Condo, Strata and HOA News

Category Archives: Florida

Twin Lakes HOA: Killing for Skittles

HOA Retreat at Twin Lakes, Florida, is about to be owned. And by owned, I mean sued and found responsible for the killing of 17 year old Trayvon Martin. Every owner in the Retreat at Twin Lakes HOA should get ready to open their pocketbook.

Briefly, for those not familiar with the case – HOA Block Watch captain George Zimmerman shot to death Trayvon while the boy was returning to his residence after purchasing Skittles and an ice tea. George Zimmerman claims self defense, even though he chased the boy after the police told him not to, and the deadliest thing Trayvon had on him was 2.17oz of tasty rainbow.

Here’s why the HOA is about to pay out a whole lot of cash:

  1. Mr. Zimmerman was performing an activity authorized and backed by the HOA– performing the duties of Block Watch within the neighbourhood. An HOA newsletter confirms this role in the community.
  2. The HOA, in backing Mr. Zimmerman as a Captain, authenticates a person who had been charged in 2005 for battery of a police offer, and had previously a restraining order filed against him.
  3. Mr. Zimmerman failed to conform to any of the neighbourhood watch mandated training. Block watch clearly indicates that watch members are there to observe only, and never confront suspicious persons. They are “eyes and ears only”.
  4. Mr. Zimmerman was recorded actively chasing Trayvon while on the phone with 911 (audio of call). The 911 operator also indicated that this action was unnecessary. This was definitely an act to confront Trayvon.
  5. While carrying a gun is not illegal in this situation, neighbourhood watch members are not permitted to carry firearms.
  6. Mr. Zimmerman made 46 calls to 911 since the beginning of 2011 to report disturbances, break-ins, windows left open and other incidents. Not only is it reported that he was out on his rounds for the watch, it is reasonable to assume as this encounter also started with a 911 to report a suspicious person, he was operating as a neighbourhood watch member as he was the 46 other times.

It’s a pretty simple line to draw the HOA as responsible for failing to maintain the required screening and standards required of their volunteers. Unlike a criminal prosecution, a civil case needs significantly less burden of proof or certainty. It is well documented that a person found innocent of a crime may still face significant monetary loss in a civil court. In this case it won’t be a person found liable in civil court, but the HOA.

I have said before that the Block Watch program is a phenomenal program, and every condominium and HOA that faces a crime issue should operate one. The Block Watch program has operated for over 50 years with astounding success. I still stand by the success.

The issue is an HOA must take the steps required. A formal relationship must be made between the community and local law enforcement. All members of the neighborhood watch must attend training – both at the beginning and ongoing. The HOA needs to create, back, and act on the mission statement: “eyes and ears only” – and repeat that message to the volunteers and the community constantly.

Importantly, the HOA needs to have a firm, written, commitment from each volunteer that they will abide by all the recommendations and requirements of both the national neighborhood watch program and local police authority.

And seriously, if this event makes you afraid to have a neighborhood watch – don’t be. Just stick to the program and enforce a role of observation only. That approach works most awesomely. A neighborhood watch that observes only, and doesn’t carry weapons, is both safe to themselves, safe to the community, and safe to 17 year olds coming home with a bit of ice tea and candy.

HOA Uses Community Consultation for Peacock Resolution

Just five days ago I chastised Larry Evans and the Fairfield Plantation for unilaterally slaughtering an established beaver colony, and then posting dead beaver mug-shots on their website.

In comparison, I give a tip of the hat and kudos to the Boynton Beach Florida HOA Fox Follow Housing Association. Dealing with issues of a 400 strong peacock flock, the HOA set out a survey to their members soliciting feedback how the HOA should deal with the birds.

With community feedback, which the video indicates 52% of the residents were in favor of some version of keeping them, the HOA has created a great plan moving forward.

Working with residents and almost a score of humane groups – including the Humane Society – they will relocate about 150 of the peacocks. The reduced flock should (1) retain the value in the community for having the birds and (2) reduce the impact – noise, droppings, and other related nuisances – that 400 (!!!) of the birds bring with them.

