Tag Archives: Florida

Legislative fix for FL condo takeovers?

guest blog by Deborah Goonan 

In 2007, Florida passed a law that has been dubbed “Eminent Domain for Condos.” The law allows for 80% of voting interests to approve a plan to terminate the condo association for the purposes of redevelopment, as long as no more than 10% of voting interests object to the plan.

At the time the law was passed, the stated intent was to make it easier for owners of hurricane damaged or functionally obsolete condos to sell their ailing building to investors who would then redevelop on valuable land.

However, in the 8 years since enactment of this law, real estate investors and developers have descended like vultures, preying upon distressed condominium associations. Taking advantage of FL statutes, investors have been buying unsold units in bulk, at pennies on the dollar, taking control of the association, amending the governing documents where necessary, and voting to terminate the association.

In most cases, their intent is to convert all of the units to rental apartments, at a time when record numbers of people are renting rather than buying condos. Investors have forced nearly 20,000 condo owners – many of them homestead owners – to accept termination proceeds equal to one-third to one-half of what they paid for their units at the height of the real estate market prior to 2007. Essentially, condo owners have been kicked to the curb, many with outstanding mortgage balances for homes they no longer own. Cash buyers lost most of their hard-earned life savings with nothing to show for it.

An op-ed written by two attorneys from Greenspoon Marder Law firm states that a proposed bill in Florida “could satisfy public outcry” over condo takeovers that have forced nearly 20,000 owners to sell their homes, many of them at a fraction of their purchase price.  (You might recall from my previous blogs on this topic that Steven Geller, the sponsor of the 2007 legislation amending FL condominium termination process, is now a shareholder at the same law firm.)

Condo owners adversely affected by Florida’s flawed legislation have pressured their state Representatives and Senators to take action. Florida Realtors, who have helped to draft HB 643, have also expressed deep concern. The current draft provides that bulk buyers must make  “third-party” owners whole at termination, by paying 110% of the condo owner’s purchase price or fair market value, whichever is higher.  In addition, all first mortgages must be satisfied, and a relocation allowance is payable to homestead owners.

Realtors hope that legislative change will renew confidence in the condo market. Between negative media coverage and word of mouth, buyers are reluctant to purchase real estate in Florida, particularly condominiums that have been featured in the media. Additionally, many condo owners are finding it difficult to sell their units, except to other bulk buyers hoping to snatch up units at a low price.

The current bill, (HB643), retains 80% vote of approval – as long as no more than 10% of voting interests reject a plan – for optional termination of condominium. That provision remains unchanged as sponsored by Geller and signed into law by Governor Christ in 2007.

As has always been the case, the governing documents can still provide a lower percentage of owner approval for termination.

Attorneys Mark F. Grant and Raul Valero claim in their article that unanimous consent of owners for a condominium termination is unrealistic and that a single holdout can extract too much money out of the termination settlement.

Grant and Valero go on to explain that in 2010 the FL Legislature passed the Distressed Condominium Act, a law set to expire on June 30, 2016. The Act reduces liability of condo-buying investor groups for construction defects and deficits in reserve funding allegedly caused by the original developer. The Optional Termination and Distressed Condominium statutes, when combined, created the golden opportunity for hostile condominium takeovers in Florida.

As currently written, HB 643 still does not address a key issue. Voting interests are allocated to the number of units owned or proportional share of condominium ownership, not to individual owners. The result is that we have real estate investor corporations outvoting homestead owners, terminating the condominium and forcing them to sell, even at a substantial loss.

As long as votes are allocated to the property vs. people, investors will find a way to exploit that loophole. Because FL statute sets no absolute minimum threshold for termination approval, a bulk-buyer-controlled Board that holds sufficient voting interests can simply amend the governing documents to reduce the approval threshold, thus making termination possible on their own terms.

