An Opinion By Jan Bergemann 
President, Cyber Citizens For Justice, Inc.

Published November 15, 2012


Florida ’s economy always heavily relied on retirees moving to Florida and snowbirds buying property in The Sunshine State. Many jobs depended on this steady flow of new citizens – a flow that has decreased significantly in recent years for two reasons:

1.      The real estate market crashed.

2.      Florida’s bad reputation for the total lack of consumer protection.


How can we expect retirees and snowbirds to invest their life-savings in Florida real estate, when their former neighbors come back from Florida talking about the many horror stories of abuses in community associations? For example, some Florida residents lost their homes and life-savings due to unpaid dues and foreclosures from neighboring homes, which created much higher maintenance dues and special assessments they no longer could afford to pay.


It is imperative for the recovery of our economy and the real estate market that consumer-protection laws must be enacted to give retirees and snowbirds again an incentive to invest their life-savings into Florida real estate. Since Florida’s government budget relies heavily on income from property taxes, increased investments in real estate would again fill the depleted coffers of our government – coffers that are in the moment suffering from serious budget shortfalls.


·         Nearly 50% of all housing in Florida is located within community associations. More than 90% of all new homes built within the last ten years are within mandatory homeowners’ associations.

·         According to OPPAGA (Report No. 10-20, February 2010), about 2.5 million homes are located within homeowners’ associations in Florida.

·        Chapter 720 Florida Statutes governs HOAs, but there is no agency to enforce the laws, no place for the homeowners to turn to when violations occur. The only remedy for abused owners is through the court which is out of the financial reach of most homeowners, especially retirees.

·         In 2005 a study conducted by the AARP Public Policy Institute warned about the total lack of consumer protection in HOAs.

·         AARP published in July 2006 a BILL of RIGHTS for HOMEOWNERS in ASSOCIATIONS which made it abundantly clear that owners living in these HOAs have no protection at all and are an easy target for abuse, fraud and scams.  AARP pointed out that the best statutes are useless without a tool that guarantees easy enforcement of laws and rules.


Solving this serious problem doesn’t require tax money or financial incentives. Creating owner-friendly laws will create more jobs and put Florida ’s real estate market back on the right track. Giving DBPR the same jurisdiction over HOAs as it has over condominiums is not about more regulation. It’s simply a huge step in the right direction of consumer protection, desperately needed to get Florida back into the spotlight of places to go after retirement.


In order to achieve this goal it is not necessary to reinvent the wheel. The wording needed to create the necessary consumer protection is already in the condominium statutes found in Chapter 718 Florida Statutes.  Many surveys conducted among homeowners have shown that owners are willing to pay for consumer protection -- $4 per unit annually, just like the condo owners pay.


In a PUBLIC SURVEY conducted in 2008 more than 93% of 1033 certified respondents favored the creation of a regulatory agency and were willing to pay the $4 annual fee needed to finance that endeavor. An estimated income of nearly $10 million annually would be more than sufficient to create the much needed consumer protection.


These are provisions recommended for a solid consumer protection bill:


·         Amend FS 718.116(1)(b)1.b. + FS 720.3085(2)(c)2.One Two percent of the original mortgage debt. Homeowners and condo owners can not afford to pay for the maintenance of the collateral of the mortgage lenders caused by irresponsible lending policies of these institutions. Condo owners and homeowners are losing their homes because of the banks’ failure to pay their fair share of the maintenance costs.

·         Require homeowners or unit owners to place association assessments into the court registry as they come due during the pendency of any foreclosure action by the association (language from FS 83.60).

·         Add authority, responsibility, and duties of Division of Florida Condominiums, Timeshares and Mobile Homes to FS 720, to provide Regulatory Oversight to homeowners' associations to ensure compliance with federal, state, and local laws (language from FS 718.501).

·         Add board election provisions, board member eligibility and education requirements for board members to FS 720 (language from FS 718.112).

·         Turnover of associations to owners from defunct developers (language from FS 718.301).

·         Add Mandatory Presuit Mediation requirements to FS 718 before court or arbitration proceedings can commence.


Much improved consumer protection would restore the badly damaged reputation of Florida and would attract more retirees and snowbirds to come to Florida again.


The return of retirees and snowbirds to Florida will not only help developers and contractors, it will as well create new jobs in many other related industries – and will bring much needed relief to our tax coffers that are in serious financial distress.


We are paying companies lots of our tax dollars to relocate to Florida and/or create new jobs. Retirees and snowbirds bring their money to Florida for free, creating lots of new jobs and tax income in exchange for consumer protection and sunshine. And the sunshine they are looking for is delivered for free from the sky!


How many more good reasons are needed to finally create the foundation for a

Homeowners’ Bill Of Rights?