Homeowner associations want state protections from legislators

Oct 8, 2008

South Florida Sun-Sentinel–October 8, 2008

Homeowner associations are shouting the message: We want tougher regulation and we want it now.

But the million dollar question is: will Florida lawmakers listen?

Homeowners responding to two recent surveys said they want a state agency to oversee their associations, training requirements for board directors and an ombudsman’s office to act as a neutral resource and liaison for unit owners and board members. Condo associations have these protections in place, but HOAs have never had them in Florida.

Part of the reason is that historically the perception has been there are fewer HOAs, said state Rep. Julio Robaina, R-Miami, who championed condo reform over the past few years. As of June, there were 1,441,284 condo units in Florida governed by a total of 21,737 associations, but no state agency contacted could provide the number of HOAs.

Robaina and state Sen. Alex Villalobos, R-Miami, promise to take up the HOA cause during the 2009 legislative session.

Robaina said regulatory changes are necessary because the trend is for developers to build communities with common elements, such as swimming pools, parking areas and clubhouses, which are designed to be governed by HOAs.

"The future of Florida living will probably mean even more people will be living within an environment that has an association," Robaina said. "And it’s our legislative responsibility to make sure that living in an association isn’t a living hell."

Robaina said he expects the new bill will allow homeowners the same protections as condo owners. Last session, a different HOA reform bill passed the legislature but was vetoed by Gov. Charlie Crist in part because it would have exempted HOA-run swimming pools from state inspection and regulation.

"Basically, homeowners don’t have a lot of protections," said Sheila Jones, who lives in a Parkland HOA community. With a state agency monitoring HOAs, "homeowners at least have somewhere to turn to in a dispute with a board before having to hire an attorney," she said.

Martin Evans, who serves on the board of his Boca Raton HOA, also favors new legislation, particularly a requirement that directors take courses on state law and good business practices.

"The education would not only help the board, the community would know that the state helped educate the board on their duties," he said.

An online poll released last week by Cyber Citizens for Justice, a nonprofit organization that represents homeowners, backs them up. It showed that about 9 out of 10 of its 1,033 respondents want regulation of HOAs modeled after state condo rules.

"Why reinvent the wheel?" asked Jan Bergemann, president of Cyber Citizens.

His group’s survey, taken by homeowners, board members, community association managers and attorneys, showed homeowners were willing to pony up four bucks annually — the price condo owners pay — to cover the costs of state oversight.

The results mirror a poll released in August by the Community Advocacy Network, a lobbying group for associations. More than 60 percent of the nearly 300 respondents want reform and just over half said they’d pay the $4 for regulation.

How about that? People — at a time when food and fuel prices are at record highs — are still willing to open their wallets to help government get the job done.