Courtesy of The Forum Publishing Group
October 25, 2007
advocates will be pressing for reform when the Florida Legislature convenes
its next regular session in 2008.
One of the top priorities for condo reform is public access to records, said
Rep. Julio Robaina, R-Miami. A bill by Robaina would include provisions
requiring that a condo's official records be made available in the county
where the condo is located. Current law requires condos to report their
finances, but boards are able to opt out of an audit. The result, Robaina
said, is that boards continually opt out of the requirement each year. The
new bill would prohibit condos from opting out for more than two years.
Financial records tie in to Robaina's condo fraud reporting program, which
was launched earlier this year as a pilot program in Miami-Dade County.
Under the program, condo owners can report potential fraud to local police
departments, which investigate the claims in conjunction with the state
condo ombudsman's office. Having financial records makes investigating
potential fraud that much easier, Robaina said.
"If not, these local law enforcement agencies will have to start doing
[audits] themselves, and that gets expensive," Robaina said. "This
is a needed tool."
Robaina said he hopes to expand the fraud program to the entire state by the
end of the year.
Other reforms would allow owners to add items to an association meeting's
agenda with a petition of 20 percent of the owners. Board elections would be
modeled after elections for local officials. Boards would also be required
to keep public records for five years, and failure to do so would be
criminalized, most likely as a misdemeanor. All these reforms are designed
to increase a board's transparency, Robaina said.
"We're want to make it transparent, whether they like it or not,"
In addition to transparency, condo owners need additional protections, said
Jan Bergemann, president of Cyber Citizens for Justice, an Internet-based
group that deals with condo issues. One such reform involves curbing SLAPP
lawsuits, or Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation. In a SLAPP
lawsuit, an organization will attempt to silence opposition by saddling them
with a costly legal defense.
"Too many people are being sued just for opening their mouths,"
Bergemann also said he had several other reforms in mind, including a
prohibition on two owners from the same unit serving on a board. In small
condos with three member boards, a pair of owners from the same unit,
generally spouses, can serve and constitute an instant majority, he said.
Community association managers would also be targeted for reform. Under
current law, an unlicensed manager can take the licensing exam and return to
work, but Bergemann proposes that unlicensed managers be prohibited from
seeking a license for at least two years.
Pets have also been a source of conflict in many condos, but legislation
backed by the nonprofit Citizens for Pets in Condos would allow owners to
have emotional support animals. The legislation is supported by Rep. Peter
Nehr, R-Tarpon Springs and Sen. Jim King, according to Maida Genser, the