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

Published September 21, 2010


The so-called professionals dealing with condominium issues here in Florida are obviously so very shortsighted -- not even the best eye care professionals could help.


I can still remember when Donna Berger (CAN-FL, the lobbying arm of the law firm of Katzman Garfinkel & Berger [KG&B]) wrote the glowing reviews of community association bill S 1196, praising her own efforts to help pass this -- in her opinion -- outstanding bill. 


I'm still looking for the provisions in the bill that are so "great" -- so far I haven't found any that would help associations/owners deal with the huge budget deficits caused by unpaid dues and/or foreclosures.


The board members who helped by cheering and praising the bill as a tool to save these associations under financial siege from total ruin have in the meanwhile calmed down. Not even three months after this bill became law, more and more people see this bill as the Trojan Horse it was from Day One. We warned that the dangers are hidden inside: "I fear attorneys, even those bearing gifts."


Actually, the bill helped attorneys, community association managers, banks and developers -- but not the associations and its owners who really needed "RELIEF."


In exchange for all kinds of legal mumbo-jumbo, that will do nothing but create billing hours for attorneys, associations with older buildings were allowed to vote to postpone the retro-fitting of sprinkler systems in all common areas.


Let's be honest, the deadline for this requirement was anyway only in 2014 -- still some years to go. Some of the condo buildings that were so concerned about the cost for this requirement might already be condemned once the deadline is here. Furthermore, the bill removed requirements for certain condominiums to install fire alarm systems and to forego provisions for emergency power supplies for elevators.


I understand that the installation of these safety upgrades would cost lots of money -- money these associations and their owners don't have. But the money should have come from the sources responsible for the financial misery of these associations  -- the banks and mortgage companies that caused the financial crisis our community associations are in with their irresponsible lending practices.


But instead of holding the guilty parties responsible for their actions, the folks in charge threw the owners some bread crumbs by allowing them to postpone the installation of safety systems.


To me, it seems like these board members, who cheered this "RELIEF" granted to them, haven't really figured out what this is all about. 


These safety requirements don't only save lives, especially if many of the owners are elderly retirees who can't quickly run downstairs and who don't get early warnings because the fire alarm systems were not installed. They don't help as well the many elderly folks who might get stuck in their condos for weeks when the elevators don't function because of general power failure.


Most owners fail to realize that installing these safety requirements does as well save money!


Many associations, especially in older condominium buildings, pay high insurance premiums, especially if they can't claim discounts because many of the safety requirements are not installed. RULE OF THUMB: The more safety, the bigger the discounts!


In the end, it really pays to install all of it. A condominium in Broward had all these things installed -- not wanting to wait until the last day of the deadline. They were really surprised when they got their next building insurance bill. They found out that the savings from the insurance premium would pay for the cost of installing these safety requirements in 6.5 years! 

In the meanwhile it increased the owners' property values and gave condos in this building an edge over other condos -- condos without safety installations. Especially with today's nearly dead real-estate market -- and lots of condos up for sale -- buyers surely will prefer buying in a building with all the safety installations, instead of a building where a special assessment is imminent because of the necessity to install all these safety systems in the very near future.


Failure to install all these safety systems and being happy that the deadline for the mandatory installation was postponed is absolutely shortsighted -- as shortsighted as the banks and mortgage companies that fail to protect their collateral and let it go to waste, because not even the lowest bidder wants a home filled with mold.  Postponing the "Inevitable" often causes bigger financial damage than taking on a task that is much needed. 


While the banks can still hope that they get more stimulus money from taxpayers to make up for financial shortfalls caused by incompetence and/or sheer stupidity, condo owners will be left holding the bag and might face one day a red tag at the entrance to their building -- telling them that they have 24 hours to vacate their homes. Has happened before and will happen again -- considering the shortsightedness of some of the folks who claim to be condo advocates -- and the folks who feed them breadcrumbs to cover up the fact that they are selling them to special interest.