Island Escape condos score 'final judgment' against fee scofflaw, again

Article Courtesy of The St. Petersburg Times

By Susan Taylor Martin

Published March 12, 2010

CLEARWATER In a case closely watched by other condominium associations, a small Clearwater Beach complex has moved a step toward evicting an owner who owes thousands of dollars in maintenance fees.

Last week, Pinellas County Judge Myra Scott McNary granted a final judgment of foreclosure against Laurence "Larry'' Holzer, who bought a unit at Island Escape on Island Way in 2005.

Since then, Holzer has paid his fees sporadically and is now $10,278 in arrears.

"It's a problem, especially for smaller complexes like ours,'' said condo association president Skip Shepherd. He and the other nine owners have had to pick up Holzer's share of fees as well as their own $325-a-month payments.

This is the second time Island Escape has won a final judgment against Holzer. Shortly before his condo was to be sold at public auction in June, he declared bankruptcy in a move that automatically canceled the sale. A bankruptcy judge later dismissed Holzer's Chapter 13 filing for failure to make required payments.

McNary set April 16 as the new date for Holzer's condo to be auctioned. Deutsche Bank which holds the $335,000 first mortgage would have priority over the association's lien and would be paid off first if the unit is sold to a third party.

If nobody bid, the bank would take title but under current law would be responsible for only six months of overdue condo fees or 1 percent of the loan amount, whichever is less.

The problem of deadbeat owners has become acute since many people who bought condos at inflated prices during the real estate boom are no longer able or willing to pay their mortgages and maintenance fees.

Several bills that would give associations some relief have been proposed for the current Florida legislative session. One measure would increase the cap on back payments to 12 months and another would eliminate caps altogether.

Holzer, whose Florida appraisal license was revoked in 2006, is living virtually free at Island Escape because he hasn't made a mortgage payment in more than two years. Besides being in default on both his mortgage and condo fees, he owes the Internal Revenue Service $18,272, court records show.

In a motion to forestall the foreclosure, Holzer said he had started a new company and intends to pay.

"How do you get him out of there?'' Shepherd wonders. "This is absolutely ridiculous there's got to be some way to protect other people.''