Condo Owners Accuse Board of Intimidation,

Incompetence, During State Panel Hearing

 “Why do you think they hold this meeting at the airport?

Do you think everybody can afford to spend $20 on parking

to attend a meeting?” Ramon Herrera, Miami Beach condo owner 


By Mario Martinez

Published Thursday, June 30, 2005

Dozens of condominium owners offered hours of testimony about their hardships to a special state-appointed panel, during a meeting last Saturday.

The vast majority of owners and residents attending the June 25 meeting of the Advisory Council on Condominiums, held at the Miami International Airport Hotel, complained about issues related to their buildings’ boards of condo directors such as uneducated condominium associations, safety concerns arising from poor maintenance, and even vindictive board members who make life impossible for owners who voice concerns.

The ACC, a panel tasked with advising Florida legislators on condo issues, has been under fire recently for not supporting the bill that created the condominium ombudsman, and for recent allegations of an existing conflict of interest for two ACC members that has led condominium owners to file ethics complaints.

The allegations have come from others as well. State Rep. Julio Robaina sponsored the 2004 bill that created the condo ombudsman. Robaina said the council certainly gives the impression of impropriety by including two members whose firms often defend condominium associations in disputes with condominium owners.

“There is a clear conflict on the board,” said Robaina. “Two of those gentlemen represent a firm that makes a lot of money going after condo owners who speak out against their condo associations. That to me is a clear conflict.”

The gentlemen Robaina referred to are Peter Dunbar, of Pennington, Moore, Wilkinson, Bell and Dunbar, and the ACC’s chair, Joseph Adams, who have both been accused of ethics violations. Adams, an attorney with the firm Becker & Poliakoff, took offense to some of Robaina’s remarks and asked the legislator to speak clearly and to the point.

“Representative Robaina, I have heard several comments regarding alleged agenda pushing by this board; have you seen that take place here today?” asked Adams.

“No sir. To tell you the truth I have not seen that here today,” said Robaina. “But I’ll tell you that if I do I will be the first one to say it and go public with it.”

Robaina did express concerns with the role some of the law firms that represent condominium associations play during negotiations with condo owners and residents. He said many of the tactics employed by the firms are aimed at intimidating owners into keeping quiet about their problems with the association. Robaina’s sentiment was shared by a lot of the owners who testified Saturday, many of whom were warned against doing so by their condo boards’ attorneys.

Manuel Blanco, a condominium owner in the Village of King’s Creek in Kendall, told the board his condo association completely ignores letters and warnings from the Department of Business and Professional Regulation because the association and the DBPR share representation and goals.

“There is a serious lack of enforcement by the DBPR,” said Blanco. “Yeah, they file educational letters and warning letters but they are ignored. Then they ignore our e-mails to officials. There’s a conflict of interest between the DBPR and the law firms that represent the associations.”

Nina Iozzi said her Hallandale condominium association has tried to discredit her views by spreading lies about her to neighbors and has now employed a law firm to silence her complaints.

“I received a gag order telling me to stop talking about my problems to my neighbors,” said Iozzi. “It came from Becker & Poliakoff, the firm the chair [Adams] represents. Is that a conflict to you?”

Iozzi didn’t let the gag order deter her from speaking before the board. Her concerns regarding the lack of education and accountability required from condo association members were shared by most of those who spoke Saturday.

Representative Robaina suggested the ACC utilize the condo ombudsman to address the issue of educating the growing number of condo associations, a move he said the current ombudsman, Virgil Rizzo, has already begun. Robaina said Rizzo should be encouraged to provide associations with insight into the operation of condominium communities, a move the board has previously refused.

“Regarding the ombudsman, we should consider clarifying his duties and giving him additional responsibilities,” Robaina said. “We should also consider giving him some teeth because he’s already taking 30,000 calls a month educating people. Most importantly he should have the cooperation of the DBPR, who should be working with the ombudsman.”

Robaina added that the ombudsman was created specifically because the DBPR was not doing its job. “[The ombudsman] would not be here if the DBPR fined people,” Robaina said. “That’s how stuff gets resolved, but you have to be willing to take the heat. The DBPR has an appeal process, but it’s never used. Let’s give [violators] a chance to get to appeal, instead of wasting time with warning letters.”

Many residents present worried that negligence by condo associations could lead to their buildings being condemned and evacuated by government agencies, essentially forcing them from their homes. Unfortunately, the situation has already arisen more than once.

The recent Castle Beach episode has caused many condo owners and residents to question the safety of their buildings and how hard their associations work to keep them sound. Castle Beach condominiums were deemed unsafe by the city of Miami Beach and residents were forced to evacuate the building. Although condo owners no longer live there or collect rent from tenants for their units, they must continue paying their mortgages.

Just this week, the Versailles Hotel and Condominium was evacuated when the Miami Beach Building Department found problems with its air-conditioning system. Residents of that building were forced to leave their residences by 7 a.m. Monday.

That news was on the mind of many attending the ACC meeting who were hoping a similar situation would not affect them. “I came here today thinking that this wouldn’t make a difference and you know what? I was right,” said Ramon Herrera, who owns a condo on Miami Beach. “[The ACC] doesn’t care. They don’t want to hear all this. Why do you think they hold this meeting at the airport? Do you think everybody can afford to spend $20 on parking to attend a meeting? They don’t want people here. To them everything is fine the way it is.”