Investor's mission: Get Florida to regulate property managers

Article Courtesy of The Orlando Sentinel

By Mary Shanklin

Published August 25, 2011


British investor Lloyd Green was surprised to learn recently that the taxes on his vacation-rental house in Davenport's Ridgewood Lakes subdivision were unpaid and that the pool was green and the yard unmowed.

Green would like to file a complaint against his property-management company but has concluded he would have more luck in Florida complaining about a bad haircut.

"I could come here tomorrow and set up as a property manager, but I could not come here tomorrow and do business as a barber," said Green, a lawyer who spends part of the year living in Seminole County's Heathrow community and the other part at his home in the United Kingdom.

Florida licenses barbers, boxers and talent agents, but Green said it does not go far enough policing short-term-rental property managers, who are hired to lease investors' houses and condos; pay clients' property and resort taxes; and generally maintain the properties.

Green last month proposed to the Florida Real Estate Commission that the state set standards, require education and administer tests specifically aimed at the short-term rental industry. No formal proposal was made, and the commission's director would not comment on the idea, but Green said the commission seemed open to the concept.

Speaking from his home in Heathrow, Green said shoddy property management is a particular problem for overseas investors because they can't police their properties. He said he ultimately lost $10,000 from an account that had been set up for his property manager to pay property taxes, homeowner insurance, utilities and other expenses on the Davenport house that he purchased in 1998.

Green's rental house, which is usually leased to seasonal residents and vacationers, was managed by Florida Choice Vacation Home Rentals Inc. Green said a billing statement from Florida Choice earlier this year showed that his property taxes had been paid, but he later learned that his tax bill remained outstanding. He said he also came to realize that he was paying for weekly landscaping even though the property's yard was being serviced only once every two or three weeks. This also made him skeptical of sudden, extra charges for unusual services such as removing snakes from the pool.

Windermere resident Neil Woodward, manager of Florida Choice, said recently that he was aware of accusations made by Green and others but said his attorney had advised him not to comment. He did note that his company was an established entity, with more than 20 years' experience in property management.

Green said he began collecting complaints from other Florida Choice customers, who said the water and electricity had been cut off at some rentals. Owners began posting complaints on a website.

"If this gets out, people will stop buying properties in Florida. There is no recourse for all the people in Florida who own a second home," Green said. "The fact there is no regulation is just staggering. It has a huge economic impact if this isn't dealt with."

Florida was actually the first state, in 1988, to pass legislation requiring licenses for community-association managers, but those individuals deal with the management of residential developments with at least 10 units, rather than individual rental houses.

The state also licenses real-estate brokers and agents, even regulating their rental and leasing activities. But Green argues the state could do more to protect investors' interests in short-term rentals.