Activists push for condo legislation in new session

Article Courtesy of The Forum Publishing Group

By Chris Guanche

Published December 25, 2007


With the 2008 session of the Florida Legislature set to convene on March 4 in both the Florida House and Senate, activists are wasting no time targeting condo and homeowners-association issues early.

Although property taxes and insurance are still top priorities for many, several groups are focusing also on association reform.

Cyber Citizens for Justice, an Internet-based nonprofit group, proposed reform on term limits for association board members. Term limits would help reduce kickbacks and embezzlement, as well as provide greater access to an association's financial documents, said Jan Bergemann, the group's founder.

"The easiest way to stop the chance for embezzlement and kickbacks is if you change the [board] directors," Bergemann said. "If you change every two to three years the people in office, you stop this through the back door because only the people in charge can take kickbacks."

Bergemann said reform also is necessary for the rules covering community association managers.

Some management firms will only have one licensed association manager while having other unlicensed managers working for them, he said.

More enforcement is necessary, he said, because of a state loophole in which condo owners cannot file complaints against unlicensed managers or firms.

Some associations choose to hire a CPA to manage their financial affairs rather than use an association manager, Bergemann said.

"The bad apples among the [association managers] spoil the reputation of the good ones," he said. "It's at the point where boards are saying, 'Do we need to hire an [association manager]?'"

Association reform is also on the list of priorities for the nonprofit Broward Coalition.

One of the group's proposals calls for newly elected board members to certify that they have read and understand their association's bylaws.

The requirement would eliminate many misunderstandings, said Broward Coalition President Charlotte Greenbarg.

"A lot of these people just don't know what their own documents say," Greenbarg said. "They come up with some really cockamamy decisions when they're meeting as a board because they're misrepresenting this stuff, or they don't understand because they haven't read [the bylaws]."

Another of the group's proposals would require boards to place items on a meeting's agenda if they're supported by at least 20 percent of owners.

The group is also proposing associations conduct periodic engineering evaluations to determine maintenance needs and begin building up reserve funds.

"It's important because people are going to have to know what they have to pay and what's going to be needed five or 10 years out," Greenbarg said.

In the interests of transparency, the group is also proposing lobbyists report on all payments from clients, as well as gifts and contributions.

A related proposal would require elected officials to place stock holdings into a blind trust when taking office.