Robaina fights for condo owners' rights
LETTERS TO EDITOR
Posted on Sun, May. 22, 2005
CORRUPTION A PROBLEM IN CONDOMINIUM BOARDS
The Herald is doing a great public service by publishing the Ms. Management column.
As a longtime homeowners' rights advocate and former member of the Florida's Advisory Council on Condominiums, I have heard from hundreds of distraught owners all across America. Some common themes have emerged.
The proper election of boards is critical, but as the Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin once said, ''The person who counts the votes determines the outcome.'' Corrupt boards run fraudulent elections and allow phony proxy forms to be submitted for candidates they favor.
The law should be changed so that when 10 percent of the owners petition for it, the county elections department should step in and run the board election. The counties do this for political parties anyway, so this would not difficult.
The corruption in property management is real, and it is unfortunate that the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office of Economic Crimes chooses to ignore it.
In my own HOA, ''the homeowner association from hell,'' an association vice president once proposed at a board meeting that we pay bribes to the Miami-Dade building inspector to expedite approval for a new guardhouse. ''Cut them a check,'' he argued. ``Everybody does it. Read The Miami Herald.''
I was a board member at the time, and the only one who seemed to disapprove. When I expressed my disapproval, he threatened to ''get'' my wife and kids if I ever did anything to cross him. Some months later, he organized a successful recall petition to get me removed from the board.
State Rep. Julio Robaina has done an outstanding job on behalf of condo owners. Robert Janauskas, Jan Bergemann and the volunteers at Cyber-Citizens for Justice (ccfj.net) are leading the way toward needed reforms, and we should give them all the support we can.
MICHAEL A. VAN DYK
Advisory Council on Condominiums, 1998-99
Courtesy of The Miami Herald
Letter to Editor:
This letter is written in response to the April 24 Condo Confidential column 'Robaina Fights for Condo Owners' Rights'' and subsequent letters to the editor.
I would like to thank Ms. Management for outlining my comments about the ''other side'' of condo living. While I agree, there are many good condominium and homeowners associations composed of ethical, honest and dedicated volunteers, there are also many examples where the board members do not act in the best interest of the unit owners.
For years, people in Florida have been complaining about the problems they face when they live in a condo or homeowner association community.
For that reason, a year ago I requested that the Speaker of the House allow me to chair a committee whose sole purpose was to investigate residents' complaints dealing with the actions of condo and homeowner boards. This was accomplished by holding town hall meetings in various communities across the state, which allowed individuals to voice their concerns and propose solutions. After listening to the people and compiling the data, we took the challenge of proposing legislation to reform the statutes that govern these two bodies to not only protect the boards but more importantly, the unit owners.
Many problems were expressed during the hearings, but the concerns that kept repeating were the lack of protection for unit owners when their boards act inappropriately or maliciously, such as using their positions for financial gain; and harassment or retaliation against unit owners who speak out against the actions of the board or a board member.
The understanding that being a board member was a serious position comes with a fiduciary responsibility, dedication of their personal time and an obligation to understand their condo bylaws and Florida statues.
This is one of the reasons our legislation recommended mandatory training for all the dedicated volunteers who represent the unit owners' investment.
For those who think this is not a big problem, here are a few statistics:
Last year the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation received over 2,000 complaints. My office currently receives 15-20 phone calls a day and over 100 e-mails a week. In addition, the newly established office of the Ombudsman also receives hundreds of phone calls and e-mails each week. Considering that the majority of condominiums are secondary homes, these numbers are alarming and continue to increase. For that reason, I will continue to work to protect everyone's most precious asset, their home, and be the voice in Tallahassee for condo and HOA unit owners.
ROBAINA IS HONORABLE PUBLIC SERVANT
Published May 15, 2005
As a co-founder of Cyber Citizens for Justice (CCFJ), I want to express my gratitude to The Herald for printing the Ms. Management column.
In that context, I want to thank state Rep. Julio Robaina for daring to step ''on the third rail'' of injustice.
Each time I've had the pleasure of being in his presence I've come away with the opinion that he truly is an ''honorable'' person and a man of his word.
His efforts to advance meaningful reform of condominium and homeowners association laws in our state are outstanding. He is the recognized champion of this cause.
It isn't very often that a representative ''of, by and for the people'' is willing to put his service to his constituents and fellow citizens on the line against formidable opposition and actually fulfill the oath of office sworn to uphold.
State Rep. Robaina, thanks for being who you are and exhibiting the courage to assist us toward ensuring that peace and harmony shall prevail in these communities.
During our quest for freedom from tyranny, by those seeking to preserve unilateral power, we should not be satisfied or become complacent until FULL DISCLOSURE, not caveat emptor, become the ''buy words'' during real estate transactions in the Sunshine State.
