The Department of Business and Professional Regulation's Division of Regulation "monitors those professions and related businesses to ensure that the laws, rules and standards set by the Legislature are followed.  This is accomplished by proactively monitoring the professionals and related businesses; aggressively pursuing and investigating complaints of wrongdoing; utilizing compliance mechanisms such as notices of noncompliance and citations; and the performance of statutorily mandated inspections."  --  From the 2006-2007 Division of Regulation Annual Report


These are strong words from the DBPR -- but are they merely words? The best statutes are useless without enforcement.  The Department's consistent avoidance of enforcement fails everyone -- the public, property owners, and the many fine Community Association Managers who act professionally.  It is a disservice to Florida.  This situation must change!


Importance of CAM Regulation


Community Association Managers affect the biggest investment most people ever make -- their homes.  When owners buy, they are told about bylaws that must be followed and that the rules will be enforced.  But how do they feel when they find out that the association’s board and the CAM are ignoring with impunity the very same bylaws -- and even State laws --  whenever they please?  Once owners find out that the boards or CAMs are above the law, it becomes apparent that the value and safety of the home is in jeopardy.


Mishandling of Complaints, Investigations and Prosecutions


Complaints against CAMs are handled behind closed doors. Without a transparent process, there is no way to refute false information supplied by CAMs, and no way to ensure a fair investigation by the DBPR.  Complainants who raise serious issues are left baffled as to why their complaints are ignored and dismissed by the DBPR.  Over 97% of CAM complaints are dismissed without explanation.



FACT :  The DBPR dismisses 97% of CAM complaints without disciplinary action.


Filing a complaint is difficult and risky for both complainants and witnesses.  After they have registered a complaint, conflicts and tensions at their association can make life miserable for complainants and expose them to retaliation.  The DBPR may close the case without ever notifying the complainant.  There is a 97% probability that they will be left with no remedy.


Reading the public records is both revealing and depressing.  One complainant supplied more than 200 pages of documents, including minutes of board meetings, e-mails, and a letter from a CPA who said it was impossible to do his job because of the manager's bad bookkeeping and missing financial documents.  Then after months of not hearing a word about the complaint from the DBPR, the complainant received a form letter that the case was closed due to "insufficient evidence."  


Another complaint filed in 2002 is still not resolved in 2008, despite a court ruling in a related matter finding that the "Association is merely a sham which does not exercise any authority and acts solely at the behest of the management company."


In a third case, the DBPR asked for an "expert" opinion, but then disregarded it and closed the case despite the consultant's opinion that "after reviewing all the documents provided, it is apparent that there is sufficient evidence to pursue action against (the CAM) on the violation of F.S. 468.436(1)(b)5 - Gross Negligence." 


Genuine Investigation Needed


If a complaint is supported by relevant documents, then a letter or phone call from the CAM to the investigator denying the accusations should never be considered enough reason to close an investigation.   But this happens.


When CAMs are accused of violations, it is irresponsible for investigators to accept their denials as unchallenged fact.  Unsupported words are meaningless.  Decisions must be based on documentation and witnesses’ testimony.  Testimony must be given under oath.  Decisive legal action is needed to protect Florida homeowners. 


It buries the truth when complainants are kept uninformed, while the CAM's statements are accepted as gospel.  This bias protects CAMs from facing their accusers, or even having to tell the truth.  With investigators that don't investigate and "experts" who disregard facts to suit their bias, there are some very obvious reasons that 97% of complaints are never processed.


The public records contain examples of fraternization between investigators and CAMs; for example, discussing "pregnancy and how it goes with the new baby."  In another example, the investigator's report relates the CAM stated the complaint was "Sour grapes. She lost the election."  The motives of a complainant and the popularity of a CAM are irrelevant to the DBPR's enforcement mission.  All that matters is whether or not the CAM is following the law in view of the actual evidence.  This simple fact is often ignored when the DBPR "resolves" cases through consultation with CAMs and "experts" behind closed doors.


Case history files are not disclosed to the complainant, unless they invest in a public record request.  But since the DBPR does not notify complainants when action occurs within a case, in practice, the complainant would have no way to even know that the public records exist.  And even if these records are obtained, there is no remedy when the records show that the department mishandled a complaint. 


