Rental properties fuel Sabal Harbour debate


Article Courtesy of the East County Observer

Published 08/12/04
By Christine Suh


In the wake of state legislation to restrict homeowners' association powers, people from all over Florida made a flurry of phone calls to the president of a citizens' group watching homeowner issues.

At least two calls came from Manatee County, saidJan Bergemann, president of Cyber Citizens for Justice Inc., based in St. Augustine.
"They just want to know what to do," Bergemann said.

In June, Gov. Jeb Bush signed into law two bills designed to improve relations between homeowners and the neighborhood boards that govern them. But since then, Bergemann said instead of waning, tensions have mounted. Boards are hurrying to amend their deed restrictions before the new state laws go into effect in October, he said. The biggest issue now is rentals.

Many association board members, citing increased crime and poorly kept properties, would like to minimize the number of rentals in their neighborhoods. While some homeowners who rent their units acknowledge there are occasional problems associated with renting, they also argue rentals can attract investors and increase property values.

"I rent to wealthy people from overseas who expect five-star accommodations," said Michael
Eastoe, owner of a Sabal Harbour home. "All of the rentals in that subdivision look fabulous -
better than the non-rentals. That's a good thing for the community."

Officers of the Sabal Harbour homeowners association don't see it that way. According to
Eastoe, they want to restrict the number of rental units in the community to a maximum of 25%
of homes. Deed restrictions and amendments previously have not tried to limit rentals. Sabal Harbour will vote on putting a cap on rentals later this month. But Eastoe is encouraging the board to postpone the decision until after the state laws go into effect. Not waiting would be unethical, he said.

Orlando resident, Peter Cranis, who owns a Sabal Harbour home, agrees with Eastoe.
"I'm concerned the association is trying to act so quickly," Cranis said. "Why not wait for the
state law to take effect?" The issue goes beyond mere squabbling. Cranis feels his basic freedoms are at stake. "It goes almost to my constitutional rights," he said.

Homeowner association board member Wayne Gowen declined to comment. Phone calls to other board members were not returned.

In a heated online discussion on the unofficial Web site for Sabal Harbour residents, one homeowner said she would move if rentals were not restricted.

"My quality of life and sense of community is being severely compromised by rentals,
particularly because my street is laden with them," she wrote. Later, she added, "I am so sick
of it. I am so sick of not having any neighbors to speak of on my whole dang street."

The fight over rentals between homeowners and associations is just the latest in a long struggle for group versus individual homeowner rights in the country. Web sites from California to New Jersey to Florida call for restricting association governing rights. The obstacle, however, is money.

"We don't have the money to hire an attorney every time our bushes are 2 inches too high,"
Bergemann said.


In Florida, the state last year created a task force to examine the issue. Their recommendations led to the two new bills signed by Bush in June. Among other things, Senate bills 2984 and 1184 prohibit associations from claiming a homeowner's property for unpaid fees and require sellers and developers to make full disclosures before a sale. According to the task force's Web site, the new law "significantly broadens the right of homeowners to fly flags."

"It's a good step in the right direction," Bergemann said. "Most of us have been renters at
one time in our lives."