Condo, homeowner association bills

head to debate in capital

Article Courtesy of the Sun Sentinel

By Joe Kollin
Posted February 27, 2006


The fight has begun.

Bills that would make major changes to laws regulating homeowner and condo associations have been filed and are drawing wrath as legislators prepare for the annual 60-day legislative session that begins March 7.

The most controversial proposals include limiting terms of board members to four years, making it illegal for directors and managers to "abuse" residents, banning associations from filing liens and foreclosures for amounts under $2,500, and making it less profitable for association attorneys to file liens and foreclosures for small amounts.

Representing boards again this year is the Community Association Leadership Lobby, or CALL, an arm of the Fort Lauderdale-based Becker & Poliakoff law firm.

On the other side is Cyber Citizens for Justice, or CCFJ, a grassroots organization for unit owners.

Taking over the job of steering bills friendly to unit owners through the Legislature is Rep. Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah.

Garcia last week filed a far-reaching and already controversial bill that would, among many other things, require condo boards to provide safety inspections of buildings every five years and limit terms of directors (HB 1227). No Senate version has been filed.

The bill drew the wrath of CALL.

"It's almost like they're trying to be provocative -- are they trying to get the bill passed or trying to [anger] people?" said Donna Berger, executive director of CALL.

She is backing her organization's leave-things-alone position with a poll taken last year of unit owners that she said proves the changes aren't necessary.

"There is clearly a `silent majority' of reasonable and responsible owners in condo, homeowner and other community associations who support their boards and who favor strict enforcement of the rules and regulations," she said. "The views of anti-board individuals and groups are clearly in the minority statewide."

Jan Bergemann of Deland, president of CCFJ, said CALL's survey doesn't paint a true picture of condo life and statistically isn't relevant because answers came from only 297 respondents.

"They can come up with as many polls as they want. Daily life shows a totally different picture," Bergemann said.

He is optimistic that Garcia's bill, which his organization strongly supports, will become law.

State condo ombudsman Virgil Rizzo agrees with CALL that condo life has improved. But he said the reason is his monitoring of condo elections, as required by the law creating his office.

Fair elections means owners are getting directors who have their interests at heart, he said, adding "this has relegated condo wars to a thing of the past."

But Rizzo said new laws are needed, such as one to prevent the "abuse" of residents by directors and managers.

Not included in this year's proposals so far is what some legislators promised last year, bringing the same kind of state regulation they provide condos to homeowner associations. They have been reluctant to regulate homeowner associations because they say the state Department of Business & Professional Regulation isn't capable of assuming the additional responsibility.

That disappoints Bea Demner, who owns a home in Wedgewood Estates, a homeowner association community in Boca Raton.

She said she asked to see the association's insurance policies and its books.

She said she even advised the board it is subject to a fine of up to $50 per day up to 10 days for failing to let her see the records.

The board wouldn't respond and there is no state agency to make it comply.

"So what good are the statutes?" she said. "What good is the Legislature sitting down and writing laws if there is no one to enforce them?''