An Opinion By Jan Bergemann 
President, Cyber Citizens For Justice, Inc.

Published December 31, 2011



(Full Transcript See Below)


When criticizing the sincerity of the attorneys of the lobbying groups CAN (Community Advocacy Network -- lobbying group of Katzman Garfinkel & Berger) and CALL (Community Association Leadership Lobby -- lobbying group of Becker & Poliakoff) because of their claim to lobby FOR associations, it is my contention that they in reality lobby for their own pocketbooks. The bills pushed by these groups in the last two years -- and H319 in 2012 -- are outright proof of my contentions. The provisions in these bills surely increased the need for associations to hire attorneys, but actually did next to nothing for associations to deal with the ever-growing problem of budget deficits caused by unpaid dues and/or foreclosures. And make no mistake: The associations ARE the homeowners.  That's why some are called HOMEOWNERS' ASSOCIATIONS.


Since associations/owners and attorneys have clearly opposing interests, how can these attorneys effectively lobby FOR associations? Never forget, homeowners and condo owners would like to see most of their maintenance dues used for upkeep and beautification of their property, while attorneys love to obtain a big chunk of these fees. Wouldn't you agree that any nice and peaceful community must clearly be the nightmare for association attorneys?


It is just easy to understand that the relatively small numbers of association attorneys are looking for support lobbying for their own benefit when appearing before the legislators. What's easier than to claim that they lobby for all the associations that actually hired them for legal representation? Most of the owners in these associations don't even know what CAN or CALL really are, much less have they given them permission to "lobby" for them. Make no mistake; even if certain board members agree to join CAN and CALL, there are no deed restrictions in this world that entitle board members to enter such agreements. Even the DBPR declared in a Warning Letter that paying lobbying fees from association funds is a clear violation of Florida statutes.


Still not convinced that these attorneys are knowingly misleading the Florida legislators by making the false claim that they are actually lobbying for associations, not for their own benefit?


Here is a typical example for the deceit heaped upon our Florida legislators by these attorneys. The presentation made by attorney Scott Newsom to the Marion County Legislative Delegation on September 27, 2011 is a vivid example for such misleading statements. Scott Newsom is an attorney on the payroll of the law firm of Katzman Garfinkel & Berger, working out of their Maitland office. He is an attorney, not a registered lobbyist, and isn't listed in any capacity on the website of CAN. But when Representative Dennis Baxley, the chairman of the delegation specifically asked him: "Mr. Newsom, are you an attorney?" Newsom gave him the spiel of not being here in his capacity as attorney, but that he is here to represent CAN, an advocacy network representing associations. With other words, he quickly switched from his attorney cap to an advocacy cap.


Newsom’s claim to "fame" toward the legislators, definitely giving them a knowingly misleading impression: "My name is Scott Newsom and I'm here on behalf of the Community Advocacy Network.  We are a non-profit organization that represents over 60,000 homeowner and condominium associations throughout the state.  We actually represent the associations and their interests and the legislature has in the last two sessions adopted several provisions that have greatly assisted community associations throughout the state."


Honestly, that number -- 60,000 associations -- is quite impressive considering representing associations being a great cash cow for the law firm -- if the number is really correct. Because I seriously doubt that Florida has 60,000 associations altogether! What's left for the other law firms? And I bet that minimum 95% of the people Newsom claims to represent don't even know what CAN is and what it stands for -- and they didn't give him -- or CAN -- the permission to lobby for them. Surely he loves the provisions adopted by the Florida legislature, since those provisions increased his personal income and that of the firm he is working for. But that increase of billing hours came at the expense of the associations and owners he claims to represent. Who needs enemies if you have such "great" lobbying friends?


Newsom praises the provisions in H319 as great for associations. But again H319 contains a provision that saves associations money at the expense of safety for owners. Every year we saw provisions enacted that endangered the safety of owners, but left associations with more funds for legal bills! Remember extending the retrofit deadline for sprinkler systems in S1196 in 2010?


Let's make it real short: Nothing in the bill pushed by these "association lobbyists" helps associations deal with their biggest problem -- budget shortfalls caused by unpaid dues and/or foreclosures. The latest amendments to H319 protect banks and mortgage lenders even more [AMENDMENTS TO H319 GET BANKS OFF THE HOOK, AGAIN -- LEAVING ASSOCIATIONS/OWNERS HOLDING THE BAG] -- and the "real" lobbyists for CAN and CALL approved the bill by "waiving in support" after these amendments were added. Should associations be really proud of these groups lobbying for them?


But in the end of his presentation attorney Scott Newsom couldn't help himself and switched caps again, this time from advocate to attorney: He gave legal advice on an issue that had come up in another presentation. It just proves: Attorneys are attorneys, no matter which cap they claim to be wearing in the moment!


Board members and owners should be aware that their names -- and numbers -- are used to lobby for bills that are actually working against their interest. This presentation from KG&B attorney Scott Newsom was a typical example for how these attorneys are misleading the Florida legislators, making them believe that they are doing something good for their constituents -- the property owners in community associations -- while in reality they just help to increase the income of association attorneys. 


