Courtesy of THE FORT LAUDERDALE CITY NEWS
Grayson Walker, Ph.D.
Let me explain how I named this column. The word gulag is an acronym for the former Soviet Union’s penal system. Since then, it has come into common use to describe any repressive system. Thus, the name of my column is the Galt Gulag. In this regular column, I will write about the lives of owners of
Florida condominiums. I own an apartment in the Galt Gulag, at the Southpoint condominium, on
the Galt Mile in Fort Lauderdale. Many people do not realize how many rights they give up when they buy an apartment in a condominium association. I have taught various forms of American Government for over twenty-years, but I was not prepared for life in the Galt Gulag. At the June 2005 Board meeting, Board President Marty Glazer called the critics of the Board “insurgents.” I am an insurgent in the Galt Gulag. I have been assaulted, battered, stalked, had my car keyed, and had my life threatened because I believe in American
When you buy a condominium, you become a member of a non-profit corporation, your condominium association. As an owner, you are entitled to elect the Directors of your corporation to a Board. Unlike the President of the United States, our Governor, and our legislature, there are no term limits
for the Board. The Board makes all of the decisions for the condominium. The most important is the power of the purse. The Board creates the budget and decides how much it will “tax” you for maintenance. This is called an
assessment. The Board then approves the budget it created, and the assessments
to fund it. If you fail to pay what the Board has ordered, the Board has the power to foreclose on your condominium and take your home.
|The Board tells you of its decisions, but you have no ability to appeal their decisions, or debate them at a Board
meeting. The Board controls all communication. Where, you may ask, are your Constitutional rights? Where is democracy? The answer is that you left them at the door when you bought your condominium. You have the right to obey the Board. You have the right to pay what the Board tells you to pay. Board members repeat the cliché that they are “poor volunteers.” This is not true, for Board members are public figures and
politicians. They have access to media, and can address their public.
At Southpoint, our Board uses our money to mail a monthly political newsletter to tell us how wonderful they are.
The Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) regulates Florida condominiums. The DBPR has the power to investigate violations of the law. Unfortunately, the DBPR does not have the power to enforce the laws. The DBPR can issue a “violation letter,” but they cannot force a Board to follow the law.
How bad are the problems in Florida’s condominiums?
In March 2006, the Wall Street Journal reported that Florida’s Condominium Ombudsman was receiving 700 complaints each week.
The Ombudsman was overloaded and barely had time to acknowledge a complaint, much less resolve the problems. If your Board refuses to obey the findings of the DBPR and follow the law, you can either accept the situation or file a lawsuit against your Board. You will spend your money on your lawyer. The Board will use your assessment money to pay a lawyer to fight you! Incredibly, you will be paying for both sides of the lawsuit. If you win, the Board may be required to pay your legal fees, but that would come out of your assessment. In other words, you would reimburse yourself for your legal fees. If that makes sense to you, please
let me know.
Southpoint’s Robert Rozema
In the early 1990s, Robert Rozema became a President of the Southpoint Board and Condominium Building Manager.Although Florida law requires that Condominium Managers have a contract, Rozema was hired, and continues as manager, without a contract. Instead of a contract and a W-2, Rozema was paid from petty cash. Of course, this meant that Southpoint was not paying into the Florida unemployment fund, the Federal unemployment fund, the Social Security Trust fund, or withholding income taxes. For years, I was told that Rozema was a “poor volunteer.” However, according to the DBPR, Southpoint notonly paid “poor volunteer” Rozema in cash, but also paid his property taxes, condominium maintenance fees, condominium assessments, health insurance, car insurance, gasoline, electricity, telephone, America On-Line, membership in the Tower Club, and Condominium Association Manager fees. Southpoint also replaced his windows for $5,259. If this is not enough, he received the lion’s share of the Christmas Fund.
