HOA bills again headed nowhere. Bakalar & Associates attorney quoted. [4-16-15]

Article Courtesy of The Palm Beach Post

By Kimberly Miller

Published April 15, 2015

Homeowners hoping for more state oversight of the association boards that rule their communities are out of luck this year as legislation to increase scrutiny of HOAs died for lack of support in Tallahassee.

It’s the second year in a row that proposals to give the Department of Business and Professional Regulation power to investigate complaints against homeowners associations and create educational programs for HOA board members failed to even make it to a single committee hearing.

Similar House and Senate bills were trying to build on a 2013 law that required the first census of Florida’s HOAs as a step in creating oversight rules. The Senate version of the legislation, SB 1308, would also have charged a $2 per home annual fee to cover the cost of HOA education and training programs.

“Under no circumstance would I live in an HOA community again,” said Lucille Warrell, a suburban Boca Raton resident who supported the legislation after having concerns with how her own HOA operates. “Homeowners have no recourse to serious problems except to hire an attorney.”

About 2.6 million homes statewide are in communities run by homeowners associations, according to the census taken by Florida’s Department of Business and Professional Regulation. Palm Beach County has an estimated 1,580 associations with nearly 300,000 homes or undeveloped lots.

But while condominium associations have long been governed by laws that give the state power to review complaints, issue fines and conduct recalls if boards act unlawfully during elections, HOAs have not been subject to the same oversight.

The state can arbitrate homeowners associations election disputes and homeowners can request mediation in some situations, but they have to pay for that mediation.

“HOAs are completely different animals than condominiums and our members are resistant to these bills,” said Lori Vinikoor, executive vice president of the Alliance of Delray Residential Associations, which opposes the plans.

The Alliance has a membership of 92 communities and about 130,000 residents.

Residents who live in homeowners associations share fewer common areas than condominium dwellers, who often pay for insurance, cable and utilities in their monthly dues.

Vinikoor said the process of mediation used by HOAs works, and cuts down on frivolous complaints because it costs the homeowner money. If every complaint had to be handled at a state level, the HOA would need to hire an attorney for representation, theoretically costing everyone in the association money, Vinikoor said.

“They are trying to find a fit, but they are putting a square peg in a round hole,” Vinikoor said about the proposed bills. “We just don’t need all those facets in law to have a functioning association for the people.”

Attorney Ron Kaniuk, who specializes in community association law with the Coral Springs firm Bakalar & Associates, said unhappy homeowners can also run for election to the association board if they disagree with how the community is being governed.

“I think there are a small number of people who feel disenfranchised,” Kaniuk said. “Unfortunately, I don’t think those people ever understood the kind of community ownership they were buying into in the first place.”

Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, sponsored the senate version of the HOA bill. Its companion, HB 1263, was sponsored by Rep. Mike La Rosa, R-St. Cloud.

Hays’ bill included the $2 annual fee per home and specific rules on when homeowners can elect the majority of board members over developer representation when the community has not been turned over yet.

“The developers screamed bloody murder to Hays’ bill,” said Jan Bergemann, a DeLand resident who has worked for HOA reform as president of the grass-roots organization Cyber Citizens for Justice. “So La Rosa’s bill was going to be the tool, but it never got put on a committee agenda.”

Bergemann said Hays and La Rosa are committed to trying again next year. Neither lawmaker could be reached by deadline for this story.

“Problems in HOAs will not stop until there is some sort of enforcement,” Bergemann said.