Plantation homeowners push for answers

Residents, legislators meet at town hall


Article Courtesy of the SUN SENTINEL

By Joe Kollin

Posted 02-20-2005


Plantation During a town hall meeting Saturday, hundreds of Floridians who live in condo and homeowner association communities had their questions answered by top state officials, aired beefs about their boards and previewed plans for major changes in state laws.

"How many people are here because they are having a problem with their associations?" asked state Rep. Julio Robaina, R-Miami. Almost everyone in the audience -- 300 people -- raised their hands.

"How many came because everything is OK and we shouldn't change any laws?" he asked. Only one hand went up.

Robaina, who last year pushed through legislation that resulted in major changes to condo and homeowner association law, was one of several legislators and state officials at the meeting. State Rep. Franklin Sands, D-Weston, organized the gathering to hear the concerns of condo owners in anticipation of the legislative session, which begins March 8.

The Legislature last year made major changes to condo association law after years of boards accumulating near dictatorial powers. As a result, the state now has an ombudsman to educate condominium owners and directors, recommend enforcement of state law and mediate disputes. The new law eliminates the power of homeowner associations to foreclose on owners who don't pay fines for violating rules.

"It will take more than one session to get everything you want because this is a long-term process, but we hope to level the playing field for you," Rep. Irving Slosberg, D-Boca Raton, told the crowd. Boards, their attorneys and management companies, Robaina said, use the maintenance money that owners pay to block changes in the law.

"The only way to level the playing field is for residents to speak up," Robaina said. "Please engage yourselves. If you're willing to come out here on a Saturday, send e-mails to each and every one of your representatives in the House and Senate. Help us out if you want your day to come."

Robaina said his proposals in the new legislative session will include mandatory training for newly elected board members and an ombudsman for homeowner association residents.

Residents got the chance to ask questions of everyone from Michael Cochran, the state's chief condo official, to Virgil Rizzo, the state's new condo ombudsman.

Glenda Wilkinson of Pompano Beach wanted to know whether boards could elect their officers by secret ballot. Mark Benton, the vice chairman of the newly formed state condominium advisory council, said they could.

Dan Salvetti of Weston wanted to know if someone could file a complaint with the state on behalf of an owner who won't file on his own behalf for fear of retaliation.

Cochran said the state can only act on an owner's complaints.