Courtesy of The Sun Sentinel
August 16, 2007
Raphan writes the word "reasonable" on the board in block letters.
"The rules have to be reasonable," says Raphan, who is
teaching a class called Condominium Rights & Obligations at Broward
Community College. "Many times the rules don't make any sense. But you
have to look at it from both sides. What is reasonable?"
In the topsy-turvy world of condo wars, that's a loaded question. And these
students – five condo residents and one property manager – want answers.
They want to be armed with information.
"I've heard them all, plus some," says Raphan, the state's assistant
condo ombudsman. "Everybody comes to complain. If they're board members,
they complain that the unit owners bother them all the time. If they're unit
owners, every time they get an increase or special assessment, somebody's
"We're looking for answers," says Carol Martin, 63, during a break
in the class. Martin sits next to Ellen Marossy. Both live in Sunrise Lakes,
and got seats on one of the boards two years ago. It's been an eye-opener.
"I got on the board to keep track of them," Martin says. "I'm
not afraid to speak up."
In class, Raphan tries to define reasonable with real examples.
One condo had this rule: No card-playing in the clubhouse without the
"Unreasonable," Raphan tells them. "No one can stop you from
the use of these common elements."
Then there's the "fat dog" complaint, common at condos that allow
small pets. Fido puts on a few pounds, now he's in violation of the weight
rule. Does he stay or go? It depends.
At another condo, French Canadian snowbirds decided to hold the board election
in Quebec. Reasonable?
Hardly, Raphan says, offering this advice: Read the condo rules and
regulations carefully before you buy.
George Roman, 62, was the recording secretary of his condominium, Carriage
Hills in Hollywood. He quit after a fight broke out because a board member
talked over his three-minute allotment. Police were called.
"This constant bickering back and forth, I thought: 'This isn't good for
me,'" said Roman, a nurse who moved from upstate New York. "I took
the course because I want to know more about my rights. This is my home. The
class showed me that we do have rights but we also have responsibilities. The
same is true with the board."
Off-duty police officers are not uncommon at association meetings, Raphan
says. Residents hurl insults at board members, who shout them down or don't
let them talk.
On the board, "You get calls at one in the morning, 'Somebody parked in
my spot.' Or they stop you in the street. 'When are you going to clean the
Dumpster, or paint the shuffleboard court?' They call you names. This is
And so is apathy.
Raphan typically sees about a dozen students in his classes, more when the
snowbirds arrive. Few residents want to serve on boards or venture to meetings
until their pockets are pinched.
"The two dirtiest words spoken: special assessment," Raphan says.
"Money brings people out to the meetings. Everybody's under the
assumption their condo board is stealing. Is it true most of the time? Hardly
Instead of complaining, he encourages people to get active.
"You gotta be in it to win it," he tells them. "Then, I hear
the 'too's. 'I'm too old. I'm too tired. I'm too sick.' Don't' complain. Do
Dail Adelman left Chicago four years ago and moved to Sands Pointe, a
waterfront community in Sunny Isles. Her plan was to retire and "enjoy my
life." Instead, she's wondering where the condo money is going, and
worrying about assessments.
She, too, took the class to learn her rights. She's considering running for
the board, but she's nervous.
"Every time I think about it," Adelman says, "my stomach
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