Homeowners' boards face tighter regulations under proposed law
Article Courtesy of the Sun Sentinel

By Joe Kollin 
Posted March 16, 2004 

Boards that govern the thousands of homeowner association communities where millions of Floridians live will come under stricter regulation if a bill filed for consideration by state legislators becomes law.

The bill requires mandatory mediation of disputes between homeowners and their boards, ensures owners have the right to attend board meetings, prohibits lawsuits against those who complain about their association or developer, and allows homeowners to fly the U.S. flag, Florida flag and military service flag at certain times.

However, the bill, based on recommendations of the 15-member statewide Homeowners' Association Task Force, does not provide for a state agency to enforce homeowner law.

Supporters are hopeful that if legislators create an office of condo ombudsman, as proposed in a separate condo bill, the Legislature will let the ombudsman help homeowners.

"What good are laws if there is no place for people to get to get them enforced?" asked Karen Gottlieb of Dania Beach, who represented homeowners on the task force created by Gov. Jeb Bush last year. "We must make sure the condo ombudsman includes homeowners associations."

Now homeowners who have a problem with their board "are left out in the rain. We have no place to go except court, no place to call if we have problems. You have to call a lawyer, and they charge $2,500 to $5,000 to take a case," Gottlieb explained on Monday.

The recommendation for a condo ombudsman came from the House Select Committee on Condominium Association Governance, which conducted statewide hearings. The ombudsman's powers would include resolving disputes between owners and boards, fining individual directors and removing board members.

Sen. Jeffrey H. Atwater, R-North Palm Beach, filed the homeowner association bill (S2984) late Friday. Few people were aware he did it, including members of the task force, who didn't find out until Monday. No companion measure has been filed in the House, but it "should be soon," according to Meg Shannon, spokeswoman for the state Department of Business & Professional Regulation. The House measure would be identical.

"We feel that these recommendations should harmonize and improve relations in homeowners associations," she said.

William Sklar, the West Palm Beach attorney who was co-chairman of the task force, agreed.

"I'm very supportive of it and will promote its adoption," he said. "The bill contains the recommendations of the task force including mandatory mediation to keep disputes out of court and warranties by developers on common areas, such as streets, streetlights and clubhouses."