An Opinion By Jan Bergemann 

Published December 8, 2005

Another showdown is brewing between a condo unit owner and his association board in Lauderdale Lakes, Florida.  The manager of the complex, Michael Rhodes of Rhodes Management Company, Inc., is refusing to reconsider a decision to allow the unit in question to be rented to a lady who had lost her home to Hurricane Wilma.  She is in desperate need of a new roof over her head, like many other displaced persons in that area. 

Michael Rhodes is the brand-new manager of this complex and obviously very determined to do everything “by the book.”  When I tried to reach Rhodes by phone for his comment, his secretary claimed that he is too busy to discuss these issues.

I guess it's important to know the background of this story: 

Since the year 2000, the unit in question has been in the possession of the Domovsky family.  In September 2003 the condo association passed an amendment that put a non-rental restriction for three years on units that had been newly transferred or purchased.  Because of failing health, Ms. Domovsky used a Quit Claim Deed to gift the unit to her son, Joseph, in November 2003.  No argument from the board of the association.

This unit had been rented and stayed rented to Section 8 Housing tenants until a short while ago.  No argument from the board of directors or the manager.  Until now!  When the Domoskys wanted to rent their unit to a new tenant -- a lady who was quickly looking for a reasonable place to rent because of losing her home to Hurricane Wilma -- the board surprisingly denied their application.

In a letter, signed by manager Michael Rhodes, he stated (quote): 

“We understand that by mistake there were errors made in the past regarding enforcement of this rule.  However, the Board is dedicated to full enforcement of the Documents and Rules and Regulations. 

Because of the oversight the Board determined that if your current tenant wished to extend their lease the Board would allow it.  Please find enclosed a copy of the Amendment covering this matter, a copy of your Quick Claim Deed which was approved by the Board in October of 2003.  After October of 2006 you will be able to rent the unit to a new Lessee." (end quote)


Because of the urgency of this matter, the Domoskys tried every avenue to find a reasonable solution, only to run against walls everywhere.


Mike Cochran is the director of the Division of Florida Land Sales, Condominiums and Mobile Homes.  An attempt to ask Cochran for help and some advice how to handle this situation ended in an answer by Karl Scheuerman, the lead attorney of the Condominium Arbitration Section, who suggested that this is a dispute eligible for arbitration pursuant to section 718.1255.  Scheuerman added the discouraging words that arbitration proceedings like this take "only" 100 days on the average to resolve.  He forgot to mention anything about the cost and the frustration!


Definitely no help for the lady who planned to live in the unit -- looking forward to being homeless for another 100 days?

But, if common sense doesn't prevail really fast, Scheuerman may have another case to arbitrate really soon.  To prevent that lady from being homeless over the holidays, the Domowskys will most likely ignore the association’s denial of the rental application and let the homeless lady move into the vacant condo unit.  The Domoskys think that they are not bound by the “three-year rental restriction for new owners,” because the unit has been in their family’s possession for more than five years. 


Whatever excuses the association now tries to find, the fact remains that for more than two years the association had approved new rental applications and had never objected to the rental of this condo unit!  But it seems, due to the new manager, suddenly the board is "dedicated to full enforcement of the Documents and Rules and Regulations."  A little late, isn't it?


When do we see common sense moving into these associations again?  This case is definitely open to be interpreted in any way possible and can only lead to high legal costs for all owners in that complex. 


The question on the other hand:  People don't have homes due to Hurricane Wilma!  Many people still live in shelters and motel rooms.  Yet here is an empty condo unit, absolutely nothing wrong with it!  But a board -- or a manager -- decides that it should stay empty, because of a dubious interpretation of the governing documents. 


Is this what our society stands for?