Opinion By Jan Bergemann
Published April 21, 2005
The fight for the CONDO BILL HB 1229 is getting really ugly. The specialized attorneys, members of the Community Associations Institute and CALL, the lobbyist group of the law firm of Becker & Poliakoff, don't seem to care what they say as long as they can entice people to oppose the bill. Depending on whom they are talking to, they pull out all the stops in order to convince condo-owners that they will suffer badly if this bill is enacted. Who cares if it takes misinformation, twisting the truth or plainly making dishonest statements? As long as it scares enough owners to oppose a bill that would actually help the owners and is very consumer-friendly.
But the approximately 100 specialized association attorneys in Florida, who share about 95% of the association business and the juicy lawsuits coming with it, are afraid they are losing the stranglehold on their cash cows -- the condominium associations in Florida.
You're a long-term board member of your association? Be afraid -- the bill carries a provision for a 1-year term-limit! You have to oppose the bill.
I'm still looking for that provision, because it is NOT part of the bill. Maybe certain attorneys can read between the lines?
You're a retiree living on fixed income? You better beware -- this bill will cause your maintenance dues to go sky-high!
You're part of the group of condo-owners who are fighting for financial survival? This bill will cause you to lose your home in a heartbeat. Reserve accounts will more than double your monthly dues!
You're a board member trying to do your best for your community? Watch out, the condo commandos who are behind this bill will get you and your property values will drop into nowhere!
Armed with this false or twisted information, condo-owners all over the state will write e-mails asking legislators to vote against the bill. It seems the Chicken Little theory still works and since many people are gullible, this system is successful.
Many of these people don't even realize that they are opposing a bill that would actually help them. Instead they are supporting a group of so-called professionals who are after their money! Many of the e-mail writers opposing the bill don't seem to be really convinced about the reasons they are quoting to oppose the bill -- they rather avoid signing their names under these e-mails.
And it gets really interesting if you ask these people for reasons why they are opposing the bill. You will find out that most of these people have never read the bill, much less know where to find the wording. They rely on the words of these same service providers, who obviously like nothing better than twisting the words and scaring the condo-owners. And it still works. Quite a number of people have sent e-mails opposing the bill, even if in most cases they didn't even know WHY they were opposing it!
The worst case of scare tactics so far happened in THE LAURELS AT MARGATE CONDOMINIUM ASSOCIATION, INC. According to the e-mails, it is a low-income community with many people on fixed income. They were told that their monthly maintenance dues would go up by about $300, from $222 to $517! They were told they would lose their homes if the "dangerous" condo bill would be enacted.
And counting the number of e-mails legislators received from this community, they actually believed it without questioning it. Where is common sense?
But they were not told that these same attorneys tried to sneak in a very dangerous provision into another pending bill -- HB 1593. Last year owners scored a decisive victory by getting a bill passed that would disallow liens and foreclosures for fines. But these attorneys, unhappy about losing a great cash cow, sneaked a provision into another bill, trying to get back what they lost. Under the pretense of doing it for the welfare of the associations -- as if they cared -- they added 12 all-important words to a sentence: "A fine shall not become a lien against a parcel unless it is imposed for violations of use restrictions on the land." These few words would effectively kill all the progress legislators made last year to protect owners in associations from abuses. And the funny part? Nobody wants to admit that he/she was the person who pushed for this sentence to be added to the bill, which otherwise is actually a good bill! It seems some of these attorneys not only like the Chicken Little theory, they are obviously Chicken as well.
I grew up in a society where the word of an attorney was still worth a lot. Truth and honesty were connected with that profession. But recent events are telling me that I quickly have to rethink. It seems that quite a few of these specialized attorneys are more driven by dollar signs and greed than by justice and truth!
We owners really need help by improved legislation since the government agency supposed to provide the protection fails miserably -- See OPPAGA REPORT.
We owners can just hope that our legislators realize who is really behind the opposition to consumer-friendly bills!
IF YOU HAVE QUESTIONS REGARDING THE BILL
PLEASE CONTACT US AT: HB1229@ccfj.net