Fear of condo board reprisal stifles objections to actions

Article Courtesy of Sun Sentinel

By Joe Kollin

Published March 21, 2007


Sometimes a little common sense is just as important as laws, bylaws, rules and regulations in running communities controlled by condo and homeowner associations.

Consider these recent actions by boards in Broward and Palm Beach counties. Readers say they don't like what their boards did and would like to object but are afraid of the repercussions if they do.

Vindictiveness is a common fear, especially in condos. Last year, state Rep. Julio Robaina, R-Miami, and then-state condo Ombudsman Virgil Rizzo attempted to get laws passed making it illegal to abuse owners, especially the elderly. They also sought a law to discourage boards from suing owners who exercise their right to complain to a government agency about their associations' actions.

Neither law passed, and no similar bill has been proposed so far this year. So many owners remain hesitant to speak out.

How would you respond if you were a director?

Ever since a Margate complex was built decades ago, there have been barbecue pits behind the clubhouse. Few residents ever used them; many didn't know they existed.

Now, some owners want the association to build more accessible pits closer to their buildings. But not everyone agrees.

Two residents say they object. They don't want the smoke and litter. They fear being ostracized if they speak out.

A Boynton Beach homeowner association recently assessed each household $1,500 to refurbish the social hall. Now, the board won't let owners use it for routine events, saying it should be used only for parties the board officially sanctions.

"Are 30 or 40 residents being unreasonable in requesting usage of the social hall on an available evening to watch a DVD, bring in pizza or other food, use our kitchen appliances for warming food and use the fridge?" asks one resident. "We are willing to accept responsibility for the usage and would even provide a security deposit."

He adds, "Some of our residents are also fully trained in the use of all social hall equipment and appliances."

A Wellington-area homeowner association recently had a private company take over operation of the clubhouse snack bar. The board assessed each of the hundreds of homeowners $27 a month to give the snack bar operator.

In return, owners can use the $27 as credit, either at the snack bar or at the operator's restaurant in a nearby shopping center.

An owner objects, calling it the "forced purchase of a debit card" that makes it "mandatory to purchase food." He wants the board to end the assessment.

At a Fort Lauderdale condo, the president placed four cameras in the pool area. Each camera could turn 360 degrees and zoom in for close-ups. A couple of residents called them "spy-type cameras" and demanded their removal.

The president agreed to remove three, leaving one for security. He monitors it from his personal computer.

"We feel it's an invasion of privacy," says an owner. "It isn't right for him to be able to sit at home or at work and zoom in on [women] at the pool."

The owners who initially protested continue to object and say many others also do. But all are afraid to be identified for fear of getting on the president's bad side, one owner says.

This is a building with younger, upscale working people.


Q. A condo owner in the Lighthouse Point-Hillsboro Beach area notes many buyers financed their homes at 100 percent when the market was hot. Now, they can't pay their mortgages and assessments and are walking away from their units. Associations then foreclose for back assessments and take possession. The reader says several directors want to foreclose because they believe their associations will get the units free and clear. "That's not right, is it?" the reader asks. "Foreclosing for assessments doesn't blow the mortgage, does it?"

A. Responds Chase Adams, a Fort Lauderdale attorney who specializes in planning financial strategies for clients: "You are right. It will be difficult, if not impossible, to find a first mortgage written that would permit any other lien holder to get priority in a foreclosure."

Whether the bank or the association forecloses, the mortgage is the first thing to be paid from the proceeds.

"A bank can foreclose without paying the association, but an association cannot foreclose without paying the bank," he says.