Courtesy of The Orlando Sentinel
February 8, 2013
behind on their community-association dues would have to make good on the
full amount before fighting the charges, under proposed legislation that
would also bring state oversight to Florida's homeowner associations.
Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, filed a bill this week that would essentially
fast-track community associations' ability to foreclose on houses or condo
units with unpaid dues. If a homeowner did not deposit the unpaid balance
in a special registry as directed by a court, the association could
foreclose immediately on the house. Currently, owners can contest
associations' charges in a process that can stretch out for years.
One grass-roots group supports Hays' proposal as a way to shore up the
finances of homeowner associations, which were hit hard by the housing
slump and recession, during which large numbers of investors and other
owners failed to pay their HOA dues.
In response to the drop in revenue, community associations cut back on
spending and are now more likely to foreclose on properties in hopes of
forcing payment. Meanwhile, a community's dues-paying owners have had to
shoulder more of the association's operating costs in place of the
"If you want to fight and prolong it, you have to pay up first,"
said Jan Bergemann, president of the nonprofit Cyber Citizens for Justice,
a DeLand-based focused on associations. "… They somehow have $2,000
to pay for a defense attorney, who will only prolong the process when
there really is no defense for not paying."
The pay-up-now proposal is just one provision of a bill that also would
make the state Department of Business and Professional Regulation
responsible for Florida's least-regulated form of government: homeowner
associations. An estimated 60,000 subdivisions, neighborhoods and
developments across the state are governed by such associations.
Hays said Wednesday that the bill is a starting point for discussion and
subject to amendments, but he said he wants to level the playing field in
the way associations are governed.
"My purpose in sponsoring the bill is to try to establish more
fairness in the homeowner-association community and try to have a better
balance between the residents and the developers," he said.
The bill calls for homeowners in an association to pay $4 annually to
cover the costs of state regulation and oversight, including a government
ombudsman for associations. The bill also calls for associations to have
secret-ballot elections for board members. Homeowners now can show up for
their first association meeting and find themselves elected to their board
with a simple raising of hands.
The bill would also prohibit board members from serving if they have been
charged with a felony related to association business. For example, in
Polk County's Bimini Bay development, not far from Walt Disney World,
developer David Meadows continues to serve on the association board
despite his arrest in September on four felony charges related to theft,
fraud and embezzlement from the organization.
"That's needed because, especially when a state attorney has evidence
against a person that they are stealing from the HOA, why should they be
allowed to continue serving on the HOA?" asked Bimini Bay resident
Cathi Mead. "It's not right."
A group of Bimini Bay homeowners has been withholding HOA payments since
Fort Lauderdale lawyer Donna Berger, who specializes in homeowner
associations, said she is skeptical of some provisions in Hays' bill and
wants to study it further. She said the Community Advocacy Network, a
group for homeowner associations, is surveying its members to determine
their views on it.
Among other things, she questioned forcing delinquent homeowners to
immediately pay all of their back dues before allowing them to challenge
whether they actually owe that money.
"Is that really consumer-friendly?" she asked. "What if
there are reasons they are contesting — because they never got notified,
the special assessment wasn't properly passed or the management company is
off by thousands of dollars? Yes, that happens."