Courtesy of The Miami Herald
Published April 8, 2017
When two condo owners went to the Miami-Dade police
department to complain that their signatures had been forged during an
election of the board of directors at The Beach Club in Fontainebleau Park,
they ran into a wall.
“They took my statement, but they did
nothing,” said Paola Silvestri, who alleged that her
mother's signature turned up in a ballot even though she did
not live in the United States.
Silvestri and more than 80 other Beach Club owners
complained that their signatures were falsified in condo
election ballots. But while falsifying a signature is
usually a crime, that does not appear to be the case with
State laws on condos, listed under Chapter 718, don't
mention falsifying signatures. That, and other omissions,
limit the possibility of investigating condo crimes, such as
electoral fraud, according to police and prosecutors.
A proposed law now making its rounds in Tallahasee and
backed by Miami-Dade legislators seeks to turn forgery,
manipulation and stealing of ballots for board elections and
other condo abuses into crimes, some as third degree
felonies that could bring prison time for violators. The
bill is advancing in the House (HB 1237) and Senate (SB
The reforms seek to update and strengthen an archaic system
of regulations that offers little protection to condo
owners, according to dozens of cases documented by el Nuevo
Herald and Univision 23 in the series Condos de Pesadilla
Condo owners protest outside the government center in
downtown Miami in support of Condo Law Reform on Wednesday, February
However, lawyers who specialize in Chapter 718 say that
state lawmakers should clarify or eliminate parts of the proposed bill that
might have unintentional consequences.
“We fully agree that there is a need to strengthen the laws and to hold
accountable directors and officers who commit crimes,” said William Sklar, a
member of the Florida Bar Association who recently testified on the issue
before the state Senate Judiciary Committee. “What we are opposed to is
creating new crimes under the condominium act.”
Penalties for any crimes related to condominiums and their board of
directors, such as theft of funds and forged signatures, should be enforced
under existing laws, Sklar said.
“Theft, document fraud, embezzlement, are criminal offenses that should be
fully prosecuted according to the Florida Statute, regardless of whether
they are committed by condominium directors or administrators,” he said.
“What we propose is that references to existing law be added to the
Theft, document fraud,
embezzlement, are criminal offenses that should be fully prosecuted
according to the Florida Statute...
William Sklar, attorney
Sklar's clarifications may reassure condo owners who had interpreted his
statements to the Senate as opposing criminal sanctions.
Condo owners have told el Nuevo Herald and Univision 23 that they generally
disagree with lawyers who work for condo associations, because they
represent the interests of the boards of directors who hire them and not the
interests of all the owners.
It's not easy work, said Yeline Goin, a lawyer with Becker & Poliakoff,
which represents hundreds of condo owners' associations in Florida. She's
also executive director of the firm’s Community Association Leadership Lobby
“We represent associations, not individual members of the
board, but we do get our directions from the board members,” said Goin. “We
believe there must be a legislative balance between giving power to owners
and not tying the hands of the directors to manage their associations.”
Goin said that's why she opposes a proposal that would allow criminal
charges for the intentional denial of access to condo records, which owners
have an established right to inspect.
“They are trying to punish the members of the board of
directors, who are volunteers, for something that is often the
responsibility of the management company. It's the managers who generally
handle the records,” Goin said. “On the other hand, sometimes the directors
make honest mistakes because they don't fully understand the law. We don't
want the laws to be used to punish people who make unintentional mistakes.”
We don't want the laws to be
used to punish people who make unintentional mistakes.
Yeline Goin, attorney
Maryin Vargas, a condo owner and coordinator with Reform Florida, a recently
created group that is lobbying in favor of the proposed criminal sanctions,
disagreed with Goin.
“I don't think it would be that easy to punish anyone for a mistake, because
you would have to show that the person did this intentionally and
repeatedly,” Vargas said. “Board members who aren’t doing things wrong and
don’t have anything to hide don’t have anything to worry about.”
Board members who aren’t
doing things wrong and don’t have anything to hide don’t have anything to
Maryin Vargas, condo owner
The proposed language says that “any director or member of the board or
association who knowingly, willfully, and repeatedly [more than twice in one
year]” denies access to association records that owners are entitled to
inspect, could be charged with a misdemeanor. If it's proven that the
records were withheld with the intent to hide a crime, those responsible
could be charged with a third degree felony.
Another disagreement between owners like Vargas and some lawyers is the
proposed eight-year term limit for serving on condo association boards.
Directors could continue in their posts if they win a super-majority of the
The differences between groups like CALL and Reform Florida is not new.
When Republican Sen. Rene Garcia, sponsor of the current reform effort,
proposed similar changes in 2006, the move sparked clashes between CALL and
Cyber Citizens For Justice (CCFJ), a central Florida group fighting for
legal changes that they said would give more power to condo owners. Garcia's
proposals in 2006 were not approved by the state legislature.
El Nuevo Herald and Univision 23 published a series of stories, starting in
March of last year, that highlighted elections fraud, abuses of power,
denials of access to records and many other irregularities in South Florida
Democratic State Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez, who is co-sponsoring the latest
reform proposals, said lawmakers are considering the lawyers' proposals to
clarify some aspects of the reforms. But he stressed that the criminal
sanctions are an essential part of the reforms.
“The proposal is not perfect,” Rodriguez said. “We're working...to find a
better way to implement the sanctions, not to eliminate them.”