Over the past week or two, The Miami Herald has been running a few articles about wrong doing in certain condominium associations in South Florida. The writer almost seems amazed that there are apparently ballots being cast with fake signatures and that in some condominiums voter turn-out exceeds 100%. Now to The Miami Herald, this might actually seem like a big deal. They may feel like the uncovered something here that nobody really knew about until they exposed it. To those who actually live in community associations across our state, your response is probably “So what took you so long to wake up and write about it?”
I’ve had some crazy cases in Miami. In one case involving International Park, an arbitrator actually agreed with me and entered an order voiding an election because it was abundantly clear that the community association manager deliberately threw the election in favor of the incumbents. My clients and their friends weren’t even sent ballots in the mail. And while they were campaigning, they were threatened with violence and one client actually had their car blown up. In another case I was lucky enough to get a judge to enter an order allowing my process server to seize the association’s ballots at the President’s home, two nights before the election.
In the last year alone, I’ve been involved with a President taking money to act like a CAM, but he didn’t bother to get a license. In another case, a manger was arrested in Hollywood for engaging in an elaborate scheme to steal money from her association by opening up a company that had nearly an identical name to the association’s insurance company. Guess who she paid…… her company or the real company?
I’ve had situations where Board members thought it was OK not to pay assessments because that really didn’t count as “getting paid.” I’ve had other cases where directors deliberately put the financial hurt on the members of the community by passing massive illegal special assessments, knowing that the owners couldn’t pay and would wind up in foreclosure. There’s so many other cases that have made the news because a director fed their gambling or drug problem with the monthly assessments instead of paying the condo dues. I promise you, I can go on and on and on.
The Miami Herald article concludes by saying:
Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle can, and should, impanel a grand jury to focus on condo-association abuses. And the state should also exercise stricter supervision.
What is a grand jury going to find that hasn’t been found already? Why spend all that money empaneling a grand jury to hear stories that everyone has heard a million times before? What would the report conclude? It may say “Grand jury finds voting and financial fraud and director self dealing a problem in many of our community associations.” That’s about as helpful as saying “Grand jury finds that it’s hot in Miami in July.” Tell us something we don’t know.
So instead of empaneling a grand jury, for probably less money how about training a few detectives on how to investigate these financial crimes. To start, considering that the majority of condominiums are located in South Florida, how about the counties of Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach create a Division specifically to investigate these types of crimes and agree to share their knowledge and training? Perhaps it can be funded with the $4.00 per unit fee that’s partly stolen by The Florida Legislature each year when it gets swept into the general fund. That’s better than wasting a lot of time and money on a grand jury.
Notice however that the Herald recommends that “the state should exercise stricter supervision.” I know someone else who has been saying that and has been fighting for the DBPR to help those who live in HOAs. Instead, The Florida Legislature shot that down again this year and did not pass a single bill related to community association law. Not one. I guess to The Florida Legislature all is well in condo and HOA land, but The Miami Herald seems to vehemently disagree. I’ll bet a lot of you disagree too.