COURTESY OF THE MIAMI SUN POST
Thursday, June 30, 2005
Dozens of condominium owners
offered hours of testimony about their hardships to a special state-appointed
panel, during a meeting last Saturday.
The vast majority of owners
and residents attending the June 25 meeting of the Advisory Council on
Condominiums, held at the Miami International Airport Hotel, complained about
issues related to their buildings’ boards of condo directors such as
uneducated condominium associations, safety concerns arising from poor
maintenance, and even vindictive board members who make life impossible for
owners who voice concerns.
The ACC, a panel tasked with
advising Florida legislators on condo issues, has been under fire recently for
not supporting the bill that created the condominium ombudsman, and for recent
allegations of an existing conflict of interest for two ACC members that has
led condominium owners to file ethics complaints.
The allegations have come
from others as well. State Rep. Julio Robaina sponsored the 2004 bill that
created the condo ombudsman. Robaina said the council certainly gives the
impression of impropriety by including two members whose firms often defend
condominium associations in disputes with condominium owners.
“There is a clear conflict
on the board,” said Robaina. “Two of those gentlemen represent a firm that
makes a lot of money going after condo owners who speak out against their
condo associations. That to me is a clear conflict.”
The gentlemen Robaina
referred to are Peter Dunbar, of Pennington, Moore, Wilkinson, Bell and
Dunbar, and the ACC’s chair, Joseph Adams, who have both been accused of
ethics violations. Adams, an attorney with the firm Becker & Poliakoff,
took offense to some of Robaina’s remarks and asked the legislator to speak
clearly and to the point.
“Representative Robaina, I
have heard several comments regarding alleged agenda pushing by this board;
have you seen that take place here today?” asked Adams.
“No sir. To tell you the
truth I have not seen that here today,” said Robaina. “But I’ll tell you
that if I do I will be the first one to say it and go public with it.”
Robaina did express concerns
with the role some of the law firms that represent condominium associations
play during negotiations with condo owners and residents. He said many of the
tactics employed by the firms are aimed at intimidating owners into keeping
quiet about their problems with the association. Robaina’s sentiment was
shared by a lot of the owners who testified Saturday, many of whom were warned
against doing so by their condo boards’ attorneys.
Manuel Blanco, a condominium
owner in the Village of King’s Creek in Kendall, told the board his condo
association completely ignores letters and warnings from the Department of
Business and Professional Regulation because the association and the DBPR
share representation and goals.
“There is a serious lack of
enforcement by the DBPR,” said Blanco. “Yeah, they file educational
letters and warning letters but they are ignored. Then they ignore our e-mails
to officials. There’s a conflict of interest between the DBPR and the law
firms that represent the associations.”
Nina Iozzi said her
Hallandale condominium association has tried to discredit her views by
spreading lies about her to neighbors and has now employed a law firm to
silence her complaints.
“I received a gag order
telling me to stop talking about my problems to my neighbors,” said Iozzi.
“It came from Becker & Poliakoff, the firm the chair [Adams] represents.
Is that a conflict to you?”
Iozzi didn’t let the gag
order deter her from speaking before the board. Her concerns regarding the
lack of education and accountability required from condo association members
were shared by most of those who spoke Saturday.
suggested the ACC utilize the condo ombudsman to address the issue of
educating the growing number of condo associations, a move he said the current
ombudsman, Virgil Rizzo, has already begun. Robaina said Rizzo should be
encouraged to provide associations with insight into the operation of
condominium communities, a move the board has previously refused.
“Regarding the ombudsman,
we should consider clarifying his duties and giving him additional
responsibilities,” Robaina said. “We should also consider giving him some
teeth because he’s already taking 30,000 calls a month educating people.
Most importantly he should have the cooperation of the DBPR, who should be
working with the ombudsman.”
Robaina added that the
ombudsman was created specifically because the DBPR was not doing its job.
“[The ombudsman] would not be here if the DBPR fined people,” Robaina
said. “That’s how stuff gets resolved, but you have to be willing to take
the heat. The DBPR has an appeal process, but it’s never used. Let’s give
[violators] a chance to get to appeal, instead of wasting time with warning
Many residents present
worried that negligence by condo associations could lead to their buildings
being condemned and evacuated by government agencies, essentially forcing them
from their homes. Unfortunately, the situation has already arisen more than
The recent Castle Beach
episode has caused many condo owners and residents to question the safety of
their buildings and how hard their associations work to keep them sound.
Castle Beach condominiums were deemed unsafe by the city of Miami Beach and
residents were forced to evacuate the building. Although condo owners no
longer live there or collect rent from tenants for their units, they must
continue paying their mortgages.
Just this week, the
Versailles Hotel and Condominium was evacuated when the Miami Beach Building
Department found problems with its air-conditioning system. Residents of that
building were forced to leave their residences by 7 a.m. Monday.
That news was on the mind of
many attending the ACC meeting who were hoping a similar situation would not
affect them. “I came here today thinking that this wouldn’t make a
difference and you know what? I was right,” said Ramon Herrera, who owns a
condo on Miami Beach. “[The ACC] doesn’t care. They don’t want to hear
all this. Why do you think they hold this meeting at the airport? Do you think
everybody can afford to spend $20 on parking to attend a meeting? They don’t
want people here. To them everything is fine the way it is.”