Attorneys' maneuver a threat to homeowners


Editorial Courtesy of The Tampa Tribune

By Brad van Rooyen

Published September 15, 2012

At a time when a significant number of Floridians are still struggling to make ends meet, millions of Florida homeowners could be faced with the threat of yet another forced increase in their cost of living: attorneys.

At issue is what some attorneys in Florida want to call the "unlicensed practice of law" (UPL) by community association managers (CAMs), who work for resident-run community associations and help manage their day-to-day operations and administration.

These attorneys are exploiting a process historically applied to guide the legal profession and its practices to substantially harm employed Floridians and homeowners. And they are doing this so only they attorneys will be allowed to provide these services at a dramatically higher cost to homeowners.

Pursued by the same attorneys who stand to benefit financially from its outcome, this "advisory opinion" from the Florida Supreme Court, if granted, would effectively criminalize services that have been provided by CAMs to homeowners for the last 30 years.

Why are attorneys at the Florida Bar Association trying to do this? Some have said it's to protect the public as a result of having heard complaints from the public about CAMs conducting UPL. But CAMs to date have had no complaints related to UPL, according to three public record requests made to the Department of Business and Professional Regulation. However, there have been more than 7,000 complaints registered against attorneys just in 2011 alone (according to the Florida Bar's own statistics). Further, CAMs, who are licensed and highly regulated by the state, only provide non-legal services to associations at a fraction of the cost that would be charged by attorneys.

If "consumer protection" is not the reason attorneys are pursuing this, then what is the reason? We're only left to conclude one of two things: Either it is a solution in search of a problem, or it is an effort by attorneys to create more work and more profit for attorneys at the expense of homeowners. Either way, this process is misguided and needs to have the input of all stakeholders, not just the ones who stand to make money from it.

If attorneys are successful in their effort, they will literally force homeowners and their associations to use them for nearly everything they do. As a result, costs to homeowners and the associations they live in will skyrocket at a time when homeowners can least afford it.

Additionally, nearly 16,000 Floridians who had been providing these services will be put out of work at a critical time of recovery for Florida's economy. What's worse, if the Florida Bar successfully achieves their quest to line their own pockets by putting people out of work and increasing costs to homeowners, what business will they target next?

On Sept. 20 the Bar will convene a meeting of its UPL Committee to consider whether services CAMs have been providing to their associations should only be provided by attorneys and thus classified as the "unlicensed practice of law."

If the Bar moves forward with these proceedings unquestioned, it will be clear to the public that the legal profession can effectively create public policy through unaccountable, closed-door legal proceedings in which the state Supreme Court can declare whatever the legal profession says it doesn't like to be the "unlicensed practiced of law."

And this all will be done with no input from the ones who are supposed to make these decisions: the governor and the Legislature. We should not allow attorneys to be the fourth branch of Florida's government.