NBC2 Investigates: Homeowners associations

Special Report Courtesy of 

NBC CHANNEL 2 
Reporter Kara Kenney
Published April 1, 2008

 Watch VIDEO

  
LEE COUNTY: The NBC2 Investigators uncovered major discrepancies in how the state oversees homeowners associations. While the state has twice as many homeowners associations as condo associations, they arenít regulated by the state.

Southwest Florida is a place where homeowners associations are the rule rather than the exception.

"They are little mini governments if you will," said Mike Cochran of the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation.

They can tell you what color to paint your mailbox, how tall to keep your grass, they even take your money.

"I know if I buy a house again it won't be in a homeowners association," said Suzan Fritze.

To say Fritze is fed up with her homeowners association is putting it lightly.

"It's just craziness, which I feel tremendously frustrated by," said Fritze.

Neighbors are fighting about whether or not to irrigate from nearby ponds.

"There are people who will not speak to one another, who will not look at one another if you're walking or driving by," said Fritze.

Fritze isnít alone in her frustration.

"There's no one to say, ĎNo. You can't do that,í" said Suzanne Soet.

Soet has been battling with her homeowners association over where she can put her satellite dish.

"They said they were going to fine me $50 a day until I complied with moving the dish," said Soet.

Soet wrote the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation asking for help. What they got was a dead end.

"I couldn't believe it. I said there has to be some protection for us," said Soet.

The NBC2 Investigators did some digging and found out there is little protection.

Unlike condo associations, homeowners associations are virtually unregulated and the state doesn't track complaints.

That means if you have an issue with your HOA you want investigated, your only recourse is to hire an attorney.

"I wish the state would step up to bat and start protecting homeowners," said Soet.

Why don't they? We took that question to Mike Cochran, the Director of the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation. He said the agency can only do what the state allows.

"Unlike condominiums, we have no authority to regulate homeowners associations," said Cochran.

We uncovered the only time the state gets involved in homeowners associations is in election disputes.

"The lesson there is be sure you know the rules and regulations before you move in," said Cochran.

The state arbitrated 44 cases in fiscal year 2007. Four of those were in Southwest Florida.

Suzan Fritze was involved in one of those four cases, which resulted in her being recalled from the association board.

Michael Cochran (Division Chief Division of Florida Land Sales, Condominiums and Mobile Homes) (quote): "Make sure you know your rules and regulations before you move in!"

COMMENT: That's about the most pathetic statement after Cochran was part of the House Select Committee on Condominium and Homeowners Association Governance and listened to the testimony of many homeowners. 

"I don't know if someone could pay me enough to be on a homeowners association once again," said Fritze.

  

She says homeowners associations are simply becoming too powerful and the state needs to put a stop to it.

"More needs to be available. More assistance, more guidance, more help at the front end," said Fritze.

Faced with budget cuts, Cochran says regulating homeowners associations would be too expensive

"It would be about $10 million," said Cochran.

The state of Florida has 25,000 condo associations and 50,000 homeowners associations.

Condo residents filed 2482 complaints with the state in 2007, but the state doesn't track complaints from homeowners associations.

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