Courtesy of The SUN SENTINEL
Published March 23, 2005
in Florida's condominium- and homeowner association-controlled communities now
have more places to turn when they have problems with each other or with the
The newly formed, non-profit Florida Community Association Coalition wants to
help boards find competent tradesmen and educate owners and directors about
their rights and responsibilities, said founder Mark Bogen.
"Like the AARP, which bands together seniors to use their clout for the
benefit of seniors, we want to band community association members together to
use their collective power to bargain with vendors for services, influence
legislation and educate members," said Bogen, a Boca Raton attorney who
writes a condo column for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.
Two other major organizations have already influenced legislation and answered
questions for thousands of residents.
Jan Bergemann, a retired chef frustrated with his St. Augustine homeowner's
association, in 2000 created Cyber Citizens for Justice to lobby for laws to
protect owners from their boards. CCFJ is credited with being the force behind
last year's major's changes to condo and homeowner law and is active during the
current legislative session.
A statewide law firm, Fort Lauderdale-based Becker & Poliakoff, in 2003
started the Community Association Leadership Lobby, or CALL, to look out for the
interests of the 4,000 associations it represents, according to its executive
director, Donna Berger.
"Beyond lobbying, we provide community outreach, information and
education," said Berger, an attorney with Becker & Poliakoff.
Unlike short-lived organizations of the past, the new ones appear more
permanent, possibly in response to pressures of the marketplace.
In Florida, more people are buying in communities with associations than in
traditional communities, experts say. Because they often don't realize what they
are getting into, they rebel against the rules and bylaws. That makes education
and information essential, say those familiar with community living problems.
Bogen is officially kicking off his group this month and says it will focus on
helping directors select contractors and get lower insurance rates, will help
residents protect themselves from identity theft; and will hold educational
seminars and provide an information-crammed Web site.
Membership is free and registration is via the Web site,
www.floridacoalition.com. So far, 240 associations and 500 individuals have
indicated they would join, Bogen said.
Bergemann's statewide group has 200 members who pay $20 a year but it also has
an e-mail list of thousands of residents he can mobilize to support and oppose
state laws. In addition to lobbying, Bergemann offers information and advice by
e-mail via the organization's Web site, www.ccfj.net.
"Everyone's on their own without Jan," said Arline Brecher, an owner
in the 5,260-unit Wynmoor community in Pompano Beach. "He keeps everyone
informed. His Web site is a billboard of what's happening in the state."
CALL, which represents only associations, opposes many of the bills that CCFJ
supports. Cyber Citizens says laws are needed to make it more difficult for
associations to foreclose on owners for not paying maintenance.
CALL, on the other hand, argues that would make it difficult for associations to
carry out the functions that all owners require, such as building upkeep and
CALL's Web site is www.callbp.com.
Dr. Daniel J. Mason, president of the 209-apartment Country Club Tower
Association in Coral Springs, said CALL helps prevent legislators from changing
laws that benefit the majority of owners.
"CALL came forth to tell legislators that what they're doing is not for the
benefit of the majority, that they would be throwing out the baby with the
bathwater because only a few people have had a problem," he said.
The Legislature last year created the position of condo ombudsman to help
educate condo owners and directors, mediate disputes and make recommendations to
the Legislature for any needed laws.
The ombudsman, Virgil Rizzo of Fort Lauderdale, said eventually he will have a
Web site to "offer education to the largest possible audience and offer
answers and solutions to common condominium problems."
His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org and his number in
Tallahassee is 850-922-7671. He doesn't yet have a South Florida phone number or
The Legislature in its current session will debate also having an ombudsman for