Director Michael T. Cochran said state law requires
him to give boards a chance to first correct a violation.
"The Legislature recognized in the 1990s that boards are volunteers,
that they are elected from among unit owners, so it set up an enforcement
regimen that recognizes you're dealing with novices, not MBAs," he
The law also requires the division to fine associations, not just
directors. Attempts to change the law regularly fail in Tallahassee. If
directors knew they could be personally fined, experts told lawmakers, few
owners would volunteer.
Owners do have recourse.
"If your directors are incompetent, you elect a new board,"
In the past, some boards wouldn't tell owners about the fines, which they
paid from the association treasuries. So the division now makes sure every
owner gets the word.
The division makes education the basis of its three-strikes-and-you're-out
policy. First it sends letters to boards advising them of their errors. If
boards commit the same violations within two years, they get warning
letters. The third strike is a fine.
If directors are involved in violations of criminal law, police
departments are involved. That's happening in two cases in Broward County,
and it shows "that the system works," Cochran said.
Q. The Exercise Club at a Boca Raton-area condo needs more space in the
clubhouse, so the board plans to have it swap rooms with the Pool Club. By
switching, however, the Pool Club won't have space for one of its two pool
tables and players would be forced to use shorter cue sticks. Pool players
checked the law and found boards can make changes to recreational
facilities without the consent of the owners. Another part of the law,
however, says boards can't make material alterations to common elements
unless 75 percent of owners approve. Which is it, they want to know.
A. Paul D. Eichner of Bakalar & Eichner in Plantation said that
"generally speaking, the board of directors has the authority to
designate the use of rooms that are in the common area of a condominium to
meet the changing needs of residents." The association's individual
documents, however, "would govern in such instances." As far as
material alterations, he said a court has defined it as "to palpably
or perceptively vary or change the form, shape, elements or specifications
of a building from its original design or plan, or existing condition, in
such a manner as to appreciably affect or influence its function, use or
appearance." So that wouldn't apply.
Where can I go with my complaint? Where can I or get more information?
A. Here are some contacts:
State condo ombudsman: firstname.lastname@example.org
850-922-7671 (not toll free); www.myflorida.com/condos
. The ombudsman's
office answers questions for unit owners, tries to mediate disputes
between owners and boards, monitors elections and educates owners.
Division of Florida Land Sales, Condominiums & Mobile Homes:
954-202-3982; 800-226-9101; www.state.fl.us/dbpr/lsc/condominiums/index.shtml
The division enforces state condo law.
State condo law: www.flsenate.gov/Statutes/index.cfm?App_mode=Display_Statute&URL=Ch0718/ch0718.htm
State homeowner association law: www.flsenate.gov/Statutes/index.cfm?App_mode=Display_Statute&URL=Ch0720/ch0720.htm
Cyber Citizens for Justice, a nonprofit representing Florida condo and
homeowner association unit owners: www.ccfj.net
Community Associations Leadership Lobby, an organization that represents
boards and those who manage and advise associations: www.callbp.com