Organization forms to help Florida condo, homeowner associations

Article Courtesy of The SUN SENTINEL

By Joe Kollin
Published March 23, 2005

 

Residents 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 outside world.

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 lawn care.

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 virgil.rizzo@dbpr.state.fl.us and his number in Tallahassee is 850-922-7671. He doesn't yet have a South Florida phone number or office.

The Legislature in its current session will debate also having an ombudsman for homeowner associations.


 
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