Courtesy of the Sun Sentinel
Published June 25, 2004
Oct. 1, homeowners and condo owners will have greater protection from
In the first major reform in a decade, Gov. Jeb Bush on Wednesday signed
two bills that would create the job of ombudsman to hear condo
complaints and ban homeowner associations from foreclosing if owners
don't pay fines.
Homeowners will have the right to fly flags in front of their homes and
associations won't be able to sue members for speaking out.
Condo boards will not be able to change rules on rentals for existing
owners. Homeowners and their associations will face mandatory mediation
and other forms of alternative dispute resolution to prevent them from
battling in expensive lawsuits.
"It's a major step toward adding consumer protection," said
William Sklar of West Palm Beach, co-chairman of the homeowner
association task force and a law professor at the University of Miami.
"Homeowners don't have to live in fear of losing their homes for
breaking a rule."
The new rules apply to every owner in every homeowner or condo
association with mandatory membership. In South Florida, that translates
to more than half the population, experts say.
For condo owners, the ombudsman is considered the sweetest victory, said
Rep. Julio Robaina, R-Miami, chairman of the House Select Committee on
Condominium Association Governance.
The 14-member staff of the ombudsman will be able to monitor elections,
recommend enforcement action and investigate condo financial dealings.
It would only act after six unit owners, or 15 percent of the
association members, sign a complaint against their board.
"This will not cost condo owners one more single cent," said
The ombudsman will be paid for with the $4 a year that every condo
association pays the state for every unit.
For Karen Gottlieb of Dania Beach, the biggest victory was the one
protecting a homeowner's right to speak freely.
Gottlieb has spent $39,212 so far fighting a $1 million slander suit
brought against her by her association.
"To be a victim, then to be part of the cure, gives me hope that
when things go wrong they can be made right," said Gottlieb, who
was appointed to the homeowners' task force by Bush. "Every day
there are more victims."
Robaina said he and Sen. Rudy Garcia, R-Miami, plan to begin a review
next month of both the condo and homeowner laws so they can propose
additional changes for next year's legislative session. He said his
hopes are high for more reforms at that time.
Reformers weren't sure if Bush would sign the bills because many of his
supporters opposed it.
"Instead of diluting the laws, the governor put the whole thing on
the table so we can look at it for next year," Robaina said.
Robaina said he hopes to have the ombudsman apply to homeowner
associations as well as condos, have the tougher condo laws also apply
to homeowner associations, and make it possible to discipline lawyers
who knowingly give bad advice to associations.
Jan Bergemann, whose grass-roots Cyber Citizens for Justice led the
fight for change, plans to hire a professional lobbyist next year to
battle for the rights of unit owners.
"More reforms are necessary to protect the welfare of owners in
mandated properties and to finally create the harmony that Gov. Bush was
talking about when creating the [homeowner association] task
force," he said.
This year, however, was satisfying. "We got our foot in the
door," he said.