NBC2 Investigators: New HOA law puts tenants in the middle

Article and Video Courtesy of Channel 2

RSW Florida -- Cape Coral, Naples, Ft. Myers, Punta Gorda

Published February 18, 2011

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You know the saying, "stuck between a rock and a hard place." That's what it feels like for Ryan Wipplinger and his three roommates in Fort Myers. They're suddenly in the middle of a dispute between the homeowner's association and their landlord.

The roommates are in the middle of the situation because of a new Florida law that's supposed to protect condo associations and responsible owners from the deadbeat owners next door.

The Florida law took effect last summer and allows homeowners associations to seize rental payments from tenants when owners owe debt or other community fees.

Richard L. Weldon, an attorney based in Naples, says he has represented hundreds of associations 

and tenants about this matter in Southwest Florida alone.

"Lawmakers had good intentions," said Weldon. "They were trying to fix a problem."

But the NBC2 Investigators uncovered those good intentions are leading to some unintended consequences in the real world.

Wipplinger rents a condo in a gated community just off Tamiami Trail from an owner who lives in New York.    

Several months ago, the condo association came to Wipplinger and ordered him to start directing his monthly rental payments to them, bypassing the owner.

The owner had none of it.

Wipplinger says the owner demanded the tenants continue paying him, not the association.

Now Wipplinger and his roommates aren't sure who to pay, or what the consequences may be.


"What am I supposed to do?" asked Wipplinger.


Wipplinger just graduated from Florida Gulf Coast University last spring and is holding down a part-time retail job trying to figure out his future.

"Everybody's greedy. I understand we need to pay rent. We will pay rent. But everyone's saying ‘pay us, pay me, do this, do that," he said.

Wipplinger said he feels threatened with eviction from both the association and the owner, who both want to be paid rent.

NBC2 went to the lawmaker who wrote the law, which was then House Bill 419.

Representative Matt Hudson of Naples says he co-wrote the bill to fight the growing problem of owners who simply walk away from mortgage payments or community fees.

"I think [the law] puts tenants in a better position than they ever were before," said Hudson.

Hudson claims the law protects responsible owners from higher assessments that would otherwise be imposed because irresponsible owners aren't paying their fair share of community costs.

The law, he says, also ensures condo associations have the funds to maintain community areas and perform services, like pool cleaning and landscaping.

Condo associations are authorized to collect rental payments simply upon presenting a letter to tenants that claims their unit owner owes the association money. No court proceeding is required.

The law gives tenants, like Wipplinger, immunity from eviction actions brought by the owner, so long as the tenants pay the association and keep receipts.

However, in the real world, situations don't always work out so smoothly.

Wipplinger says his unit owner has been demanding rent money and showed up one morning pounding on their door.

The owner told NBC2 he disagrees with the association's claim that he is in debt to them.

Meanwhile, Wipplinger says he's paying the association, but says his roommate felt pressured into cutting a separate check for the owner.

"Both parties are trying to bully me," said Wipplinger.

Rep. Hudson couldn't offer any advice to Wipplinger, claiming he's never heard of situations like this before.

Tenants should know Florida law prohibits owners from changing the locks.