Article Courtesy of The Miami Herald
By the Miami Herald Editorial Board
Published September 22, 2019
In Miami-Dade County, too
many condo associations are charging renters
and buyers exorbitant fees before they even
move a stick of furniture into the unit. If
anyone thinks there ought to be a law
against this, there is.
enforcement has seriously lagged, and because affordable
housing is so hard to come by in Miami-Dade, renters
Joshua and Allison Kobasky, however, didn’t. They won a
settlement after they sued the Plaza 851 Brickell
Condominium Association, claiming that it had charged them
more than $100 in mandatory, nonrefundable “transfer” fees
when they sought to lease a unit. The condo association
agreed to pay up to $300,000 to settle the class-action
Florida law prohibits associations from charging fees more
than $100 a person or married couple to buy, lease or
transfer a condo unit. But they do, because they can get
away with it.
“Associations have historically charged these fees to fatten
their coffers even though they don’t disclose them,” said
attorney Aaron Resnick, who represented the plaintiffs in
the lawsuit. He told Herald reporters Rene Rodriguez and
Nicholas Nehamas that, “They know people need a place to
live, and in most cases the inflated fees are not thousands
of dollars. Most people will go ahead and pay $250 if it
means getting their apartment quicker.”
Greater Miami’s burgeoning luxury-condo market has
priced out many potential residents looking for affordable housing.
The Plaza 851 association charged potential residents a $150
screening/application fee and a $200 move-in/move-out fee — $250 more than
the state allows. Some can comfortably afford the overcharge. For the
financially vulnerable, however, it’s a stretch. Either way, it’s illegal.
Housing experts advise that tenants pay no more than 30 percent of their
pre-tax monthly income for rent. In Miami-Dade, however, that advice is a
cruel joke. Greater Miami is the third-least affordable city in the United
States; the Herald series “Priced out of Paradise” found that at least 60
percent of renters pay more than the recommended 30 percent of their salary
Our question is: Why has the Florida Department of Business and Professional
Regulation, which oversees the Division of Florida Condominiums, Timeshares
and Mobile Homes, been so derelict? DBPR officials say that Floridians are
not aware of the law. It receives few complaints, many of which are resolved
with an awareness campaign and a requirement that a condo association refund
the excess fees.
But that excuse only goes so far. DBPR needs to be more proactive, though,
given the huge volume of condos statewide, monitoring would be a challenge.
Following a rule passed in December 2018, associations face a potential
$5,000 fine for charging inflated fees. Still, condo dwellers need to know
that the state has their backs when associations engage in blatantly illegal
activities. At the very least, the language regulating fees should be
prominently displayed on websites and applications.
Members of the property-management industry complaing the $100 cap is not
enough to cover screening, background and financial checks to ensure a
tenant’s eligibility. If — if — the cap, indeed, is unrealistic, lawmakers
should consider an increase, one that is fair, not rapacious, and sensitive
to both associations and potential residents. It should take into
consideration how stressed many Florida markets are for affordable housing.
Any carefully considered increase should be accompanied by the resources to
give DBPR the teeth to ensure condo associations aren’t thumbing their noses
at the law. If they have no fear of being fined $5,000, what’s the point?