Courtesy of The Palm Beach Post
Rhonda Swan for The Post Editorial Board
December 24, 2013
The Florida Legislature was right to require the Department of Business and Professional Regulation to inventory and oversee the state’s homeowner associations. HOA boards have considerable power and in some cases wield it to make the lives of homeowners miserable.
As The Post’s Kimberly Miller reported, the first statewide census found Palm Beach County has an estimated 1,500 HOAs
-- the most of any county in the state -- in charge of developments with anywhere from 10 to 5,000 homes. Overall, the state has 12,700 HOAs that oversee 2.5 million homes or undeveloped lots.
The state governs condominium associations, and has the power to review resident complaints, issue fines and recall board members who act unlawfully. HOAs, though, had not been subject to similar oversight until now.
The new law requires HOAs to register with the state and allows the Department of Professional and Business Regulation to investigate complaints against them. The agency can discipline board members and association managers who violate HOA laws. Directors charged with and convicted of embezzlement of association funds can be removed from office. Board members also can be penalized, including immediate removal from office, for accepting kickbacks from anyone seeking to do business with the HOA.
“I get so many reports of what I consider unconscionable behavior,” said Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, who pushed to regulate HOAs. “I felt like it was necessary.”
Indeed. In response to the foreclosure crisis the Legislature enacted changes in state law giving HOAs expanded powers to help them recover fees from delinquent homeowners. HOAs can collect rents from tenants whose landlords are 90 days or more behind in their dues. They also can deny access to amenities, such as pools, recreation centers and tennis courts to homeowners and their tenants. And gated communities can force homeowners and tenants to use entrances for visitors, which often have long lines, instead of those reserved for residents.
Some HOAs, though, have gone as far as forcing homeowners and their tenants to park their cars off site and walk to their homes. State law governing the suspension of use rights strictly prohibit HOAs from preventing homeowners and tenants vehicular access to their homes. Homeowners and tenants who lack the resources to legally fight HOAs are at the mercy of board members who choose to be vindictive.
“If you have a problem with an HOA,” said Jan Bergemann, who has worked for HOA reform as president of the grassroots organization Cyber Citizens for Justice, “the only thing you can do is go to court.”
We supported the new laws empowering financially struggling HOAs to recoup the money owed to them. That power, though, should have come with accountability. Now it does.