New Florida law allows sale of condo building unless at least 10 percent of unit owners' object

Article Courtesy of The Sun Sentinel

By Joe Kollin

Published July 11, 2007

 

You have lived in your waterfront condo for 20 years. You paid comparatively little for it; the state is protecting you from skyrocketing property taxes and you can't afford to move anywhere else with such a spectacular view.

You realize, of course, that condo owners give up certain rights when they buy—the majority sets the rules you must obey whether you like them or not. But you always believed the deed to your property was sacrosanct.

However, on June 28, Gov. Charlie Crist signed into law a bill (CS/SB 314) that lets developers force condo owners from their homes.

Designed to let boards quickly tear down and replace a building destroyed in a hurricane, the measure went much further when it was first debated last year. It included a provision called "optional termination" that meant if 80 percent of owners agreed, a building could be sold and torn down at any time.

Gov. Jeb Bush vetoed the measure because it would have allowed a building to be sold "in virtually any circumstance." Also, it would have deprived owners of their basic property rights and it would have overridden the guarantees in most condo documents that require 100 percent approval to do anything so drastic.

Lawmakers this year resurrected the measure but added what sponsors call a safety net: if 10 percent or more of owners object, the building can't be sold. Still, one person could no longer block the sale.

"People all over the state might be out of their homes," said Gayle Wardner of Sarasota, who crusaded against passage of the law. "When the market turns, we'll all be sitting ducks."

Jan Bergemann, president of Cyber Citizens for Justice, said it is "amazing that the Legislature, after making such a fuss [in opposition to] eminent domain last year, now passes a bill that allows a majority to kick a minority out of their homes for plain greed and profit!"

But should one person have the right to stand in the way?

It depends on your perspective, said Donna Berger, executive director of the Community Advocacy Network.

"Some longtime residents who don't wish to be displaced from their units may see this bill solely as a benefit for developers, while other common interest owners will applaud the fact that they are now more empowered to freely convey their real property interests."

Crist also signed into law bills that, among other things, let at least three condo and co-op buildings join in self-insurance pools to save on insurance (HB 7031); let a homeowner association whose documents expired again become a homeowner association, even if residents bought there during the lull specifically because there was no association (CS/SB 902); and requires homeowner association boards to give owners 90 days to pay any unpaid assessments before foreclosing—but also, as in condos, makes owners responsible for interest, late fees and attorneys' fees (CS/SB 1844).


Q&A

Q. Parking spaces are always an issue in association-run communities, but here's an unusual one described by a disabled reader in Pembroke Pines. Her assigned spot is far from her apartment. Two neighbors who don't drive offered to let her park briefly once or twice a week in their spaces so she can unload groceries. The board, however, says she can't use their spots. Is this legal, she asks.

A. David Harris, a Miami attorney involved in condo issues since 1997, said that "unless specifically disallowed in the documents, there is likely no restriction on one unit owner consenting to another unit owner's [very] temporary use of a parking space, and it would likely be an improper use of the association's resources to attempt to restrict such activity."

Owners should be aware, however, he adds, that "space-swapping," "space-renting" or use of guest spaces may violate an association rule.


Q. Where can I go with my complaint? Where can I or get more information?

A. Here are some contacts:

State condo ombudsman: ombudsman@dbpr.state.fl.us ; 954-202-3234; 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 .

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