My column two weeks ago regarding the estoppel fee bill and what has happened since, has proven a point made long ago by fellow blogger Jan Bergemann. The community association laws are written by, directed, guided and championed, not by the people who live in these communities, but rather by the people that provide service to these communities.
In the last two weeks I have received many e-mails from law firms and not for profit entities that claim to have the association’s best interests always at heart, all taking the position that the estoppel fee bill “continues to threaten Florida neighborhoods. The consequence of these bills is a significant financial burden on the nearly 9,000,000 homeowners and residents living in Florida’s community associations.” I have yet to see one word in any of this e-mail propaganda about how it actually hurts a community association financially. Only broad sweeping statement with no factual support.
I guess if a management company wants to charge the association more than what the association will be allowed to charge by law to the unit owner it hurts the association. On the other hand, if a management company can’t do an estoppel letter for a fee that will now range between $250.00 and $450.00 the association may want to look for a new management company. Why would this fight for a reasonable cap on an estoppel fee be fought so hard? I know you think your interests are protected here because you paid to join one of the several organizations that say they have the homeowner’s interests at heart. If they say it’s bad, they must be right. Here’s the thing…….. These organizations are all controlled by service providers. Every one. They’re even controlled by the ones that get paid to prepare the estoppel letters.
In addition to the service providers, you are all fighting the developers. Make no mistake about it, if a scientist issued an opinion today that there is gold lying underneath each and every Florida condominium and HOA, tomorrow The Florida Legislature would pass a law that allows the developer to immediately tear down your home, dig up and keep the gold, and then charge you again to put your house back together.
If you have any doubt about what I opine here, just look at the legislation that has been passed in general over the past decade or so. Management agreements used to be limited to a three year contract. That’s gone. There’s a competitive bidding requirement, but not if you’re an attorney, management company, landscape architect or engineer. So who does it actually apply to? Bulk buyers who are really developers now are allowed to buy up your whole community and have no corresponding developer obligations at all. Even worse, if they own 80% of the units, they get to kick you out of your home despite the fact that you are paying your mortgage and your assessments. The Florida Legislature passed a law that provides that developers in an HOA don’t have to give warranties for what they build, despite the 5th District Court of Appeals saying they do provide such a warranty. The banking industry still gets away with murder by almost not having to pay any assessments that are due on a unit when they foreclose and take back ownership. This is despite the fact that the other unit owners are paying to in effect maintain the bank’s collateral while the bank drags their feet for years. All the while, these service provider dominated organizations push for more and more laws that allow unit owners to fight with each other. For example, delinquent owners can be prevented from running for the Board, from remaining on the Board, from voting and from using the common elements. I routinely ask at my seminars if any of these bills have helped community associations and the resounding answer is NO. After all, nobody is going to pay back the association thousands of dollars because they lost the right to vote or be on the Board. On the contrary, they feel you should be paying them to be on the Board.
Jan Bergemann and I do not agree on everything when it comes to the community association industry. However, there is only one organization that I am aware of that truly has the interests of the unit owners at heart. There is only one organization that does not have a single service provider directing its course. That organization is Cyber Citizens For Justice. Take a look at the legislation that Cyber Citizens for Justice helped get passed two years ago and what they have been pushing for the past two years if you want to learn where their heart is.
Service providers are essential to the community association industry. There are so many exceptional management companies, law firms, accounting firms, landscape companies and the like. Many of these companies not only provide outstanding service, but also go above and beyond and strive to educate the community association industry in the classroom. In fact, I am an attorney that represents community associations. That makes me a service provider too. I’m proud to be one. It is an honor to be able to represent community associations throughout Florida. However, I call it as I see it. If you live in a community association, what happens now and in your future is dependent upon attorneys like me, other service providers, banks and developers.