An Opinion By Jan Bergemann 
President, Cyber Citizens For Justice, Inc. 

Published October 27, 2008


Isn't it sad when the person who gets paid from condo owners' money to protect their welfare by enforcing statutes, rules and regulations turns out to be the condo owners' worst enemy? 


Chief Michael Cochran and his Division are totally useless and do a lot more damage than anybody else. And this is ongoing for many years -- but nobody seems to be willing to do anything about it. A useless Division does actually more damage to the welfare of Florida 's citizens than all the embezzlers and bad guys -- and attorneys and managers together! The stories that create the headlines we are reading about in the media and watch on the daily news are about these folks. But most of the stories we hear about are caused by the Division clearly failing to do its job. Boards run wild -- they know they will not be held accountable; reserve funds are used at the discretion of the board; frivolous lawsuits are being filed against owners trying to fight for their rights; money is being embezzled because there is nobody to stop it -- and the list goes on.


Many of the people violating the law are not necessarily bad guys. But the temptation to violate laws is big if you know that the government agency supposed to uphold the laws is not doing its job and even obvious violations and misdeeds are left unpunished! 


When this year's legislative session ended, Florida 's legislators thought that they had passed a great owner-friendly condo bill -- H 995. State Representative Julio Robaina commented: "This bill is the result of legislators listening to the people, their constituents." Governor Charlie Crist signed the bill in a ceremony before the session was over, showing his appreciation and the importance of this bill. And considering the comments from all involved parties, everybody was happy.


That is, until Division Chief Michael Cochran and his "legal eagles" got their hands on it. From that moment on, everything went downhill.


The Division still insists that board members don't have to be deeded owners. Why? Because it's not clearly spelled out word by word. But FS 718.112(2)(d)1 states: Any unit owner desiring to be a candidate for board membership shall comply with subparagraph 3.Since the Division insists that non-members can serve on boards, it would either mean that the non-members desiring to be candidates don't have to follow the rules or can become board members by appointment. What is it? Isn't that a little far-fetched?


The condominium provisions of H995 are effective as of October 1, 2008. FS 718.112(2)(d)3. says: Not less than 60 days before a scheduled election, the association shall mail, deliver, or electronically transmit, whether by separate association mailing or included in another association mailing, delivery, or transmission, including regularly published newsletters, to each unit owner entitled to a vote, a first notice of the date of the election along with a certification form provided by the division attesting that he or she has read and understands, to the best of his or her ability, the governing documents of the association and the provisions of this chapter and any applicable rules.


In my opinion, that is a very clear statement. Not so, for Michael Cochran. On August 1 Mike Cochran sent me an e-mail, explaining why in his opinion the forms didn't have to be mailed with election notices of elections taking place after October 1: "Good morning Jan.  As you may know, the new law (HB 995, now ch. 2008-28, Laws of Florida ) does not take effect until October 1, 2008.  Therefore, the requirements imposed in the law can only apply to elections or other relevant matters occurring after that date." In Cochran’s opinion certificate forms only have to be mailed out with notices after October 1, affecting only elections after December 1.


So, no candidate certificate form was mailed with notices of elections scheduled for the month of October until the Division published on or around September 1 this "form", that surely lacked any official format. A third grader could have done a better job.


On September 16 Jon Peet finally authored a Condominium Association Candidate Certification Form that looked a lot more official. The form still lacks any kind of explanation -- much needed for better understanding, considering it's a brand-new law. 

It will be interesting to see how Michael Cochran will deal with the complaints from condo owners of associations where board members were elected after October 1 without signing the required certificate.


Apropos elections: Another new provision of the statute deals with staggered terms. The language is pretty clear -- for about everybody else but Michael Cochran: [FS 718.112(2)(d)1.]: "The terms of all members of the board shall expire at the annual meeting and such board members may stand for reelection unless otherwise permitted by the bylaws. In the event that the bylaws permit staggered terms of no more than 2 years and upon approval of a majority of the total voting interests, the association board members may serve 2-year staggered terms."


According to Cochran there is an "Invisible" exemption for board members that were elected for a three-year staggered term. Here the interpretation of the Division as published on their website:. Please don't laugh: "For upcoming elections, board members who are not up for election because they are in mid-term of a 3 year term may serve out the remainder of their term."


Please click HERE to read the full "interpretation" -- if you can call it that! I think it's more a self-styled invention that has little to do with the wording of the statute.


According to Cochran, the word ALL doesn't really mean ALL.  It just means the board members who were only elected for one-year or two-year terms. Somewhere between the line Cochran must have found some invisible exemption that allowed his interpretation. I'm still looking -- but I'm not a Division Chief!


The next sad chapter in Cochran's interpretations: Community Association Living Study Council. In a MEMO dated July 17, 2008, Cochran explained that the new Council is just a continuance of the Condo Advisory Council and the members of the "old" Council are the new members of the Living Study Council until new members are appointed. Despite objections from all sides, Cochran called a first meeting of the new Council, ignoring the fact that so far only two members had been appointed. The Governor's office had to tell Cochran to stop making unfounded decisions and cancel the already noticed meeting!