ROBERT E. JANAUSKAS
Letter to Editor:
REP. ROBAINA CAME TO MY AID, SAVED MY HOUSE
I wish to applaud Ms. Management on the excellent write-up of state Rep. Julio Robaina in last week's Condo Confidential column.
I am personal testimony of this great legislator's goodwill. He was the only person to come to my aid over a year ago as my family and I almost lost our only home to a predatory foreclosure.
It was not because I owed assessments or violated any of the rules. It was, rather, because I distributed information that revealed that over $300,000 of my association funds had disappeared into the hands of an unruly board and manager.
I reported them to the authorities, but apparently in Florida it is perfectly legal for someone to steal money from a condo association. Just ask Chief Frederick Kerstein or Virginia Ferguson of the Economics Crime Division of the State Attorney why no one is fined or imprisoned for this crime. In fact, just ask the chief why his office won't investigate economic crimes at condominiums.
And should you report a person for these crimes, you get stuck with the fines. In my case, the state fined my condo over $50,000 in civil penalties.
It's also legal in this state for someone to take someone's home away because they don't like the height or color of their grass or the shape or size of their mailbox.
Ever since my case went public, I have received hundreds of calls from unit owners and even attorneys who have been to the State Attorney, police and the state's Department of Business and Professional Regulation and had the same difficulty. This past week, one lady from Miami Lakes asked me to accompany her to Miami-Dade Police as she was told twice that they ``would not take down her police report because she needed to get an attorney.''
I had to give the police sergeant a crash course on jurisdiction and economics crime investigations and the fundamental principal of our civil rights. It worries me though, who patrols these statewide violations and why hasn't anything been done?
I know about Rep. Robaina's work, and I have grown to be a big fan. I only wish he's strong enough to convince the others in Tallahassee to change. Please continue to shed light to the corruption that threatens our homes and support Rep. Robaina.
Finally, someone who is not an attorney with a vested interest writing a column in a newspaper about condo and homeowners association (HOA) issues.
Florida, along with many states, has forgotten about the Constitution and allows Banana Republics to exist within their borders. While our soldiers are in other countries fighting for democracy, we who live in Florida are denied the right to life, liberty and (certainly) property.
If someone had told me that I would buy a house in an HOA community, paint the exterior the exact same colors it was when I purchased it, and almost have that home foreclosed because I followed the HOA rules but the board chose to misinterpret them, I would have run, not walked, away from the purchase of my home.
If someone would have told me I would have to go to Broward County to find an attorney to defend my rights in Palm Beach County, I would not have believed them. If someone had told me it would cost $25,000 to go to court to defend me from myself (since I am a member of the HOA that was trying to steal my house) I would have said, "you're crazy.''
HOAs and condo boards are out of control and lose sight of who they are supposed to protect and their fiduciary role in the corporation. They waste millions of dollars each year on frivolous lawsuits that only make the attorneys richer and the whole society poorer.
MARIANNE A. MUSELLA
Posted on Sun, Apr. 24, 2005
Columnist unaware of basics of condos
It is regrettable that Ms. Management continues to misinform her readers as she did again in the Condo Confidential column of May 8 [Take gripes with your association to the web].
In the column, she quoted Jan Bergemann, co-founder and president of Cyber Citizens for Justice, who erroneously claims that condo laws were written by the industry. The fact is, the Florida Legislature wrote the Florida Statutes (Chapter 711) in 1963 that established the condominium concept. There have been many revisions and updates since then and the statute has been renumbered Chapter 718.
She also confuses an association that remains under the control of the developer with one that is under the control of duly elected directors after turnover. Undoubtedly, a developer's motive is to complete a project quickly with as much profit as possible. This is often at odds with the interests of the owners. Once the project is turned over, it is the owners who comprise the ''association,'' and collectively, they govern the condominium or home association through their elected board of directors.
It is absurd to suggest, as Bergemann does, that the associations are ''dictatorships.'' As with any democratically elected governing body there can be abuses by officials, but once the property is in the hands of the owners, any board member may be recalled and replaced. Board members serve as fiduciaries and are bound to uphold state laws and documents' provisions even though some owners may disagree with a particular decision.
Unfortunately, Ms. Management does not appear to understand these principles.
Posted on Sun, Apr. 24, 2005
Management views are divisive
Once again I feel compelled to respond to Ms. Management's Condo Confidential column [Readers respond to condo board, April 17] in which I was quoted throughout and in which she persists in maligning condo boards with no justification whatsoever.
