Taxpayers shouldn't bail out bad landlords

Article Courtesy of The Orlando Sentinel

By Beth Kassab  

Published February 23, 2015


Condominium associations in Florida are often lambasted for being too strict.

Remember when the downtown Orlando tower known as the VUE had a problem with residents not cleaning up after their dogs? Management began doing DNA tests on dog droppings to ID the culprits.

Talk about stinky rules.


And then there's the alternative.

Some condo associations ignore the rules all together.

On Wednesday morning Blossom Park Condos, a converted 1970s-era Days Inn, looked more like the staging area for a disaster than a community for families.

A firetruck sat in the parking lot, just in case a rusting stairway finally gives way.

Residents came and went from a mobile hospital tent serving as a counseling center to help them sort out their relocation options.

An Orange County condominium complex looks more like a disaster scene than a place where families live.

One woman I talked with says she often pleads with her landlord to clean up mold on the wall near where her two young daughters sleep. For this she pays $600 a month.
"This is all I can afford," she told me.

Blossom Park is a modern-day ghetto where desperation collides with the indifference of neglectful landlords who fail to maintain their property.

"They don't want to spend money, but they want to collect the rent," said Jan Bergemann, president of Cyber Citizens For Justice, Inc., a property owners' advocacy group.

Florida has a long and detailed statute governing condominiums, but there is little enforcement, Bergemann said.

"If you go and complain there is very little they do," he said. "And if you complain, you more or less hurt yourself in the end."

He says that's because the state could fine the association, but that's money that won't go toward fixing the problems at the complex.

The reasons places like Blossom Park and Tymber Skan — another condemned Orange County condominium complex where people still live — deteriorate so badly are simple.

The association either fails to collect enough fees to cover maintenance or doesn't use the money it does collect to fix problems. Or owners refuse to pay the fees.

"In a word, it's mismanagement," said Bob Spivey, Orange County's code enforcement manager. "These condo associations are rife with warring factions and conflict."
County officials have talked about pushing for stronger state laws to deal with mismanagement, but they aren't sure yet what that would look like.

But the county does have control over how they handle dilapidated condos on a local level.
Last summer the County Commission voted to spend nearly $200,000 on Tymber Skan, including improvements to its roads and drainage system.

It hasn't spent a dime on repairs at Blossom Park.
Could it be that the county learned a lesson?
What happened at Timber Skan shouldn't be repeated. Taxpayers shouldn't be on the hook for fixing up private property.
No politician likes the optics of forcing renters, especially the ill or elderly, from their homes. Most of the units in Tymber Skan and Blossom Park are rented instead of owner occupied.

But coming to the aid of bad landlords sends the wrong message.

"Build affordable housing or do something else, but don't give money to investors who have already failed," Bergemann said.

Orange County's approach at Blossom Park makes more sense.

This week the county is offering residents relocation assistance. Financial help is available to cover moving costs and United Way and other groups are on hand to offer other services.

At least 114 residents have signed up so far.

The woman I talked with who says she can't afford anything else is one of them.

She rides a Lynx bus every morning to take one of her daughters to elementary school.

"I would like to be closer to the school," she said.

But she says her landlord tells her to stick it out at Blossom Park.

"He tells me its fine here," she said.

Fine if you're only collecting the rent.