No mass slaughter, the residents are participating in both the decision and in the resolution of the issue, and an HOA which can proudly move forward saying that the Fox Follow Housing Association – unlike other associations – is focused on building a proud, inclusive, and participatory community. And that would be for owners and wildlife alike. Nicely done!

Mixing Board President and Management Company President Roles Led to Fraud

If there is one easy piece of advice I can offer condominiums – always use an unrelated management company to manage your books. While this won’t eliminate fraud it most certainly cut down on it.

For owners in the Lovers Key Condominium, Estero, Florida – this lesson came with a rude shock: $291,500 stolen from the association’s funds by past president Charles Bennett III, and past vice-president Kenneth Marwick. In this case Lovers Key Condominium also used Bennett’s property management company, EID Management & Realty, to operate their condominium.

When the president of your board is also the owner of the management company you contract, it is too easy for bad things to happen.

In this case both Bennett III and Marwick have pleaded guilty to first degree grand theft charges. Both have been sentenced to prison time and following probation.

Being in the role of both control of the condominium board and the management company they were able to funnel money into companies controlled by the two men, all of them unrelated to association activities. (video)

As more and more money sits or flows through condominiums and HOAs, we need legislation that forces boards and management companies to be non-related. The use of two eyes – the boards Treasurer and a management company is a powerful way to keep the books legitimate and funds safe, and that relationship needs to be kept separate.

Residents Charged with Forging HOA President’s Signature, Stealing Gates

There will never be a shortage for the “dumb things residents do when frustrated” file on CondoFeed. Take for example Desislava Gliha and her husband John Gliha. Desislava was caught on camera buying a money order. Nothing illegal in that, unless you then forge the HOA president’s signature on it, and then use it to pay for the removal of the gates (you know – the gate part of a gated community).

Both Desislava and her husband have been charged with forgery and grand theft regarding the gate removal.

Local news video here.

As always, there’s a history of years of dispute between the owners and the HOA board, and as often happens one side (and HOAs can be asinine and juvenile as well) decides that some “real action” must be done.

Such happy news though, the gates were found and remounted, perfect for the Gliha’s to drive through when returning to their Bristol Estates home after posting bond.

HOA Board’s Thin Skin Leads to More Controversy over Giant Menorah

Rabbi Arthur Grae and HOA Legacy of Leesburg (gated retirement community, 55+ only) came to an agreement in December to place a 6.5 foot Menorah to be set up beside a 6.5 foot Christmas tree, inside the community social hall. This only happened after the Rabbi filed suit in circuit court to get this done.

The problem is both sides were dumb, especially the HOA, as they settled with an agreement that was agreed to be expressly confidential. Now, the HOA is claiming that Grae has “discussed and opined” on the terms of the agreement. It looks like the two are going to go back court.

The HOA needs to relax, back down, and learn to build community instead of infuriating it further. All that comes across to me is the board still harbours bad feelings over the whole issue and is looking for further blood. It smacks of pettiness. Issue a statement that the board has been conservative in adapting to meeting the needs of all tenants and looks forward to putting all conflict in the past. That should solve issue right away.

The board is right – that its image has been “tarnished” – but that’s because of the board, not Rabbi Arthur Grae. It is a board that decided to keep mud racking, whose actions keep tearing at the scabs of the civil suit, and who seem to me – from the way the board is handling this situation – poor performers of their duties as officers of the HOA.

And no, placing a small menorah in the social room, may not be fair or equitable if it’s not as prominent. You may as well have placed it in a closet.

HOAs and Condominiums be wary that if you’re going to place religious symbols on common, shared, property, you better get ready to pony up for displays of all your resident celebrations. It’s only fair, supportive, and proactive in building an inclusive community (unless that’s not your intention). You should also be ready to add Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Jedi and other religious icons as well throughout the year.

And for all those Wicca and Pagan practitioners in the Legacy of Leesburg – don’t forget that equinox lands on 20th March this year – I would love to see 6.5 foot yellow, green and purple candles in the community’s social hall.

Hammock Lake HOA Denies Boy Scout Troupe From Soliciting Food Donations

I’ve been reading and viewing the news of a Florida Home Owner Association – the Hammock Lake HOA – that banned the local Boy Scouts troupe from soliciting food donations inside the HOA.

