Veto doesn't kill condo issue

Critics try to find out how a "good" bill was altered, and its sponsor says he'll be back.

Article Courtesy of The Sarasota Herald Tribune

Posted June 9, 2006


SARASOTA -- Senate Bill 1556 started out in December as a piece of widely praised legislation intended to help condo owners clean up their complexes after hurricanes.

But by late April, after snaking through a legislative subcommittee and receiving a unanimous blessing from both the Florida Senate and House of Representatives, it had morphed into a green light for developers to tear down any aging condo by winning over only 80 percent of the owners to their side.


Critics claimed the bill, and companion piece House Bill 0543, would have eroded private property rights.

On Wednesday, Gov. Jeb Bush agreed and vetoed the legislation, contending it "changes the default provision of requiring the consent of all unit holders for termination in existing law and permits voluntary termination in virtually any circumstance, thereby diminishing security in ownership of private property."

But those trying to win the bill's passage and those opposed to it both agree that the issue is not going to go away.

"Developers have quite a bit of pull," said Dr. Virgil Rizzo, who was fired as the state's condo ombudsman only a few days before the bill got to the governor's desk. "They probably saw an advantage."

Incredibly, Rizzo -- a retired Fort Lauderdale physician and attorney whom Bush fired as ombudsman in late May -- was unaware that there was such a condominium bill pending in the Legislature during the last half of his year or so in office.

"I don't follow legislation much," said Rizzo.

Jan Bergemann, co-founder of Cyber Citizens for Justice Inc., initially supported the bill's passage. But the final version of the bill, which was expanded to include condos not crippled by disaster, left the condo advocate feeling hoodwinked.


On the Internet

To find the Senate condo termination bill and its various versions, go to

On the left side of the home page, you will see "Jump to Bill."

Type "1556," the number of the Senate bill, in the "Bill #" box and click on "Go."

The page that opens up will show you the versions of the bill and how they differed.

The original bill S1556 was published Jan. 25.

The first modifications were filed March 15. Others were filed on March 23 and May 3.

You can access the House bill from the same site. Just type in 543 on the "Jump to Bill" menu on the left, and click on "Go."

At the bottom of the Senate pages is a link to help you "find your legislator."


"When we looked at it, natural disaster was the trigger. You couldn't use the wording of the bill because you didn't like the color of the roof," Bergemann said Thursday from his home in DeLand. "I thought considering that we have a lot of natural disasters, it was something we should do, and I thought it was a good bill."

On Thursday, he scurried around the legislative site trying to see when and how the rug got pulled out from under him.

"They are trying to hide their facts pretty well," said Bergemann. "It was not an amendment brought by a specific legislator. Rather, it is called a committee substitute."

He said changes were jointly made by the bill's chief Senate sponsor, Stephen Geller of Hallandale, and by two committees.

On Thursday, he wrote to both of the bill's chief sponsors -- Geller and Naples Rep. J. Dudley Goodlette.

"Who caused the changes to the perfectly great original bill that finally caused the Governor to veto it? The original wording would have served a good purpose! Now what???," Bergemann wrote.

Both the original version of the bill, filed Dec. 19, and the two later modifications that took place in March would have retroactively made it possible for only 80 percent of the owners of a condominium to terminate the condominium arrangement. That change could have cleared the way for tearing down complexes and selling the land to developers for new projects.

Current law states that the voting percentage in the condominium declaration rules the day. If there is no specified percentage of votes specified for terminating the condominium arrangement, the law specifies 100 percent. Florida condominiums have been sold under this legal set of circumstances for more than four decades.

The initial bill applied only to projects affected by natural disasters. Two comprehensive write-throughs later, the bill was altered so that it addressed not just condominiums in disrepair but also circumstances involving "obsolescence of the condominium property for its intended use and thereby lower property tax values."

For his part, Geller said, he didn't put any wording into the bill at all. He said he simply used what the Florida Bar Association and what their lobbyist, Peter Dunbar, gave him.

But he defends the bill's language as vetoed, saying it needs to be retroactive and it needs to provide "some method where you can dissolve a condominium where you have people who won't vote."

And Geller agreed that the bill, which has been floating around in various versions for about three years, is not going to go away.

There have been too many cases of condominiums where the condo association has determined that needed repairs were so extreme or costly that they would exceed the condos' value, Geller said.

He cited one case where, stuck with a condo rule that 100 percent of the owners must approve a termination and unable to reach all the owners of record, the only way the condo association could terminate its binding legal contracts was to go into bankruptcy.

"You don't solve the problem by putting it only for the future," he said. "It has to be retroactive."

Bush, he said, "is on his way out. I will be back. Something has to be done."