As we all know from even our early school days, this country was founded upon the principle of no taxation without representation and one man one vote. After achieving the ability to govern ourselves as a nation, women and minorities fought for and ultimately obtained the right to vote as well. It’s pretty safe to say that the right to vote is something that Americans hold as sacred. In fact, the number of persons who fought and died for the right to vote and participate in the affairs of their government is staggering.
So how is it possible that owners in condominiums and homeowner associations can lose the ability to vote in the affairs of their community without the right of any due process whatsoever?
A few years ago, The Florida Legislature thought that one way to get delinquent owners to pay their assessments would be to prevent them from voting in their community elections. As a result, the law now says that in a condo and H.O.A. an association may suspend the voting rights of a unit, parcel or member due to nonpayment of any monetary obligation due to the association which is more than 90 days delinquent.
While the statutes require that the suspensions occur at a Board meeting, there is no mention in the statute as to what, if any, due process is afforded the owner before they lose the right to vote. Believe it or not, it is possible that someone is making a mistake and the owner is not more than 90 days delinquent. But I guess who cares about due process when there’s overdue monies to collect.
It gets much worse for the unit owner however. At the board certification seminars I teach there is always a board member or three that wants the ability to list the names of the “bad guys” in big bold letters on the bulletin board so that the world can see who is behind in paying their assessments. I always tell the association that this is simply a bad idea and could land the association in the defendant’s seat in either a state or federal courthouse. It seems however that I’m wrong, if the association wants to suspend the voting rights of that bad guy, at least according to a decision by the arbitration division of the Department of Business and Professional Regulation. In Leonardis v. Portofino Gardens the arbitrator ruled that the Board must state which owner’s voting rights are being suspended at a Board meeting, and their names must be included in the minutes of the meeting. So now, your name is published both verbally and in print as a dead beat and you lose the right to vote, before being entitled to any hearing whatsoever. And, I see no reason why the Board can’t legally post the minutes of the last Board meeting.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all in favor of doing what we can to make people pay their assessments. But should it be done by throwing out the ability to defend oneself and trampling on the theory of innocent until proven guilty?
I have a better idea Florida Legislature. If you want to crack down on those that are harming the financial interests of our community, you may want to start with the banks who are sitting on tens of thousands of cases in the foreclosure pipeline and also harming our civil courts by clogging up our dockets. I know that’s a tougher fight than taking away the voting rights of people who may have lost their job, or senior citizens who can barely keep up, but that’s where the problem lies. But I know you knew that already.