It’s an interesting problem – The Boy Scouts (founded by Lord Baden-Powel – I know that not from Wikipedia, but because I was one) and Girl Guides, founded in 1910 (from the Scouting movement begun in 1907), represent over 100 years of education youth in physical and skill development. They are, by any definition, a highly successful worldwide organization who benefit youth in multiple countries, and relatively non-contentious.

Second, the solicitation was for a food drive – a non-commercial collection of food designed to feed local unfortunate citizens. The food drive is clearly a community building and benefiting.

But the action of going door to door is an act of solicitation. The HOA rules clearly state “no solicitation.” As such, the HOA rejected the troupe request to poll the community for donations.

I’m on record that I believe condominium corporations and HOAs are overburdened by rules and by-laws that prevent the development of a community of owners. When I use the term community, I mean a group of people, who by chance of living within the same condominium or HOA, become friends and neighbours instead of strangers.

So I am torn by this – the judgement of the HOA to ban the food drive (a fantastic activity) definitely destroys any sense of community. The rules though are clear, and it is an act of solicitation and should not be allowed.

HOA and condominium rules are often very broad and very broadly enforced. The non-solicitation is a good one to examine. No solicitation, no signs, no political expression – all these exist to make a group of people, all with their own world view function and live together in harmony*. It’s important to limit political, religious and philosophical different expressions because these have huge chances to blow up into bigger fights. We’ve all likely heard the line:

They pull a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital; you send one of his to the morgue.

It’s worse when it comes to politics and religion with neighbours – ever seen neighbours attempt to out-sign (in size and numbers) each other during elections? It’s nasty – and worse when some or all of the board participate as well. It creates a community that is very dysfunctional. It becomes downright unwelcoming to people of different views.

Instead of allowing any signs, the HOA allows no signs at all. It’s simpler to enforce, it’s harder to litigate against, and it prevents the board from being seen as purposefully supporting or picking on specific owners.

If the HOA allows the Boy Scouts, the what about requests from a local synagogue, a chapter of the Red Crescent, Bank of America Community Volunteers, or the local Atheists Organization (the Boy Scouts and Girl Guides require a Duty To God, and a greater participation with God the further along the organization).

“No Solicitation” is neither vague nor ambiguous. “No solicitation” isn’t an aesthetic like “keep your yard neat” which is arguable if trimming the hedge to 3’ in height is neater than 3.5’ high shrubbery. “No Solicitation” is simple – no (as in disallowed) solicitation (asking residents for something or some action).

In this case, it would take a lawyer to say a two word statement is vague or ambiguous.

*These rules are very different than no-parking on the street, no-chickens rules, controls on the delivery of furniture, limitations on access to facilities, lawn and home standards. Those are all “operational” rules which should all be simply trashed.

Florida Looks to Ban Condominium Raising Fees to Cover Delinquent Owner Shortfall

Senator Chris Smith for Fort Lauderdale has proposed a Florida senate bill that would make it illegal for condominium associations to cover delinquent owner payment by raising assessments on owners who pay their fees regularly.

To start with, it’s very important that a condominium raises the funds required to maintain the property, utilities, and safety of the building. That’s the primary purpose of the board, and performing proper maintenance and paying bills ensures that owners retain property that has (within the market) maximum resale value and opportunity.

When a large amount of delinquent owners exist in a condominium, the board fails to collect the revenue required to meet their duties to maintain the building and pay the bills. As corporations have limited powers to generate funds, they raise the contributions until the responsible, paying, owners meet the financial needs of the condominium corporation.

This can mean, where we see some condominium with 2/3 delinquency – that the responsible owners are paying 3x the condo contributions they should be. This is a great hardship.

Historically, this issue of non-payment hasn’t been an issue. But the combination of the housing crash, high unemployment levels, and most importantly – a foreclosure process in Florida that is now taking 12-24 months (gaaahhh!), is leaving a significant number of condominium raising fees on owners to cover costs.

Traditionally, non-payers would be foreclosed on, and the corporation would get the outstanding sums in 30 to 90 days from filing. That, with only a few delinquent at any one time was fiscally manageable. Now, with the lack of ability to collect in a timely manner, corporations are facing massive debts, shut off of services, and dangerous buildings.

