Relief for Poinciana may come in Tallahassee

Article Courtesy of The Osceola News-Gazette

By Ken Jackson

Published February 6, 2016


Poinciana residents who are at odds with the Association of Poinciana Villages, their homeowners association, received good and bad news over the past week.

In Tallahassee, local state legislators Mike La Rosa, R-St. Cloud, and John Cortes, D-Kissimmee, have co-sponsored a bill that would clarify the powers of homeowners associations (HOAs) statewide, as well as those of residents in their disputes against management.

But in Kissimmee, county commissioners did not give the topic enough support to consider drafting a local ordinance at a Jan. 22 workshop.

House Bill 1357 would set very specific rules on HOAs. The bill passed through the House’s Civil Justice Subcommittee this week. It is scheduled for review by the Business & Professions Subcommittee and the Judiciary Committee by the end of next week. Passing through those committees would clear the way to reach the House floor for a vote.

Two other bills going through committees, including House Bill 653 that Cortes also co-sponsored and Senate Bill 1502 filed by Darren Soto (D-Orlando), have language in them regarding HOAs and management companies.

“The one that’s going through committee now doesn’t have the enforcement teeth I had hoped, but it’s better to get something passed instead of having nothing,” Cortes said.

La Rosa, who voted against HOA action during last fall’s Osceola County legislative delegation meeting, said he could support HOA oversight at the state level. But trying it at the county level would be difficult for Poinciana because it sits in both Osceola and Polk counties, he added.

“To allow Osceola County to regulate something that is also in Polk County would be very confusing,” he said. “This bill addresses the major issues: debt collection and homeowners’ elections.”

Among the highlights of HB 1357 that pertain to associations with more than 7,500 units or parcels:

  • Requires directors and officers of an association board to disclose any activity that may “reasonably be construed as a conflict of interest” and establishes procedures for providing notice of a vote on a conflict-of-interest transaction.

  • If an HOA does not file a claim for a lien or a foreclosure action on any assessment that is 24 months past due, the association may not proceed against the member for such past due assessments.

  • Before an HOA transfers the right to collect past due assessments to a third party, transfers a lien to a third party, or file a foreclosure, the association must offer a payment plan. If an HOA transfers a lien or the right to collect past due amounts to a third party, it must provide notice to the member at least 30 days before the transfer. Fines may be collected, but those less than $1,000 may not become a lien. If a fine or suspension is imposed, the HOA must provide written notice by mail or hand delivery.

  • The association must retain a copy of its articles of incorporation, audits and reviews, official records, annual budget and financial reports, any document created by the association or a board member relating to the recall of a director, compensation of directors, officers, or members, and lists of contracts and transactions between the HOA and board on a website run by a third party.

  • The procedure for electing board directors must be in accordance with those in the governing documents.

According to the bill’s notes, no state agency currently has oversight over HOAs. The law provides for an arbitration program, administered by Department of Business and Professional Regulation, but only for certain election disputes.

La Rosa said the 7,500-figure has been added to another bill, House Bill 1405.

“This further strengthens the possibility of passage by having similar language on multiple bills,” he said. “If you’re community is that large, you’re running like a small government anyway and there should be extra limits and considerations.”

It’s companion Senate bill, SB 1716, is also making its way through that legislative chamber. If the bill passes, it would become effective July 1.

According to the homeowner advocacy group Cyber Citizens for Justice, previous attempts have failed to gain traction in the Legislature due to the objection that prior HOA reform bills would have resulted in the “condoization” of associations.

That’s the good news. The bad news for Poinciana residents is that the topic of HOA reform, placed on the agenda of last week’s County Commissioners’ workshop, was tabled for discussion, despite the presence of Cortes and a handful of Poinciana residents.

Cortes said it was his understanding that commissioners would discuss the framework of a county ordinance regulating HOAs, bringing some relief to Poinciana residents who have been wrangling with APV over the makeup of their village leadership boards and how its servicer, FirstService Residential, handles delinquent fees and how village and master board directors are chosen.

“It was a total lack of protocol and respect. It was supposed to be a workshop to discuss the matter but nobody got to discuss anything,” he said.

Over the past few months residents have made claims of past-due HOA fees sent skyrocketing once penalties and administrative fees were added, and when the president of Village 1 was removed in December by a majority of its AV Homes-controlled board, residents created an advocacy group, the Friends of Poinciana Villages, and filed a lawsuit against the APV.

That lawsuit is still ongoing after a mandated mediation session went nowhere, a result Cortes said shouldn’t have to happen.

“I want to try to stop them from suing each other. It’s just going to cost the HOA its own money,” he said.

Commissioner Mike Harford was the lone Board member willing to discuss the matter in the workshop.

“I have HOAs in my district, with residents with concerns that their management companies are following their own rules,” he said. “The big focus is Poinciana, but this is going on in other areas, but the balance of our commission had no interest in visiting the topic.

“They say we’re making it a political issue, but the only politics I see is that they’re asking help from their local government and not have to go to court because the state will not help. There is no enforcement from the DBPR, which forces individual homeowners to pay their dues, then go to court and pay to see their fees go toward representation.”

Keith Laytham, who represents the FOPV, was among the community members who attended the commission workshop and who left disappointed.

“That was a lack of support from the County Commission about the plight of Poinciana,” he said. “They won’t discuss it, at least even argue the pros and cons. If Poinciana wants help, the only recourse is to dig into pockets and hire a lawyer. It’s what the FPOV has had to do.”