guest blog by Deborah Goonan
Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the past decade, you have probably heard about Florida’s boom and bust real estate market for condominiums. The big news right now is the fact that hundreds of condo owners are being forced to sell their homes at a loss to developers and investors, in a series of so-called voluntary condo terminations.
In a recently published article in the Wall Street Journal, Jack McCabe, CEO of McCabe Research & Consulting LLC, was quoted as saying close to 400 uncompleted complexes remain as part condo and part rental in the state of Florida.
A Bloomberg Businessweek report published last month estimates that 235 condominiums have been terminated statewide since 2007.
West Palm Beach attorney and CAI member, Michael Gelfand, was also quoted in the WSJ article,“It is a classic case of unintended consequences” of the 2007 amendment, which, according to the article, he helped to draft.
Hundreds, perhaps thousands of condo owners have been caught in the middle of a battle to keep their homes or at least receive just compensation. Owners from 13 condo complexes have joined together to fight against developers, and have created their own Facebook page: Floridians ACT.
Attorney Michael Mayer, of Peyton Bolin PL, which operates five offices in Florida, has taken up the fight for owners of Via Lugano condominium in Boynton Beach. According to Mayer, the legal suit contends that the 2007 statute amendment allowing for optional termination by less than unanimous consent does not apply to condominiums created prior to its enactment. The suit also challenges the takeover on Constitutional grounds, at both state and federal levels, as a violation of owners’ rights to “acquire, possess, and protect property.” The Peyton Bolin law firm is listed among CAI’s member service providers.
Ironically, in the midst of terminations of unsuccessful condo projects, a south Florida real estate blog reports that lenders have eased financing for development of 260 new condo towers (over 35,000 units) in South Florida alone, most of them close to the water and on the high end of the market.
So what is CAI’s official Public Policy on the matter?
Look no further than page 58 of CAI Government & Public Affairs Public Policies:
“Community Associations Institute (CAI) supports protections that enable property owners to challenge governmental taking of common or private property. CAI opposes legislative or judicial actions that would limit or restrict the ability and rights of community associations to maintain control over association common property.”
Read between the lines: Developers and private investors who take control of the Association must not have their property rights restricted. Furthermore, it would be inappropriate to protect owners’ rights where the party seeking to take property rights is not the government. CAI maintains, generally supported by the courts, that Community Associations are corporate entities, and are not government entities.
Whose interests does CAI actually represent? The introduction to Public Policies provides some contradictory language:
“CAI is dedicated to fostering vibrant, responsive, competent community associations that promote harmony, community and responsible leadership. CAI advances excellence though a variety of education programs, professional designations, research, networking and referral opportunities, publications, and advocacy before legislative bodies, regulatory bodies, and the courts.
In addition to individual homeowners, CAI’s multidisciplinary membership encompasses community association managers and management firms, attorneys, accountants, engineers, builders/developers, and other providers of professional products and services for homeowners and their associations. CAI represents this extensive constituency on a range of issues including taxation, insurance, private property rights, telecommunications, fair housing, and community association manager credentialing. CAI’s over 32,000 members participate actively in the public policy process through more than 60 local, regional and state chapters and 35 state Legislative Action Committees and one federal Legislative Action Committee.”
Are Community Association Boards that are controlled by developers and investors exercising “responsible leadership” in these hostile corporate takeovers that deprive Americans of their property rights? Does Florida Statute 718 represent the “individual homeowners” constituency of CAI, through optional termination provisions drafted by one of their own member attorneys? It seems the statute as written supports the collective interests of the Association rather than the individual interests of owners.
Is it realistically possible to provide “advocacy” that will encompass a “multidisciplinary membership” where the interests of one subset of a constituency are often in direct conflict with the interests of another? You be the judge.