At some point, even if it is two years, the corporation will get paid. The question is what to do in the meantime. If the Florida legislation moves forward – preventing responsible owners from paying for non-payers – the question still arises: where does the corporation get the money it needs now.

Corporations taking out loans works well in great economies because the corporation can back the loan with their ability to levy condo contributions. But when the debt issue arises from the very issue of being unable to collect contributions, there is no ability for a corporation to find money.

The legislation sounds all good and dandy to protect the responsible owners from directly paying more while the state courts take so long with the foreclosure, but that just puts the costs onto the building and services. Non-existent or reduced maintenance can have as great or greater cost on residents trying to resell as an increase in their condo contributions.

It’s a tough position, but the answer is not to limit the hands of the condominium corporation is sourcing the funds needed to maintain and operate the condominium corporation.

The real answer is for the Florida legislature to properly fund a court process that addresses the insane time it takes to foreclosure. Instead of responding to the substantial increase in foreclosures they have let the current system drown. It’s bad form to write more laws when the problem lies with the underfunded court system.

Condo to Apartment Conversion Forces Owners to Sell

All condominium legislation, anywhere, includes a clause on dissolution of the condominium and doing something else with it. The primary use of this legislation is proper and quick handling of condominium that has suffered catastrophic failure (fire, storm, structural failure). If the building is unsafe to live in the owners can choose to sell the property instead of rebuild.

The clause can also be used when the majority of units (often 90%+) chose to disband for other reasons. In Orlando, state legislation in the last four years has made condominium dissolution easier, and some failed condominium developers have bulk sold their units to investors that are dissolving the condominium and turning them into rentals.

For the Element at MetroWest, Orlando, this is exactly the case. An investment group now owns about 70%+ of the 328 units and have moved to turn the building private.

For owners that still remain, they have little choice. The investors can give them part ownership in the new endeavour and boot them, or give them fair market value and boot them. The only problem is units have devaluated by 71% – but the mortgages remain the same.

Owners won’t have much recourse. While some will fight it, it is likely they will only be fighting for a slightly better market valuation or extra payment to move.

I have to agree – based on the immense amount of stories that feature massively empty complexes, or non-paying owners – a conversion to apartments may keep the building, neighbourhood and tax rolls maintained.

I have always encouraged condominiums to foreclose on delinquent owners of condominium fees – because the building must be maintained and the other, responsible, owners protected from another’s negligence. In this case, we have owners – responsible and fee paying owners – that none the less are being gravely injured now by terrible developers who were unable to sell the product they created. And those few responsible owners that bought are now being harmed anyways.

HOA President Has Bomb Set Off In Mailbox

I often start a course for new board members with “it’s often a thankless job to be on a board, but it can be very rewarding”.

One of those rewards is not, not, a bomb.

Gerard Esposito – the Pinellas County, Tampa Bay Florida, Home Owner Association President had his mailbox filled with a bomb and exploded. Thankfully nobody was hurt. The cause is assumed to be related to a program by the HOA to bring illegal mailboxes into compliance.

Video can be found here.

Condominium Corporation Forecloses on $4.70 Outstanding (Plus $3000 Lawyer Bill)

In 2009, Geeta Ramcharitar of the Venetian Village condominium, in Melbourne Florida, had a $4.70 outstanding sum owed to the corporation. It’s not clear why the sum was outstanding, or why the board simply didn’t write off less than a fiver in debt, but the debt existed.

Instead of resolving the issue – the corporation requested their law firm to start a collection process. By the middle of 2010 the law firm had billed about $3000 to collect this fiver. The corporation was then able to retain a court hearing to foreclose on the unit to collect outstanding amount, interest, fines and lawyer fees. The good news is the judge threw out the foreclosure and the amount owning.

The board of the condominium should literally be slapped. Multiple times. In order to collect on $4.70 they wasted a huge amount of people’s time – including mediation and court time – and a lot of people’s money. In essence, the board made a very very stupid decision (they are there to make decisions in the best interest of the condominium) – and should have written off the amount a long time ago. For good measure the lawyer should be slapped too – for padding her income on such a frivolous request.