Condo owners exchange opinions

An Opinion By Jan Bergemann 
President, Cyber Citizens For Justice, Inc. 
Published Tuesday, May 23, 2006


Well-known Broward County lobbyist, Judith Stern, seemingly likes to be president of the condos where she owns units, even if she doesn't live there. But recently she ran into fierce opposition by owners, who are obviously very unhappy with her leadership -- and her interpretation of the Florida Condo Act FS 718. 


The latest in a series of setbacks for Stern's leadership ambitions came at the CAPISTRANO TOWNHOMES CONDOMINIUM ASSOCIATION, INC. in Fort Lauderdale. After she was removed from her position as president of the board during the regular annual elections in January 2006, the board voted her out as secretary in a board meeting on May 7, 2006. The board saw similar problems surfacing as in Colonial Manor West and ordered a complete audit of the financials. And as a final step -- the membership removed Stern as a director of the board last week by written recall. Fifteen of the 18 eligible unit owners cast their votes in the recall petition. The board certified the recall, counting 13 ballots to recall, 1 vote to retain and 1 No-Vote!


An action that caused a unit owner of the COLONIAL MANOR WEST APARTMENTS CONDOMINIUM ASSOCIATION, INC. to sigh: "I wish some more of our unit owners would stand up for their rights and stop the financial bleeding!"


But as usual, it all wasn't easy for the new board president and the other residents of the Capistrano Townhomes. In January Stern should have turned over records and signing authority for the bank account to the new treasurer – but she still hadn’t done so.  Instead of Stern turning over the records, the board members were required to pick up these records at an attorney's office.


The minutes of the board meeting discussing her leadership style was answered by a letter from an attorney threatening a lawsuit for libel, slander, false light and invasion of privacy!


I guess the owners in the Capistrano Townhomes woke up when they found out about the pending lawsuit in Colonial Manors West, a Fort Lauderdale condominium, where Judith Stern is as well president of the board. This condominium is involved in a big lawsuit questioning the fumigation method, financials and the spending of funds from a special assessment.

See article: MY WAY OR THE HIGHWAY -- Condo Owner Sues Colonial Manor West Over Fumigation Of Building. In the meanwhile this lawsuit has escalated after it was discovered that most of the money from a special assessment has been used to pay legal fees to the law firm of Becker & Poliakoff. Funds collected as a special assessment are earmarked and -- according to Florida Statutes FS 718.116(10) -- (quote) "shall be used only for the specific purpose or purposes set forth in such notice."


Obviously warned by the way Stern seems to be doing business as president of a condominium board, the owners of the Capistrano Townhomes decided not to risk running into similar problems and removed her by official recall. 


Despite Stern's assurances to owners that "the court's have ruled in my favor," no such rulings could be found in official court documents. Actually, her deposition is still pending since she has avoided being deposed three times already.


I find it hard to believe that any judge in his right mind would rule that it is OK to spend funds on LEGAL FEES from a special assessment earmarked for tenting and maintenance.  Or at the very least, how could any judge rule that it is OK to spend funds “for tenting and legal fees” which exceeds by tens of thousands of dollars the amount approved for the tenting alone?  When these legal fees were paid, it virtually exhausted the entire assessment and left nothing for the other maintenance and repairs that had already been approved.   Most likely, a huge discrepancy of this sort would require a rewrite of the Florida Statutes?


I always wonder why many board members are so concerned about their "good name"? They are even paying expensive attorneys to try to intimidate the opposition to stop making allegations. Maybe they should think about their “good name” before the allegations of violations of statutes and breaches of fiduciary duty are openly discussed?


Condo owners should more often communicate with each other and exchange experiences. It would definitely help to avoid many of the expensive lawsuits we hear about all the time! Condos need money well spent on repairs and maintenance, not money wasted on the private agendas of board members as they create huge legal fees at the expense of the condo owners!