Courtesy of The Miami Herald
Published April 20, 2017
The Florida condo reform bill is moving forward in the
state Legislature, but the controversy between those who are in favor of and
those who are against criminalizing certain infractions could intensify in
the coming weeks.
The bill, led by
Miami-Dade lawmakers, seeks to make condo electoral fraud a
crime, such as falsifying signatures for condominium
elections, and to create penalties for retaining documents
to which homeowners are entitled. But lawmakers are facing
resistance from colleagues, lobbyists and lawyers who do not
favor new criminal punishment.
“We’ve figured out that there is really no teeth in some of
the laws that apply to condos and associations,” Republican
Sen. René García, of Miami-Dade, said during a committee
“Our residents feel that they are living in third world
countries, almost, with totalitarian regimes, where they are
being intimidated and told what they need to do in their
associations,” added García, who is cosponsoring the bill
with Sen. José Javier Rodríguez, a Democrat.
The bill was recently
presented in the Senate’s Regulated Industries Committee,
where it was preliminarily approved in an 8-2 vote.
Simón Bolívar (center) speaks with a group of condo
owners during a protest in March 2017.
Miami-Dade lawmakers have already made several changes to the bill related
to language and other technicalities, but insist that criminal punishments
(which in some cases would lead to imprisonment) are an essential part of
the reform plan. The bill is now under consideration by the Senate’s Rules
Committee (SB 1682) and House of Representatives’ Judiciary Committee (HB
1237), which is scheduled to vote Thursday.
The reform proposal was submitted a year after el Nuevo Herald and Univisión
23 published the series “Condo Nightmare,” an investigation that revealed
cases of electoral fraud, forgery, conflicts of interest, alleged
misappropriation of funds and fraudulent bids in several South Florida
Those who oppose all or several of the criminal punishments insist that
criminalizing offenses that should be handled as a civil matter — such as
fines — would discourage homeowners, who would then not want to become condo
board members. They argue that the new rules could end up accidentally
punishing board members for making mistakes.
“We’re dealing with about 36-40,000 associations, and there are certainly
those that are bad actors,” said Travis Moore, a lobbyist with the Community
Associations Institute (CAI), who testified before the Senate committee. “We
are trying to regulated those ... but without affecting the volunteers that
serve in many of the other associations in a positive way.”
Moore said his biggest concern is that, in the absence of board members, the
associations would have to be managed by a court-appointed receiver. This,
Moore said, would particularly affect associations at small condominium
complexes, where there aren’t many owners willing to take on volunteer board
In any case, stronger regulations are needed, said Miami-Dade County
Commissioner José “Pepe” Díaz and North Bay Village Commissioner Andreana
Jackson, who appeared before the committee in Tallahassee to advocate for
“These problems have seriously impacted many people who do not have the
financial means to defend themselves, to go to court to recover money that,
many times, has been stolen from them by members of some boards,” Díaz said.
Richard Pinsky, a lawyer and lobbyist, who represents property owners on
behalf of Cyber Citizens for Justice, said the condo fraud cases are not an
exclusive problem for Miami-Dade County.
“This affects a lot of people across Florida and, on behalf of those living
in condominiums, we support the bill,” Pinsky said.