By Jan Bergemann


Wednesday, March 10, 2004 was the first big test for the much debated condo bill HB 1223 in the Florida House of Representatives. The bill was heard by the Committee on Business Regulations, one of the biggest House Committees with 40 members. 


House Representative Julio Robaina (R-Distr.117-Miami) is considered the father of this very consumer-friendly bill that tries to protect unit-owners against the many abuses they testified to during the hearings of the Committee on Condominium Governance. Under the good guidance of Chairman Manuel Prieguez, the members discussed the bill and presented and adopted amendments. At various times it was made very clear that this bill is being created to protect the unit-owners. This bill includes the protection of the volunteers, board and committee members that give their time for the welfare of associations and its members. By the many examples the Condo Committee members proved that it is necessary to create checks and balances to avoid these many known abuses!


After we heard the many proposed amendments, it seems that the amended bill will be able to do just what it had set out to do:  Protect the unit-owners in condominium associations!

It was interesting to read all the opposing
opinions to this bill which were generated by attorneys and incumbent board members.
Also, it was interesting to see and hear the public testimony to this bill.

Peter Dunbar, a well-known attorney and lobbyist, lead the charge in opposition to the bill. According to his own admission, he has been involved in creating these laws for 30 years. Dunbar spoke in favor of protecting the many well-meaning volunteers. 

Using the frequent attorney platitude, Dunbar termed the many owners who testified at the hearings about many abuses “the outspoken but small minority.” He considered the big majority of owners to be happy with the status quo.

  Peter Dunbar, well-known attorney and
  lobbyist, with Pennington, Moore,
  Wilkinson, Bell & Dunbar P.A.  


But in my opinion these attorneys who admit working on these condominium laws for more than 30 years should finally admit that these laws are seriously flawed. Otherwise how can they explain the many problems?

Next was Donna Dimaggio Berger, a member of the well-known law firm Becker & Poliakoff.  Remember that Gary Poliakoff, the founding partner of this law firm, was booed by unit-owners at the hearing of the condo committee in Davie. She spoke for CALL. Is this a new version of CAI/FLA? She stated that she is working on association law for 12 years and can’t see the necessity of sweeping reforms. She vehemently opposed this bill.

   Donna Dimaggio Berger attorney with the
   law firm of Becker & Poliakoff P.A.


Last but not least was Travis Moore, a registered lobbyist for Becker & Poliakoff and the Community Association Institute. In unconvincing testimony, Moore just repeated the well-worn-out slogans brought up against association reforms all over the nation. The problem the opposition faces is:  More and more legislators are figuring out the truth and seeing through the smoke screen that falsely claims to protect homeowners’ rights.


This is especially evident in Arizona where legislators seem to have figured out that they have been taken for a ride and are voting for legislative reforms with overwhelming majorities.

Always remember that these “specialized” attorneys are losing some income if there is peace and harmony in all communities. A few expensive lawsuits among neighbors will definitely help their bank accounts! Let's say they are biased in favor of their wallets. 

They will always resent any legislation that is well written and to the point -- with enforcement supplied.  If they say, “It's detrimental to the welfare of associations,” they actually mean that it's detrimental to their own income.

Should we leave many condo associations in turmoil in order to make a few attorneys even richer?

   Travis W. Moore, lobbyist for the
   Community Association Institute
   and Becker & Poliakoff P.A.

It is very obvious that the interests of owners and attorneys are worlds apart. Owners would like a peaceful community where most of the budget can be used for maintenance and beautification -- and low monthly dues.  An attorney will always like a big part of the association budget to be used for legal fees. While attorneys like a new Mercedes, you and your neighbors would rather see a well-kept neighborhood! So, let’s work on reform for the welfare of the consumers!

Mark Benson representing the Florida Community Association Managers Alliance (FCAMA) and lobbyist Richard Pinsky spoke in favor of the bill but only with some changes and further consideration be made to include changes to FS 468. In their professional opinion something is needed to help the consumers and create more harmony inside these associations, which works in favor of these professionals, since it’s definitely easier to manage a happy community than one with feuding members. FCAMA is an organization that promotes stricter regulations and better enforcement for community managers. They speak out against abuses of owners by management companies, which have given this profession a really bad reputation. Maybe board members should ask management companies if they are members of FCAMA before hiring them? Their concept sure is very consumer-friendly.

Because time was running out, proponents of the bill voluntarily cut their testimony short or waived their right to speak. It was obvious that the majority of committee members were going to vote in favor of the bill. Bill Laird and Steve Comley made short presentations. Comley talked in favor of protecting vested rights, like the right to rent his unit, a right that existed when he purchased his unit. Roy Gallo, an 89-year old gentleman who came all the way from Inverness to Tallahassee to testify, lost his life-savings due to a policy change in the condominium association he lived in. Another sad story in our state that advertises as “A Retirement Paradise”!

I waived my right to speak (read my planned presentation) in order to get the final vote in timely fashion.

The result of the vote for Condo Bill HB 1223:
Favorable with COMMITTEE SUBSTITUTE amendment 
YEAS  33  -- NAYS  6. Definitely a great success for this bill! But for consumers it’s just one battle won – the war has still to be decided. It is very important that unit-owners from all over Florida keep contacting their legislators and asking them to support HB 1223 and the identical Senate Bill SB 2498. Most of the concerns voiced by owners have been amended and it is now clearly a bill that will serve the purpose it was intended for:  Protecting rights and welfare of the unit-owners.



Rep. Thad Altman
Distr. 30
Part of Brevard County

Rep. Randy Johnson
Distr. 41
Lake, Orange, Osceola County
Last year Representative Johnson
promised to kill the Task Force Bill. 
(Quote e-mail): "Name suppressed",
you have my commitment to kill these
bills. I will see to it personally.
Rep. Arthenia Joyner
District 59
Hillsborough County
Rep. Charlie Justice
District 53
Pinellas County
Rep.Suzanne Kosmas
District 28
Volusia County
Rep. Roger Wishner
District 98
Broward County
 Let's hope some of them will change their mind if the bill goes to a Floor Vote!