Courtesy of The Miami Herald
Published May 4, 2017
The Florida Senate on Monday gave unanimous and final
approval to a bill that imposes criminal penalties on condominium violations
such as electoral fraud, theft of funds and conflicts of interests — all
significant problems in Miami-Dade County.
The 37-0 vote on the
bill, already endorsed by the House last week in another
unanimous vote, now goes to Gov. Rick Scott for his
“This is very important for Miami-Dade because it’s
something that condo owners have been waiting for for nearly
a decade,” said Hialeah Republican Sen. René Garca, who
co-sponsored the bill with Miami Democrat José Javier
Rodríguez. “But the reforms will help all Florida residents
with similar problems.”
García declared from the Senate floor that the problem of
fraud and other abuses in Miami-Dade condo associations was
out of control and that some homeowners’ associations had
turned into “mini dictatorships” or “totalitarian regimes.
The bill was approved
one year after El Nuevo Herald and Univision 23 published
the results of a joint investigation into condo scandals.
The series, “Condo Nightmares,” highlighted cases of
electoral fraud, fake signatures on ballots, conflicts of
interests, misappropriation of funds and rigged bids.
Condominium owners from Miami-Dade County pose in the
Capitol in Tallahassee on Monday, May 1, 2017.
"This is very important for
Miami-Dade because it’s something that condo owners have been waiting for
for nearly a decade."
Hialeah Republican Sen. René García
A report by a Miami-Dade grand jury in February echoed the reports and
recommended significant changes to Chapter 718 of state statutes, which
regulates condos, as well as the state agency that is supposed to monitor
and punish violations, the Department of Business and Professional
García and Rodríguez were co-sponsors of SB 1682. The House version was
sponsored by Miami Republican Rep. José Félix Díaz.
The Miami-Dade legislators also pushed to assign state funds for a new DBPR
office in the county that will deal exclusively with condo complaints.
After the Senate vote, García and Rodríguez hugged on the Senate floor and
raised their arms in victory as they pointed to a dozen Miami-Dade condo
owners who had traveled to Tallahassee to support the bill.
“This is a first and very important step in the fight to correct all the
problems we have,” said Isidora Rodríguez, the owner of a condo in Hialeah
and one of the people who traveled to Tallahassee.
“We are here to make our voices heard,” said Maritza Escobar, who like other
members of the group wore an orange T-shirt with the words, “We are all
The first version of the bill was opposed by associations of lawyers who
represent condo homeowners associations and the Florida Bar Association,
arguing that it needlessly created new crimes.
The South Florida lawmakers made several amendments to the bill, which now
makes withholding condo information a felony if it’s proven that the
documents were denied in order to commit or cover up a crime.
The bill now “clarifies that various criminal components of [Florida state
law] do apply to condominium cases,” said Rodriguez.
Under the new law, fraud in the election of condo association directors, the
falsification of signatures on ballots, the manipulation of condo records
and the theft or disappearance of ballots will be considered serious
violations that could be punished with prison terms.
Police and prosecutors have largely declined to investigate complaints of
electoral fraud in condos, arguing that there’s no mention of criminal
punishments in Chapter 718.
The bill becomes law July 1, if Scott signs it, and also establishes the
Condo associations with 150 or more units will
publish financial reports on a web page, accessible with passwords. If
it’s proven that documents were denied to owners in order to hide fraud,
those responsible could face felony charges under a clause that takes
effect in July 2018.
Directors will be limited to eight years on the board
of homeowners associations. But they will be able to continue in office
if they win a super-majority of the votes from owners in subsequent
Directors are forbidden from receiving payments from
the association or hiring their relatives. Currently, directors can be
paid for services such as cleaning, painting and repairs as long as all
other directors are informed of the arrangement.
“This is a first stage in changing the situation for
condo owners, who until now had nowhere to go and seek protection from so
many abuses,” said Rodríguez.