Talking retroactive? Only if it fits into Cochran's plans of avoiding to do the job he is being paid for! H995 limited the scope of jurisdiction of the Division. FS 718.501 (1) gives the Division complete jurisdiction to investigate complaints and enforce compliance with the provisions of this chapter with respect to associations that are still under developer control and complaints against developers involving improper turnover or failure to turnover. Limits Division jurisdiction to investigate complaints related to financial issues, elections, and unit owner access to association records after developer turnover. 

The signing of the bill most likely caused Cochran to tell his "investigators" to stop working on complaints no longer under the Division's jurisdiction starting October 1-- even if filed years ago! He most likely advised his subordinates to wait until October 1 to tell the complainants that the Division has no longer jurisdiction and the file is officially closed. What a great opportunity to clean up the statistics and close the files that anyway only collected dust for many months! And after October 1 the condo owners, who waited for months  -- and years -- for a response to their complaint, received just a letter telling them their efforts to fight for their rights were all wasted. In some cases the advice from Division employees: "You can file for arbitration!" Exactly that was supposed to be avoided. But who cares?  Definitely not Michael Cochran and the Division. They just left condo owners sitting there wondering how something like that could happen.


Maybe Cochran's "interpretations" come timely for Halloween: They are really scary!


The Division's arbitration section is another total failure. Some of the arbitrators obviously think they missed their calling and should be judges on the Florida Supreme Court with the right to overrule the Florida legislature and the Governor! Their interpretation of the Florida statutes can often only make you laugh -- if it wouldn't be so sad. If they don't like the provisions as worded in the statutes, they make up their own interpretations and rules, which are far removed from the actual legislative intent. 


If Division Chief Michael Cochran and his "Merry Men" feel that they should be the ones making the laws, they should run for public office and see if Florida's citizens want them as Governor, Senator or State Representative. As long as they are not elected officials, they are lowly government workers who are supposed to follow the orders given to them by the people in charge -- our elected officials!


It looks to me like some of the Division executives have the same attitude as the condo commandos they are protecting so well: Fulfill one time the childhood dream of being in charge and wielding lots of power! And that's exactly the reason why our condo association system fails the owners: Power-hungry people playing their own game!


In my opinion nobody can be that stupid and create these kinds of problems by mistake. In my opinion Chief Michael Cochran and his Division executives are creating these problems on purpose, trying to undermine the authority of our Governor and the Florida legislature. There is no other reasonable explanation.


We are hearing so much about Joe The Plumber in the moment. Don't you ever forget: Joe The Plumber lives as well in a condominium and sees how his life is being destroyed by incompetent government officials wasting his hard-earned tax dollars! Condo owner Joe The Plumber is getting sick and tired seeing his rights being trampled upon by the same Division that is being paid from his money! The elected officials may not be directly at fault, but they are actually the ones allowing it to happen by having a dysfunctional agency continue to make a laughing stock out of Florida 's laws. No wonder this state is called FRAUD FRIENDLY FLORIDA !


Believe me, his condo problems are much closer to condo owner Joe The Plumber than the problems in Washington and his vote will be much more influenced by his problems in his own home!


Everybody is screaming for help, we hear different solutions offered nearly every day. Most of the solutions proposed are pretty complicated and will most likely just fix a little here and a little there? Costly bail-out proposals are offered to "fix" the problems -- all at the expense of the taxpayers!


Why not start with the most simple solution that wouldn't cost a dime: Clean out the Division of Florida Condominiums, Timeshares, and Mobile Homes?

  • Hire people wiling to their jobs;

  • Fire executives who are just sitting there wasting condo owners' money hoping that nobody will bother them;

  • Hire people willing to obey the statutes without creating their own weird interpretations of Florida 's laws;

  • Hire people willing to enforce the statutes as enacted by the Florida legislature and signed into law by the Governor without rewriting the laws to their own taste;

  • Hire people who use common sense instead of fancy interpretations made up in their fantasy!

I can only wonder why our legislators and government officials, starting with Governor Charlie Crist, allow Michael Cochran to make a laughing stock out of them? Already Governor Jeb Bush and the various former DBPR secretaries were well aware of the incompetence of the Division and its executives and the unwillingness of the executives to do their jobs. OPPAGA points it out the problems of the Division in various reports that obviously nobody seems to read. Nothing has ever been done to remedy the horrendous situation.


If Floridians want to a hand out an award for the most incompetent government "servant" wasting good taxpayers' money, clearly the award should go to Chief Michael Cochran and his Division of Florida Condominiums, Timeshares, and Mobile Homes. Not even renaming the Division made any changes! The only way to create the much needed changes: Clean out the Division and put people in charge who are willing to do the job and willing to work for their money!


I would definitely vote for Michael Cochran as the