Rep. Cortes to propose homeowner association overhaul [9-15-15]

Article Courtesy of The Ledger

By Tom Palmer

Published September 13, 2015

State Rep. John Cortes has announced plans to attempt to overhaul state laws governing homeowner associations to clarify the law and to improve enforcement.

Efforts by Cortes, D-Kissimmee, are partly an outgrowth of the controversy involving disputes between some Poinciana residents and the Association of Poniciana Villages, the sprawling community’s homeowners association and partly in response to other complaints he has received from members of other HOAs.

The details of his proposal are not available yet because proposed legislation is still being drafted, according to an aide.

Cortes said in a statement last week that the legislation would “seek to end the statutory inefficiencies relating to homeowner association oversight by the Department of Business and Professional Regulation.”

When Poinciana residents have raised concerns with Polk County officials, Polk County Commissioner Todd Dantzler informed them recently in an email that they should direct their concerns to the Department of Business and Professional Regulation’s Division of Condominiums, Timeshares and Mobile Homes.

But in response to a recent inquiry by APV board member Peter Jolly, he was informed in an email from an investigator in that division that “this division does not have jurisdiction over HOA issues except issues involving election and recall which can be addressed by our Arbitration section. The Compliance section does not have jurisdiction to investigate violations of Chapter 720 or failure to follow your governing documents. The courts system can address HOA issues at this time. ”

Cortes said he wants to provide a way to deal with disputes without forcing residents to file lawsuits, which is neither practical nor affordable in many cases.

The tensions in Poinciana ended up in court recently when the APV sued three board members in connection with the transfer of association funds and the removal of equipment without the approval of the rest of the board in a dispute over the association’s finances.

A judge ordered that the money and equipment be returned and any funds that were spent be properly accounted for.

That incident has been used to try to gain support for a proposal to hold a referendum to decide wither Poinciana should become a city.

Cortes, who serves as liaison to Poinciana for the Osceola County legislative delegation, has also asked his colleagues to make an informed decision on the issue. Poinciana lies between Haines City and Kissimmee and is partly in Osceola County and partly in Polk County.

Approval of a referendum requires legislation and that legislation will not proceed without the support of the Polk and Osceola legislative delegations.

Incorporation supporters recently submitted an updated feasibility study as required by state law for review by state officials.

The majority of local legislators rejected previous requests for a referendum, concluding supporters had not provided enough evidence to justify the proposal’s financial feasibility or its support within the community.

Incorporation advocates say they plan to renew their requests when the delegations hold their pre-session meetings later this year.