INVESTIGATION? NO -- JUST A JOKE!
BARBARA M. BLANCO -- ALL FLORIDA MANAGEMENT
CAM COMPLAINT -- 2006-046031
Opinion By Jan Bergemann
Published July 1, 2008
an old wisdom: The best laws are useless if the laws are not being
enforced. Our legislature is trying to rein in the association problem,
but so far without success because the Department
of Business and Professional Regulation is not only failing to do its job,
it is obviously making its own rules to the disadvantage of
Some of the DBPR employees who are supposed to take care of the investigation and enforcement should actually be too ashamed to accept their paychecks. They are even going as far as 'interpreting" the statutes in order to avoid doing more than sending warning letters or guidance letters.
And despite lots of arbitration rulings showing a clear pattern of common problems, the DBPR was only too happy to close this voluminous file with a "Letter of Guidance."
Just read the Expert Opinion written by Chris Brown, President/CEO of C&S Condominium Management Services and Chairman of the Regulatory Council of Community Association Managers. To be honest, I wasn't sure if I should laugh or cry after reading this "opinion." Half of the letter was full of disclaimers, but when he tried to make a point, he failed miserably. Worst example (quote): "The Board of Directors and management may not have followed the association documents as to when to call the Annual Meeting. In one case the Bylaws require the meeting to be in December and the meeting was held in January. In the second case, the Bylaws also called for a December meeting. The meeting was not held in December but in May. I have seen this violation of association documents frequently and Boards have many reasons for not following the date in their association Bylaws. The most frequent is that the· developer set a weekday and time at say 10:00 AM which no one can attend due to being at work. While this would be a violation against the two Boards and Barbara Blanco, I do not consider this a serious violation requiring anything beyond a Division Information Letter or at worst a Warning Letter."
Just blame the developers for setting an inconvenient date? I'm sorry, but this was a blatant disregard of the governing documents. If the election would have been held just one or maybe two weeks later, I would possibly agree. But five (5) months later -- and only after the owners filed complaints? Why is it that many community association managers feel that governing documents are only valid if convenient for their purpose?
In another paragraph Brown states (quote): "Mr. Bergemann simply used the online corporate report which lists the Board Members addresses as the reason and assumption for the allegation ‘definitely not owners in the community.’” Did Brown consider that there is the possibility of checking the list of owners on the property appraiser's website? Brown assumes a lot. A lot more proof was offered, but nobody was interested!
This "expert letter" is an excellent example why regulation of professionals by their peers can't work!
To be honest, from a Professional Community Association Manager (PCAM), the highest designation awarded to a manager according to his company's website, I would have expected a little better -- even if Brown seems to be desperate to find some excuses for his colleague.
After reading through 372 pages of the file I'm really only sure about one thing: Barbara Blanco was 30 weeks pregnant on January 10, 2007 and couldn't make it to the office daily, according to an e-mail she sent on that day to DBPR investigator Phyllis Atwell.
Otherwise, all the documents revealed was the fact that the investigators failed to investigate and kept themselves busy trying to find excuses for CAM Barbara Blanco, despite complaints piling up from all sides.
According to the DBPR, the complaint was based on a memo sent by Jan Bergemann to State Representative Julio Robaina that contained many complaints brought by condo owners against All Florida Management. The biggest issues were untimely board elections, lack of notification of elections, and requirements for candidacy information sheets according to FS 718.
These are just some of the examples of the complaints the DBPR, the Office of the Condo Ombudsman, and CCFJ, Inc. received. Did this all only happen in the imagination of hundreds of owners, many of whom don't even know each other? Or is it a conspiracy of disgruntled owners who just don't like Barbara Blanco and her company All Florida Management?
Because two letters from Blanco's attorney Howard Hochman and an affidavit from Barbara Blanco weighed obviously a lot more than affidavits and written statements from hundreds of condo owners.
Gee, who can believe these disgruntled condo owners anyway?
Attorney Hochman sent two letters to the DBPR investigator, obviously sufficient to render all complaints moot:
A lot more cases were discussed, a lot more issues brought up. It's always the same: OWNERS are not notified about upcoming elections, the required letter to owners asking to submit candidacy papers are not received and the elections are just a sham. Why would you want to hold an annual meeting with election for a big condo association -- with a big meeting room inside the community -- in the office of the management company that holds seating for maximum 15 people (according to eye-witnesses)? Maybe you already know that nobody will show up, because the owners didn't get a notice? How about holding an election early to throw out a recall petition -- but without notifying the owners? Holding finally an election -- 5 months after required date -- in order to defeat a recall petition against the "sitting" board definitely makes sense for the management company, especially if the first item of business of the new board would be to fire the management company and the association attorney.
Are you aware that more than 50% of the recalls are not really directed against the board members but against association managers and attorneys? Don't forget, owners who don’t sit on the board can't fire these professionals!
And among all the hoopla about elections and recalls I found a letter sent out by ALL FLORIDA MANAGEMENT to the owners of the Les Chateaux at International Gardens Condominium Association, Inc. threatening with fines that in my opinion clearly contradict Florida Statutes FS 718.303(3) (quote): "Fines are $150.00 per days until the violation is corrected, unless otherwise noted and are subject to change." If the DBPR feels that they should write a Letter of Guidance to the management company, why not guide them in the right direction?
It is pretty obvious that the DBPR wasn't really serious about investigating the complaints -- or to really do something about those complaints. And, unlike the case of Robert Dugger, Sr., it only took the DBPR less than two years to figure out that there was nothing really wrong -- just small violations, actually not worth getting all excited about. Using the "expert opinion" of PCAM Chris Brown gave the DBPR executives the necessary excuse to bury another serious complaint against a community manager.
Let's face it: As long as the executives of the DBPR (DIVISION OF FLORIDA LAND SALES, CONDOMINIUMS AND MOBILE HOMES + CAM REGULATION) are not being replaced by people willing to do their job, legislators can create the best -- and most owner-friendly -- laws, but we will not see any changes.
A LITTLE HINT TO OUR LEGISLATORS AND GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS:
Start cleaning up the enforcement arm of the DBPR and we will quickly see much improvement!