Florida, February 23, 2004
By Jan Bergemann, Member of the HOA Task Force

The final report of the HOA Task Force was finally published on the web pages of the DBPR, without giving the members the courtesy of taking a look at these recommendations before it was published. See:

You need Adobe Reader to read report!

It's amazing to read all the goodies this "Task Force" recommended and how it got worded so nicely? But I guess we homeowners on the Task Force knew from Day One that we were just invited to fill some slots and to create the impression that the task force was really formed to solve some of the pressing problems faced by homeowners in associations on a daily basis. In my opinion it was pretty clear from the beginning that the issues had already been discussed and settled among the attorneys and industry stakeholders. Not one of the recommendations can be considered consumer-friendly --  if not accompanied by the creation of a government agency with enforcement power!

Why not let common sense prevail over the financial interest of the industry stakeholders?

We homeowners had asked to be allowed to file a minority report, often used to make valuable points. 
Here it is in short words:

  • Most of the recommendations are good if enforced by a government agency, but are detrimental to the welfare of the homeowners if these owners are left to fend for themselves. 

But we were never approached and the final report was filed without our being asked for any input. We homeowner-activists saw the report on the same day as the public. Considering the fact that we paid the expenses to attend the task force meetings from our own pockets, we should have been given the draft of the report for input -- or the possibility to file a minority report -- just common courtesy?

Representative Julio Robaina, Chairman of the House Committee On Condominium Governance, is proposing the creation of an ombudsman's office. This is an excellent idea that would definitely help to bring the parties back to the table. A combined bill -- creating an ombudsman's office financed by the owners and adding many of the good proposals of the Task Force -- would definitely avoid ugly fights in the legislature and in November, easily foreseeable if the proposals were filed in opposing bills. 

All sides should reconsider in order to create something that really helps Florida's citizens!
Combining ideas normally creates something useful!

Adding the Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation issue into these recommendations is clearly a breach of the decisions made during the Task Force meeting in Tallahassee on January 28.   On that date it was clearly decided to deal with SLAPP separately. Co-Chair Sklar even announced it in my recollection? Now here we are seeing it all included in the package. Maybe the people pulling the strings behind the scenes felt we consumers would be more willing to support the legislative proposal if the SLAPP issue were included? The "carrot-on-the-stick" approach? 

Definitely wrong! The other recommendations are so bad for consumers that adding the SLAPP issue won’t even make it more palatable. Most of the proposals would be good if there would be a government agency with enforcement power. But that proposal was clearly defeated by the attorneys and the industry stakeholders. They definitely don't want government oversight. Isn't it easier to bilk the consumers if nobody is watching?

It's amazing what is going on with the DBPR. Julie Baker, Deputy Director of the DBPR and co-chair of the task force, voted over and over again against any proposal that even smelled like consumer protection. Her vote went generally with the industry stakeholders. And they sure didn't forget to write again in the proposal:  "May contract with an outside vendor to perform the training or certification." 
Haven't we still learned from the issue with the condominium education courses, which were given to the Community Association Institute, a trade organization of vendors? Billing $500,000 to the trust fund created by the unit-owners? 

No wonder that Stephen Comley asked Secretary Carr at the last Task Force meeting how to start an investigation of her department. In his speech Comley said: "Division’s enforcement officials, at least their senior officials, have in large part been apparently reduced to  “paper tigers," apparently lacking the motivation, resources, political focus, and/or legislative and regulatory power to play a meaningful enforcement role to protect and ensure compliance of the laws enacted by the legislature."

Comley’s appeal created a flood of letters to Senate President James King, asking him to start this investigation. Many consumers just don't trust an agency where so many open problems are left unanswered and where a Deputy Director of this department votes openly against consumer protection.  This is a Division that was mostly created to protect consumers' rights! 

But why cry over spilled milk? The Task Force definitely created more public outcry than many of the stakeholders wanted and anticipated. The media has gotten hold of the issue.  It will definitely be an important election issue for the November elections, because it is very obvious that this is an industry bill, created by the industry -- for the industry -- with total disregard for the welfare of the constituents and consumers! But adding an ombudsman's office with enforcement power would immediately turn the tables.

Consumer-friendly bills are being filed at this moment, supported by consumer-friendly legislators, who are already under siege by the industry lobbyists. We consumers have to help them and stand up for our rights!

But it is about time for the Florida Community Developers and the Florida Homebuilders to decide where they want to go. Because as long as there is no government agency with enforcement power, their product will be considered seriously flawed by many consumers and the media up North is absolutely willing to tell their readers: "Don't Move To Fraud Friendly Florida!"

It is time that we homeowners finally again take again control of our associations.
We want associations to be "...of, by and for the owners!"