Violations of the Law
The DBPR has found many violations of the law by Southpoint. For example, in a violation letter dated October 25, 2004, the DBPR found that Southpoint improperly paid Rozema’s condominium assessment, paid Rozema’s condominium maintenance, held secret meetings about Rozema’s compensation and did not take minutes, and failed to maintain Rozema’s employment records and contract. When asked to explain Rozema’s
compensation, Southpoint gave the DBPR “three conflicting statements regarding his compensation, none of
which were verifiable.” Three conflicting statements! That is a bureaucratic way to say that the Board lied to the DBPR. In November 2004, the Southpoint Board wrote to the DBPR and admitted having made these illegal payments to Rozema. They claimed to have stopped making these illegal payments. There has not been an accounting of the payments. There has not been restitution of these illegal payments, which could
exceed one-half million dollars. The ten-year history of illegal payments requires a comprehensive audit
and restitution of these funds. Until restitution has been made, it is mathematically impossible to determine how much to charge any Owner.
Allegations and Resignation
In February 2005, a group of owners and attorney Inger Garcia served a 35-page complaint on “poor volunteer”
Rozema and the Board. Within one month, Rozema resigned as President, but the allegations went unanswered.
Police Refuse To Act
In April 2005, the Owners and attorney Inger Garcia delivered the same complaint to the Ft Lauderdale police.
After discussions with two detectives, Fort Lauderdale’s police management refused to investigate the case, saying they had no budget for condominium crime.
Violation of the Secret Ballot
On April 21, 2006, the DBPR sent a violation letter to President Marty Glazer and the Southpoint Board, finding they had violated our sacred right to a secret ballot. For hundreds of years, Americans have died for democracy and the right to vote. Yet, the Southpoint Board violated one of our basic rights: the right to a secret ballot. The Board was not punished!
In the late 1990s, the Board forced owners of apartments facing the ocean to replace their Eastern windows. Some owners opted to replace their windows at that time. These windows have white frames and tempered glass. An impact will shatter these windows into crumbs. These windows cannot meet the 2005
building code, although some Owner’s receipts falsely state the windows are “high impact” windows. Although required by Florida Law, there was no competitive bidding for selection of the window vendor. The prices for these replacement windows were above normal retail. Tempered glass is a type of safety glass often used in shower and sliding glass doors. Tempered glass can be a security risk due to the tendency the glass has to shatter upon impact. This is exactly what happened during Hurricane Wilma, when many of these tempered glass windows exploded into small chunks of glass. Many of Southpoint’s Owners were injured by these exploding windows, which they believed to be safe. They were not. Laminated glass consists of a tough protective interlayer made of polyvinyl butyral (PVB) bonded together between two panes of glass under heat and pressure. Similar to the glass in car windshields, laminated glass may crack upon impact, but the glass fragments tend to adhere to the protective interlayer rather than falling free and potentially causing injury.
The DBPR issues official statements of the interpretation of the law, known as Declaratory Statements. Florida law requires that condominium associations insure windows and patio doors. Declaratory Statement DS 2005-055 of January 2006, stated that all Florida condominiums are responsible for the repair and/or replace anything they are responsible for insuring. In order to meet the 2005 Florida Building Code, it will be necessary for most windows at Southpoint to be replaced. In August 2006, Southpoint Owners filed DBPR complaints that Southpoint was in violation of the Florida Law, and DS 2005-055. The DBPR found the complaints to be true, and issued a letter of violation that Southpoint is in violation of Florida Law, and of the DS 2005-055.
Help For Owners
Inger Garcia can be reached at www.
IngerGarcia.com or by telephone at 954-752-1213. Jan Bergemann’s
Cyber Citizens For Justice is an organization of Owners, for Owners, to protect Owners’ rights. For more information, please visit them at
www. CCFJ.net or telephone 386-740-1503. The American Association of Retired People (AARP) recently published A Bill of Rights for Homeowners In Associations. You may retrieve a copy of this document at
Becker and Poliakoff is one of the largest law firms in Florida. They represent the interests of many condominium associations in their fight against the rights of owners. The Community Association Leadership Lobby (CALL) is the anti-owner political lobbying arm of Becker & Poliakoff. The Galt Mile Community
Association is an umbrella organization created by board members, who contribute money from their associations as membership dues to enthusiastically support CALL.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Dr. Grayson Walker can be reached at (954) 567-0520.
He invites your comments and stories of condo injustice. Email can be sent in confidence to