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

Edited July 10, 2010


With the dead real estate market successfully killing all sales of new homes, many developers of new homeowners' associations are either already bankrupt -- or are on the brink of bankruptcy.


As they struggle to stay afloat, some of these developers try to force homeowners, who had already bought into these still developer-controlled homeowners’ associations, to pay for the deficits caused by the lack of new home sales and/or owners who fail to pay their dues.


We are getting more and more complaints from owners who are hit by special assessments and increased dues that cause them serious financial hardship.  Unable to pay the special assessments and increased dues, other owners stop paying their fees -- and mortgages – which creates even more foreclosures. 


The developer-controlled boards just call meetings, raise the dues and/or levy special assessments, no matter how loudly the owners protest. Many owners give up and let their dream homes go, feeling helpless against the dictatorial power of the developers that threaten them with liens and foreclosure if they don't pay.


Effective July 1, 2010 the Florida legislature created:

720.315 Passage of special assessments. — Before turnover, the board of directors controlled by the developer may not levy a special assessment unless a majority of the parcel owners other than the developer have approved the special assessment by a majority vote at a duly called special meeting of the membership at which a quorum is present.


Great idea, but as we all know, desperate times call for desperate measures and desperate developers all over Florida are already working on circumventing the new law. They think that just renaming the ASSESSMENT will do the trick. One developer offered: Supplemental Assessment -- and the explanation: "In the event the Annual Assessments are insufficient to cover expenses of the Association then a Supplemental assessments may be levied." 


But homeowners shouldn't give up so fast! Remember the schoolyard bullies that wanted your lunch money? Check out your legal options before you give up on your life savings you invested in your dream home in the sunshine.


Lobbying efforts in the last few years created some protection against abusive developers that try to burden owners with costs the developers should be responsible for paying.


Florida Statutes 720.308 has quite a few provisions that hold developers responsible for funding any deficit and/or other cash funding requirements. Minimum on paper owners have many rights -- and it's worth an attempt to fight the developer that attempts to levy special assessments and/or tries to increase the monthly dues!


All the owners who already bought into this community are in the same boat. That's why all owners should pull the same string. United owners have a lot of power!

If you are getting hit by special assessments and/or dues increases by the developer, just try the following steps:
1.) Organize your neighbors and form a group: UNITED YOU STAND!

2.) Request the financial documents, according FS 720.303(4) + (5), to see if the developer didn't violated the provisions of FS 720.308. Please use these GUIDELINES for your record request. No matter what excuses you might hear, the provisions of FS 720.303(4) + (5) are binding as well for developers.


Don't be intimidated, because the law is on your side. I always hear that owners are afraid of the deep pockets of developers. "They can afford the expensive attorneys and draw the lawsuits out for many years." These times are long gone. Many developers are barely holding their heads above water. Especially the developers that try to make the owners pay for the community bills already have big unpaid legal bills. These developers are nearly drowning -- the deep pockets are already filled with lots of water!


And you have another big legal advantage:


(c)  Association funds may not be used by a developer to defend a civil or criminal action, administrative proceeding, or arbitration proceeding that has been filed against the developer or directors appointed to the association board by the developer, even when the subject of the action or proceeding concerns the operation of the developer-controlled association.


That means that the developer can't use association funds to defend lawsuits brought against him or his appointed board. 


Don't let the developer bully you. Fight for your homes and for your rights! United owners are a power any developer has to be afraid of -- if he is violating the Florida statutes!