If something sounds too good to be true -- it mostly isn't true. Association attorneys lobbying for the welfare of associations/owners really sounds in my opinion too good to be true. Or: ... 






Chairman Dennis Baxley:  We'll hear from Mr. Scott Newsom and then we’ll open for the members of how they want to address the close of the meeting.  Mr. Newsom…

Newsom:  Good afternoon.  Thank you very much for the opportunity to speak to you all and thank you very much for presenting this opportunity for everyone to present their legislative agenda and priorities.  My name is Scott Newsom and I'm here on behalf of the Community Advocacy Network.  We are a non-profit organization that represents over 60,000 homeowner and condominium associations throughout the state.  We actually represent the associations and their interests and the legislature has in the last two sessions adopted several provisions that have greatly assisted community associations throughout the state.


Chairman Dennis Baxley:  Mr. Newsom, can I interrupt you just a question?  Mr. Newsom, are you an attorney? Is that what you mean that you represent them or it a relationship of some…


Newsom:  I am an attorney, but not in that capacity for the organization.

Chairman Dennis Baxley: This is an advocacy network…

Newsom:  Yes.

Chairman Dennis Baxley: …representation…

Newsom Yes, talking about the advocacy group.

Chairman Dennis Baxley:  Thank you.  We are just trying to follow correctly with where you were.

Newsom: lawyers.

Chairman Dennis Baxley:    Thank you…no lawyers.


Newsom:  OK, and so the legislature has been very helpful over the two legislative sessions in helping community associations throughout the state who have suffered greatly, primarily financially due to the economic downturn...developers that we have heard about that have taken advantage of people…


(Microphone went dead at this point.)


Chairman Dennis Baxley:  We will probably need to bring you a new microphone.  I guess we tired that battery out.  So, uh, it wasn't you!

Newsom:  Thank you.

Chairman Dennis Baxley:  We are more interested in what you have to hear…what you have to say.  As a matter of fact, we'll change that out and then we will probably have some follow-up after your testimony.


(New microphone was connected at this point.)


Newsom:  And so what we are asking the legislative priorities for our organization and our membership this year involve a couple of issues.  None of them involves appropriations.  Primarily, the first issue is extending the retrofit deadline for elevators to get Phase Two Firefighter Service.  According to the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, there has been no injuries of any kind regarding a failure of an elevator to have a Phase Two Firefighter Service and right now is not the time for that to be implemented.  The cost to retrofit elevators to have this service can cost tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars, depending on the size of the building, the number of buildings involved, and right now the community associations in our state in our membership simply cannot afford that kind of expense at this particular time.  So that is the first priority would be to extend that deadline.


The next is currently condominium members of board of directors of condominium associations are required by law to be certified.  They either have to certify that they have actually read the documents or they need to take a class in regard to serving on the board of a condominium association.  What we are asking is that that same requirement be applied to homeowners’ associations and cooperative associations as well.  An informed board member, a board member who knows and understands the governing documents only benefits the community in the long run and there is no sense not to have a similar...the same provisions across the board for all types of community associations and not just condominium associations.


The next is to... uh...remove community association managers’ home addresses from the Department of Business and Professional Regulation's website.  Uh, currently the property managers' addresses are open and available to anyone who accesses the Department of Business and Professional Regulation's website through the My Florida License dot com.  What we would ask is that it be removed from the website.  However, it would still be a public record where...where if someone really wanted to obtain that information, they could do a public record request to the Department of Business and Professional Regulation and obtain that information.  However, it would remove it from the website and prevent needless harassment that some homeowners unfortunately engage in retaliation against management or the association’s actions.


The next is...the final thing is in regard to a delinquent homeowners is the legislature really assisted with giving the associations the ability to take rent and require rent payments to be made to the community associations...uh...from homes that were being rented by delinquent homeowners.  What we are asking is for a clarification on the existing law, because as it is currently worded right now in both Chapter 718 and Chapter 720, it is a bit ambiguous as what the association can recover from delinquent owners who subsequently purchase the properties.  The statutes say that the subsequent owners are jointly and severally liable for assessments, but it seems there is some ambiguity whether or not the associations can also collect the late fees, accumulated interest on those accounts, and its collection costs; specifically attorney's fees as in costs that they have had to expend to go after the delinquent homeowners, which is an obligation that they have to do.  So those clarifications would ...making that clarification would ...would greatly assist homeowners' and condominium associations in our state who typically try and pay down and recover financially from the situations that they are in.


And even though it is not on my speaking notes, in order to address Sheila’s issue in regard to Chapter 720, ...uh...condominium associations...there is a requirement is section 718.301 and it requires condominium associations  to automatically turn over from developer control after seven years after the declaration of condominium is actually recorded in the public records.  There is no similar provision in Chapter 720.  There is no time frame.  There is no cut-off and I think that if you match that type of cut-off ...uh...I can understand why it was there originally, because selling a single-family home development is likely gonna take longer or may take longer than seven years versus a condominium.  But you can modify that time frame but at least put a sunset date on it to where you are not in a situation where the developer can sit back and enjoy being the developer for an extended period of time.


Thank you very much.  I appreciate the opportunity and look forward to a productive legislative session.