Article Courtesy of The Tampa Bay Times
By Susan Taylor Martin
Published August 3, 2019
EAST LAKE — Condo owners
in Lansbrook Village are suing their
association, alleging it is a "shill'' for a
billionaire real estate company that is
trying to force them to sell so it can
convert all 774 units to rentals.
In the action filed
Monday in Pinellas Circuit Court, Deborah Berger and Sylvia
Cousins seek to void a 2015 amendment to the condo rules
that would make it easier for the Carroll Organization to
terminate the condominium. As an alternative, they want the
Carroll-controlled association to be bound by a 2017 state
law that gives minority owners like themselves more
protection against forced sales at below-market prices.
"The Carroll Organization, with the association as its
shill, has used the 2015 amendment as a springboard to
engage in a pernicious scheme to deflated artificially the
prices at which units are being sold in Lansbrook Village,''
Berger and Cousins allege.
The two women are among hundreds of Tampa Bay condo owners
battling "bulk owners'' who are buying up units with the
goal of turning them into lucrative rentals. The bulk owners
have taken advantage of a 2007 state law that said the
approval of just 80 percent of unit owners — not 100
percent, as before — was needed to terminate a condominium
association. The law's original intent was to keep
hurricane- or fire-damaged condos from becoming derelict
In 2015, concerned at how the law was being used, the
Florida Legislature made two key changes: A termination plan
could be defeated if 10 percent of owners objected. If a
condominium was terminated, the bulk owner had to pay all
other owners at least 100 percent of the fair market value
of their units.
The Hampton subdivision in the Lansbrook Village
neighborhood in Palm Harbor. A large real estate company wants to
turn the condo complex into rental apartments, which has upset
Just before the changes took effect in July 2015, the Carroll-controlled
association amended Lansbrook's condo rules to allow termination if 80
percent of owners agreed. By that point, Carrolll owned more than 500 units.
After Berger, Cousins and some other minority owners publicly challenged the
amendment to the condo rules, the association sued them and asked a judge to
declare it valid. The case has dragged on for four years, resulting in
Monday's counterclaim in which Berger and Cousins charge that the
association — registered as a non-profit — is working on behalf of a
for-profit company and against the interests of minority owners.
Nowhere in state law "is it contemplated that a condominium association
could be used as a tool to aid and abet the plan of a bulk owner to
terminate a condominium, particularly under circumstances such as these,''
the counterclaim says. It also alleges that the Carroll-controlled
association is forcing the minority owners to partly fund its legal fees,
which have amounted to more than $300,000 since 2015, condo records show.
In 2017, providing more protection for minority owners, the Legislature
tweaked the law again to say that a condominium termination plan could be
defeated if 5 percent of owners objected. Minority owners who bought their
units from the original developer must receive the same amount they paid;
other owners get fair market value, which often is far less than what they
Monday's counterclaim says there is virtually no "far market'' for Lansbrook
units because the Carroll Organization through its affiliates is the only
buyer. An attorney for the condo association did not return a call for