The only ways to remedy that situation is to more equitably allocate voting interests among the people involved, rather than tying them to inanimate units. Bottom line: opportunistic investors should not be able to trample the rights of homestead property owners.

Grant and Valero characterize bulk buyers as some sort of saviors that have “rescued” failing condominium associations, the buyers later concluding that a de-conversion would make better financial sense.

Whether or not you believe that the condo takeover fiasco was carefully crafted or the result of unintended consequences now is the time to consider the rights and needs of condo owners that thought they were buying a home as opposed to a real estate investment property.

Tragically, even if a homeowner-friendly bill is passed, it will be too late to help tens of thousands who have already lost their homes, their life savings, and their credit.

(link to op-ed regarding Condo Termination legislative proposals)

(link to FL HB 643)

Update: Osceola delegation denies HOA residents’ third request to make Poinciana a city

guest blog by Deborah Goonan

A few months ago I blogged about a very large Florida HOA with over 45,000 residents, and the fact that a homeowner’s group (PINCHOS) has been trying for three years to incorporate as a city. In all, Poinciana has nearly 60,000 residents. Under the latest proposal, roughly 47,000 live within boundaries that were to create a new municipality.

News reports indicate that Osceola County Legislative Delegation vote was split 2-2, along party lines on the matter, with two representatives not present at the time the vote was taken. A Department of Revenue report, based on a feasibility study, has concluded that Poinciana meets the financial requirements of a city, and stands to take in millions in revenue if it incorporates as a municipality.

At the hearing conducted last month, the delegation reportedly heard from residents both in favor of the proposal and opposed. Those opposed fear that becoming a city would lead to a tax increase, despite a feasibility study’s conclusion to the contrary.  Debate on the finer points has been put on hold for yet another year.

One of the reasons PINCHOS is in favor of municipal incorporation: typical of large HOAs, Poinciana is divided into 9 Villages, and the President of each Village Board serves on the Master HOA. Property owners elect the Master Board, but many of those owners are not actually residents of Poinciana. Meanwhile tenants have no voting rights to elect their leaders. That’s equivalent to taxation without representation! Predictably, the HOA Developer and the Board spoke against Poinciana becoming a city at the Delegation meeting.

According to another recent television news report, Poinciana has been struggling with crime and vandalism. Because they don’t have City status, they cannot have their own police department. Therefore the HOA has decided to spend $100,000 on increasing security staff and adding security cameras.

Keith Laytham, spokesperson for the owners’ group in favor of municipal incorporation says his group will continue to work with State Rep. John Cortes to put Poinciana on the map as a city in its own right.

(Bay News 9 article on controversy) 

(Orlando Sentinel article on Poinciana)

(Letter to Ledger.com from a Keith Laytham)

(WFTV video, Poinciana HOA to spend $100,000 on increased security)

(Previous blog about Poinciana, and why many residents want to create their own city)

Owner wants to know how to get rid of HOA

guest blog by Deborah Goonan

An owner in Parkview HOA in Brownsville, TX was recently interviewed by KRGV television. He explains that several years ago their HOA “fizzled out” but then a new management company suddenly appeared on the scene, looking to collect assessments. But the HOA has a $46,000 deficit, and many owners are not paying their dues or paying attention to the HOA, despite collection letters tacking on a $250 attorney fee for delinquent account owners.

So what’s the story here? That’s a bit of a mystery. A quick Google search turns up minimal information on Parkview Homeowners Association LLC – address, phone number, and management agent. Attorney Bill Davis was consulted by KGRV, and, according to him, the first step is to locate the original HOA governing documents, and determine whether the HOA currently attempting to collect assessments is the Original HOA vs. a newly formed corporation masquerading as the once-defunct HOA. Got that?

The story leaves out many details, and calls to mind several questions. Was there a vote of owners to revive this inactive HOA? How long was it inactive? Were assessments being collected before the new management company started sending invoices? How many homes are involved, and what are the dues?