Ms. Management is apparently unaware that boards of administration are elected by a majority of the unit owners and in doing so they vest in them the authority to act on behalf of the community. Not everyone will always agree, but it is the majority that rules -- as is the case in any democratic system.
Florida law has significant protections for individual unit owners, and there are many requirements that govern the condominium operation and management. State law does not give free rein to condo boards as she alleges, and, in cases where unit owners become disenchanted with a board member or members, they have a perfect right to petition for a recall or removal.
Any member may be removed with or without cause by a majority of the voting interests of the association.
Management's comments are divisive and counterproductive.
is unfortunate that she sees fit to find fault with condo boards but offers
little in the way of constructive suggestions as to how one might foster
she asks cynically, ``Why can't we all just get along?''
in fact, condo boards and residents are not getting along (and I'm not convinced
they aren't) we have Ms. Management to thank.
NOT ALL CONDO BOARDS ARE BAD
I am always amazed to read opinions like the one from Gilbert Schwartz published on April 24.
The state Legislature is divided over new condo reform bills. Town hall meetings all over the state show that many owners are demanding better protection and enforcement of existing laws.
Court dockets are full of association lawsuits. And here comes a Florida citizen, actually a condo board member, who claims that all is fine in condo la-la-land, stating Ms. Management's comments are divisive and counterproductive.
If Mr. Schwartz would have read the Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability report before posting his opinion, he might have sounded different.
All his nice talk about owner protection and majority vote was blown into nowhere when OPPAGA published its report: the Division of Land Sales, Condominiums and Mobile Homes, supposedly protecting all owners, totally fails to fulfill its duty and elections in Banana Republics can be considered fairer than in some condo associations.
Please take off your blinders and see the problems in the real world!
Nobody ever claimed that all boards are bad -- there are many good ones! But the good board members should work with the owners to create the necessary laws and easy enforcement of such, instead of blowing the horn of the attorneys who like nothing better than a lot of juicy lawsuits.
Amending deed restrictions doesn't buy a new Mercedes.
And the education courses, causing heated debates, should not teach how to enforce the CC&Rs and create lawsuits, but should concentrate on the answer to the question: ``Why can't we all just get along?''
Letter to Editor
Ms. Management's assessment of condos has smack of truth
I enjoy Condo Confidential immensely. I find myself laughing out loud at Ms. Management's wit and views on condo life.
I felt I had to come to her defense from the condo dweller of Aventura (Ms. Management fosters discord, April 24). I don't think he understands that the column is supposed to be informative, but mostly a huge dash of fun. The title ''Condo Confidential'' and alias ''Ms. Management'' didn't tip him off -- duh!
Maybe you need a rating for the column like NC17, or better yet ''DTTTS'' (Don't Take This Too Seriously). Poor thing has probably spent too many nights worrying if the neighbors have plants on their balconies, which of course are against condo rules.
I realize condo boards are thankless volunteers and not all of them are power-hungry micromanagers, but Ms. Management's assessment has a smack of truth. In my previous building, someone was so upset with the way the board acted over an assessment they brought a flare gun to a meeting. It was the shortest meeting in condo history.
At a building down the street from me the board treasurer ran off to Tahiti with the babe from the 10th floor and all the associations' funds. The owners wanted to lynch the board and the police had to be brought in to prevent vigilante justice.
I served on my association board and it was one of the worst experiences, almost as bad as having nose hairs pulled out one-by-one -- power struggles, back room deals, missing money, the yelling and the constant storming out of meetings.
I thought to myself many times, ''this is just like a novella on Telemundo. Where are the hidden cameras?'' I kept waiting for Joan Collins to barge in and make a hostile takeover of my building.
After all of this, I still like all my neighbors and appreciate the ones who volunteer. They have the stomach and supply of Prozac to deal with the conflict. It is just part of living up in the sky.
Anyway, keep up the humor and the honesty. I love a good chuckle on Sunday mornings.
ROBAINA FIGHTS FOR CONDO OWNER'S RIGHTS
I read the April 24 article by Ms. Management on state Rep. Julio Robaina's fight for condo owner's rights.
What a great article about one representative who has the guts to tell it as it is. I know this person and he is the type who will fight for the homeowners to see they get justice. It's all about full disclosure, not buyer beware!
Why aren't there more people in Tallahassee who are willing to put their reputation on the line for the people they represent? Maybe it's because they are bought off by the specialized attorneys and industry partisans?
One large law firm in South Florida has an attorney who is a registered lobbyist who continues to send out misrepresentations on what the bills to protect homeowners are all about. Maybe because it affects their wallets?
If the FS 718 statutes are so perfect, why are so many lawsuits clogging the courts? Restricted deed owners all over Florida need to be aware of this man determination to do the right thing.
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