Audit criticizes how state handles condo complaints

Overseeing department doesn't respond strongly or soon enough, it says.

Article Courtesy of The Florida Times Union

By J. TAYLOR RUSHING , Capital Bureau Chief

Published April 23, 2005


TALLAHASSEE -- The state agency that handles condominium complaints in Florida is answering them belatedly and weakly, says the final version of a legislative audit initiated by a seasonal Amelia Island couple and requested by Sen. Jim King of Jacksonville.


The secretary of the department that oversees the agency says most condo complaints are being handled adequately by the state Division of Land Sales, Condominiums and Mobile Homes.


The Legislature's Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability issued a final report Tuesday about the division, following a draft audit last month. It was requested in July by King, who was Senate president then, to answer concerns raised by Steve and Judy Comley, who live seasonally on Amelia Island and had repeatedly sought state help during a longrunning dispute with their condo association.


The audit says the division resolves complaints beyond statutory deadlines and shies away from strong enforcement reactions. Steve Comley, founder of a Washington-based whistle-blower agency called We The People, said the audit vindicates some of his complaints but not others.


"This is just a small underbelly of what's been going on there for years," Comley said. "But someone's got to be held accountable, and it can't be from a generic investigation like this."


Bill Reeves, a Tallahassee-based attorney for We The People, said the Comleys' complaint was one of many that have been ignored. Reeves is a former regulation director within the state Department of Business and Professional Regulation, which oversees the condo division.


"There's real problems there that the Legislature hasn't heard about," Reeves said.

In a written response to the audit, Diane Carr, secretary of the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, said its findings are "reasonably accurate" but not entirely fair. For example, Carr said the audit unfairly criticized the condo division for exceeding the 90-day deadline for acting on complaints.


"We are closing 64 percent of our complaints within 90 days -- a statistic we do not consider to be insignificant, contrary to the report's assertion that it is," Carr wrote.

Department spokeswoman Meg Shannon also said state law provides only a framework for relations between condo owners and their associations, which is intended to foster an atmosphere of self-governance.


"While the division has the statutory authority to handle complaints, their primary goal is to educate," Shannon wrote in an e-mail.


The condo division has also been hobbled by significant manpower cuts in recent years, dropping to 111 full-time employees, from 172 in 1999. With legislators about two weeks away from finishing a state budget, King said the audit may reveal a need for more manpower.


"If complaints are being answered too slow and an honest, introspective look shows that, maybe it's time for us to give them the technology or manpower to close that gap," King said.