There are specific legal processes for dissolution, as well as reviving inactive HOAs, depending on state law. Looks like the homeowner, Mr. Jack Jew, will have to consult an attorney, and get together with his neighbors to see if they can rid themselves of the HOA that he claims most owners do NOT want.

Ironically, as demonstrated in Florida, a group of Bulk Buyers (investors) can quickly gain control of a Board, and then vote to dissolve the Association.  But ordinary owners of one measly home apiece have to play detective and jump through numerous legal hoops just to get rid of the HOA albatross, if possible.

Does that seem fair to you?

(link to story in Brownsville, TX)

You’re A Brave Man, Greg Chumbley!

You’d think that a prospective homeowner would be allowed to see the community financials when he’s buying a home, especially if it’s in the neighborhood covenants and ingrained in state law. But as I’ve long said, most HOA boards feel they’re above the law. And usually they’re right. Challenge them and they’ll take you to the cleaners.

That’s what’s happening in a developing story in Florida. The Village Walk of Naples has 850 homes behind its private gates. It employs eight people including the ‘town manager.’

When new homeowner Greg Chumbley asked the board of directors to show him the HOA’s financials they basically told him to take a hike. All Chumbley wanted to know is how much of his dues were going to pay for those eight employees.

The board claims that giving the public any record of its expenses might lower property values in the HOA. Really? That’s the kind of thumb-in-mouth attitude that makes a majority of Americans despise those gated communities. With all the tens of thousands of cases of neighborhood embezzlement, bribery and extortion that goes on in HOA Amerika it also raises a whole lot of understandable suspicion. “Light (truth) is the best disinfectant,” said a famous Supreme Court Justice.

Chumbley has now filed a lawsuit demanding that his HOA obey the law. The first hearing is December 1st.

Chumbley is a brave, brave man for a host of reasons. Not only is he “slapping this mule upside the head,” he’s doing it very publicly by releasing his phone number and ‘share button’ on his website.

Greg, you can’t imagine the number of admiring fans you have across the country. Please let us know how your case turns out.

Contact: Greg Chumbley,  239-300-6169

(link to press release on Chumbley’s lawsuit)


CAI Law Firms Fight Back

CAI lawyers in Florida (and most likely elsewhere) are whining about one of the few court decisions that ever favored a homeowner against an HOA. It’s a case where the homeowner wrote a check for $840 with the notation, “in full and final satisfaction (of disputed amount).” The homeowner included a letter with the same basic language.

The HOA attorney instructed his clients to cash the check, but only apply part of it toward the original disputed amount. An Appellate Court has now ruled that since the check was cashed, the HOA cannot go after the $38,000 in additional fees it claimed was owed by the homeowner.

This is another one of those trashy HOA scams that have given the industry such a horrible reputation among American homeowners. If a homeowner claims, rightly or wrongly, that an HOA fine was improperly assessed, the HOA immediately begins tacking on late fees, fines, attorney’s fees, collection costs and interest. Florida law forces the homeowner to pay the most recent fees first. In other words, interest, collection costs, lawyers, fines, late fees, and only then can the homeowner ever repay the original debt.

It’s a beautiful system which has worked well for generations of Mafia families and for low-life debt collectors. While the debtor desperately tries to pay his original debt, the associated fines and interest keep rising, as do legal fees and collections. It’s a daisy chain that’s impossible to break. It’s a massive money maker for lawyers and collections agencies who, while doing absolutely no work, can raise their charges indiscriminately and perpetually until the homeowner is broken. Of course, the HOA prances in and seizes the home which it promptly puts up for auction. The lawyers then begin picking through the estate of the bankrupted homeowner. The system is fundamentally unfair to the individual homeowner who never has a chance to plead for his own day in court.

So in this rare decision where the Court ruled in favor of the homeowner, the tears and gnashing of teeth are being heard throughout the CAI community.

(CAI firm’s warning to the HOA industry)