State task force explores
home owners' associations
Article Courtesy of the Bradenton Herald
Published January 16, 2004

EAST MANATEE - Display of flags. Disclosure. Alternate dispute resolution.

Those are among 23 items a Homeowners Association Task Force has been discussing with Florida residents since its appointment by Gov. Jeb Bush last year.

Tasked by the governor to investigate pet peeves between home owners' associations and property owners, the task force's eventual recommendations could affect Manatee County residents in dozens of deed-restricted communities.

The task force - a team of 10 lawyers, two state officials and three home owners from various consumer and residential groups - has been traveling around the state since last September talking to property owners and home owners' associations.

While some local residents said they are eager to learn the eventual recommendations of the task force, they aren't sure how it will help solve existing problems.

Many East Manatee residents believe home owners' associations ensure an attractive appearance for their neighborhood while protecting property values by enforcing deed restrictions.

But critics of the associations say there is a potential for abuse of authority and unreasonable rules.

Jan Bergemann of St. Augustine, one of the task force members and president of the Cyber Citizens for Justice group, is critical of an association's ability to spend community funds for litigation.

Bergemann believes there should be a governmental agency created to help settle disputes before they turn into lawsuits.

"As consumers, we want to create a strong agency with mandating powers," Bergemann said. "People want to buy a home, not the home owners' association politics."
He said he thinks there should be better checks and balances between property owners and home owners' associations.

Kent Kimes, a Mill Creek resident, said home owners' associations could be well served by using another process, such as regional mediation to avoid potential lawsuits.

"The cost of going to court and enforcing something is the tempering factor for us," said Kimes of his association. "We pick and choose our battles that would really effect our property values.
"I truly support home owners' associations, but there can be a time where it can be over zealous and exert too much control," Kimes said.

Mote Ranch resident Tony Bambu is embroiled in a dispute with the Mote Ranch home owners' association about a 3-foot statue of the Virgin Mary in front of his home.

"My position is: they are not following their own covenants, and there are discrepancies in the way they are enforced," Bambu said. "The decisions that the president made did not protect my property value."

But Roger Hoffman, president of the Mote Ranch association, said Mote property values have increased by 30 percent to 35 percent since 2000, and Bambu was not ordered to remove the statue.

"He has been offered three alternative places to keep his statue," Hoffman said, "and his position represents a significant minority in the community."

• WHAT: Homeowners Association Task Force meeting
• WHEN: 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Jan. 28
• WHERE: Knott Building, Room 412, The Capital, Tallahassee