Property management company is under state review

Article Courtesy of The Ocala Star Banner

By Richard Anguiano

Published August 5, 2014

State officials are looking into the alleged misdeeds of an Ocala property management company after members of several local homeowners groups sent them complaints.

The Office of General Counsel has reviewed an investigation of Property Management Consultants Inc. by the Division of Regulation and has thus far found probable cause concerning five cases against the Marion County firm, according to Beth Frady, deputy director of communications for the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation.

Frady said the department has served Property Management Consultants with an administrative complaint for each finding of probable cause and the company has requested a formal hearing for each.

Meanwhile, one other case is pending in the Office of General Counsel, another was still under investigation as of Friday and five have been closed with no probable cause found, she said.

Case numbers provided by Frady corresponding to a summary of the complaints provided by a Marion County group calling itself the Homeowners Association Coalition indicates the probable cause findings center on Property Management Consultants’ dealings in the following communities: Hardwood Trails, Heath Brook Hills, Lakes Villages East, Lake Joy Magic Lake and Golfview Estates.

Coalition members have filed complaints with officials concerning Property Management Consultants; Deborah Herren, its president; S. Wesley Herren, Deborah Herren’s husband; and Michelle Santana, one of the firm’s community association managers.

The coalition’s allegations include:

That S. Wesley Herren continued to perform the duties of a licensed community association manager after voluntarily relinquishing his license on Oct. 31.

That Deborah Herren aids her husband in performing unlicensed duties.

That the company, also known as PMC Inc., improperly conducts board meetings and elections.

That PMC has misappropriated funds belonging to homeowners’ associations.

That PMC has engaged in “gross negligence and misconduct.”

Russ LaPeer, whose firm, Landt, Wiechens, LaPeer & Ayres, represents PMC and the principals named in the complaints, said his firm could only offer a “limited” response concerning the case.

“While a few, disagreeable, same individuals — with their own personal agendas — persist in repeating the same complaints, those are addressed by us each time, as is any other notion or position expressed by anyone else,” LaPeer wrote in an email.

LaPeer added that in “contentious legal matters, the law is specific, and limited; and facts must be formed on the basis of sound evidence. That is the position we insist on for anyone in connection with any complaint.”

LaPeer also claimed “no board of any homeowners association has ever filed any complaint, or voiced any dissatisfaction, concerning the management activities of Property Management Consultants, of Ms. Herren, Ms. Santana or any other licensed community association manager.”

LaPeer said likewise he knew of “no board that has leveled any criticism, complaint or dissatisfaction” with Wesley Herren, who has been “out of the equation” as a community association manager after surrendering his license last year.

The coalition provided an email dated Nov. 7, signed by Deborah Herren and addressed “Dear Board Member,” indicating Wesley Herren’s decision to relinquish his community association manager’s licenses was “based on false allegations from one homeowner with a personal vendetta against Wes.”

“This move protects our associations and board from complainants’ issues that were unresolved as much as 7 years before we were hired,” the email read.

LaPeer’s view concerning PMC and its principals differs sharply from the views of Yvonne Gordon and Don Kronen, two members of the coalition.

“There’s actually about eight associations that have pulled away from (PMC),” Gordon said. “More are in the works but it takes a mountain sometimes to get them out of the picture because they’ll do stuff like refuse to give you documents.”

Gordon, who is a resident of and board member at Magnolias at Ocala, said her association is among those to have cut ties with PMC. The coalition has members from 15 communities, she said.

“We feel that this cannot go on,” Gordon said. “We’ve banded together. We have meetings and we’ve tried to discuss what we can do to help not only our community but all the other communities that have been affected by this.”

Gordon and Kronen say an example of some of PMC’s misdeeds include disregarding the wishes of homeowners association boards in the hiring of vendors. In some cases the company has made unauthorized purchases with vendors it favors, sometimes costing thousands of dollars, without board approval, they allege.

Coalition members say they have participated in town hall meetings in the past year also attended by state Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, Department of Business and Professional Regulation staff and representatives of the State Attorney’s Office and other officials.

Hays said he has taken an interest in matters related to homeowners associations and developers.

“The issues are so varied,” Hays said. “Mismanagement of funds. Elimination of the boards by developer puppets. You have all kinds of things going on. And, quite honestly, you have times where there are some residents, who, no matter what you do, aren’t going to be happy, but those are very few and far between.”

Hays said he thinks many in the development community “want to get rid of the bad actors.” He also described Kronen and Gordon as “determined.”

“They speak from a standpoint of knowledge, not hearsay,” he said. “They document everything. Don and Yvonne are great people to work with.”

Frady of the Department of Business and Professional Regulation would not address the specifics of the case involving PMC. She said formal hearings are typically scheduled 30 to 70 days after cases are sent to the Division of Administrative Hearings.

When asked if his firm has taken any other action on behalf of PMC, such as negotiating a settlement, LaPeer replied, “Nothing else is going on.”

“That doesn’t mean nothing will, but as of right now, nothing else is going on,” he said.