If there is "insufficient evidence" or "lack of documentation," then it is the investigator's job to get out of the office and look for it!   Failure to investigate is no excuse for ignoring a violation and closing a case.  Complaints are filed by ordinary people, and they do the best they can.  Since the complainants are not “experts,” they cannot be expected to anticipate every legal detail. 


The DBPR staff should make it a priority to follow its own mission statement to "aggressively pursue and investigate complaints."  Certainly, the Department's mission is not to protect CAMs accused of violating their licenses.


A common excuse from CAMs is that they acted on direction of the board, but that is not acceptable.  Nor is it any sort of defense against violations when the CAM says he is popular with the board.  CAMs are licensed professionals and the license carries responsibility.


How do you think complainants and witnesses willing to testify under oath feel when they find out that they were not notified about the hearing in front of the administrative judge?  Perhaps the CAM has cost their association a lot of money.  They have spent years waiting to see the violator prosecuted while they supplied the Department with ample proof about the violation.  Yet they end up being excluded from the hearing for which they may have waited many years.


Proposals for Action

  • PROVIDE TRANSPARENCY.  Make access to information about the case easily available.

  • ASSIST THE COMPLAINANT.  The Department should provide help in identifying needed documentation, genuinely investigate and understand the complaint, and help the complainant understand what is needed for legal sufficiency.

  • PROVIDE STATUS REPORTS.  The Department should send periodic reports to all parties.

  • PROVIDE REBUTTAL OPPORTUNITIES.  It is unjust to ignore the complainant after the original filing.  The complainant is the person who knows what the complaint is about.  The Department should provide the complainant an opportunity to review and rebut the CAM's response to the complaint.


  • DISALLOW CAM USE OF ASSOCIATION ATTORNEY.  The association is not responsible for defending the actions of the CAM. 

  • PROVIDE HEARING NOTICE TO COMPLAINANT.  The complainant should be invited to the hearing.

  • PROVIDE PUBLIC CASE SUMMARY.  If the justification for a dismissal is never disclosed, the performance of the DBPR cannot be evaluated and constructively improved.  When an investigation is closed without enforcement, the complainant and the public deserve a point-by-point explanation, and an opportunity for appeal.  A form letter citing "insufficient evidence" or "lack of documentation" is simply not acceptable.

  • EXPERT OPINIONS.  Right now, "expert opinions" may be used to decide the case, or be completely ignored, depending on the Department's whim.  Expert opinions should not be "shopped," but should be obtained from unbiased consultants.  They should contain pro and con reasoning and refer to specific evidence, not generalizations.  They are appropriate when complicated details need to be explained.  They should not be used to interpret law.  The application of law and rule to the documented facts of a case should be only be performed by Department attorneys, and their legal reasoning should be documented.

Restoring Credibility


If we don't create clear and effective procedures for handling Community Association Manager complaints, investigations and prosecutions, then the profession and the DBPR will continue to lose credibility.  


The DBPR's enforcement response to complaints sets the minimum performance standards for the professions.  CAMs must come to understand that their licenses are valid only as long as they stay within the law.  Credibility is totally lost when the public sees a CAM's record, such as this one with complaint after complaint -- but no enforcement:



Every time a CAM violates law or ethics but there is no enforcement, it looks as though the State of Florida is saying, "He paid his license fee so and that's all we care about."


More than six million people live in condominiums and homeowners’ associations in Florida.  About 10,000 CAMs work to manage many of these.  Because CAM’s actions financially affect so many people, and considering the damage caused by the minority of bad CAMs, the lack of regulation tells the public that Florida state government is just not doing its job.  The statistic of 97% non-enforcement also tells irresponsible CAMs that they can do whatever they want.

The State of Florida does not control who serves on a board.  But the state does control who may work as a CAM and the scope of that person’s professional behavior.  


The credibility of the CAM license must be restored.   Then a Florida license will be a credential ensuring a Community Association Manager can be relied upon to perform competently, ethically and legally.

Terence Brennan, Consumer Member

Regulatory Council for Community Association Managers                                             November 7, 2008