Monday, April 28, 2014


Governor Rick Scott;

This legislative session has clearly shown what you - as Florida's 
Governor - areall about: A promoter for special interests with little 
concern for Florida's citizens and consumers. When it comes to 
homeowner association reform, your agenda has been anti-
consumer and especially anti-homeowner. 

As a registered Republican who has voted for the Republican ticket 
all my life, I am plainly disgusted with your vision of Florida. You, with 
the help of "Speaker" Weatherford -- speaker in the meaning of 
speaking for special interest, have killed the single most important 
consumer protection bill that was filed - or forbidden to be filed - during 
this legislative session... a House companion to Senator Hays' 
SB 1348.

Are you really convinced that you can buy the votes of us citizens by 
promising to decrease our annual car-registration fees by $25?

Word had it at the beginning of the legislative session that only 
non-controversial bills would pass and signed by you because of 
the upcoming election. In the past few weeks it became obvious 
that non-controversial was supposed to mean that the bill would be 
ok if not opposed by special interest. You obviously didn't care if 
the bill would be very controversial in the eyes of Florida's citizens.
Do you honestly believe that collecting campaign funds from special 
interests will buy you back the Governor's mansion? Do you honestly 
believe that all registered Republicans will vote for you despite you 
having trampled on their rights and needs with feet? 
Your desire to achieve a sound bite of "no new fees" or "no increase 
of government", will allow - minimum for another year - the inability for 
homeowners to file a simple complaint with your DBPR in the same 
way a condominium owner can when abusive association leaders act 
Your actions will allow greedy investors to continue to kick families out 
of their homes who did everything their contracts asked for (H 1061 
didn't even get a committee hearing). And the list of consumer-friendly 
bills killed behind closed doors goes on!

The anti-owner bill H807/S798 is passing with flying colors with more 
nonsense added in committees! Under the cover of clarifying existing 
laws this bill will do nothing but create more lawsuits - lawsuits Florida's
homeowners and condo owners can ill afford. The tag team of 
Moraitis/Ring has created more financial damages to Florida's 
homeowners and condo owners than the hurricanes in the last ten years 

I guess many Republican homeowners and condo owners will remember 
the good old times when we had a governor who helped passing 
owner-friendly bills and signed them into law:

From left: Rep. Kevin Ambler, Rep. Julio Robaina, Rep. Franklin Sands, 
Rep. Yolly Roberson,  Rep. Joe Gibbons, Senator Alex Villalobos, 
Rep. Juan Zapata
After this for homeowners and condo owners disastrous legislative 
session many of Florida's homeowners (est. 2,5 million) and condo 
owners (est. 1.45 million) and their families will definitely remember 
the good old times. I guess it's time for Florida's citizens to work on 
much needed changes on November 4. My advice to all these 
voters (using your words): "LET'S GET TO WORK!"


Jan Bergemann, President
Cyber Citizens For Justice, Inc. 

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Letter to Governor Rick Scott

Dear Governor Scott,

It was very disappointing to not have the bill this year to create an agency to regulate homeowner associations. 

Despite what the courts have ruled, a high percentage of these associations are dictatorships who widely abuse homeowners.  As my friend Scott Gardner said 'I doubt our founding fathers ever envisioned any private corporation having so much power over the citizens of this country."  Valuable property rights are gone. 

While the courts hold the position these people entered into a contract and they had a choice not to, this contract is one-sided. One-sided contracts are thrown out all the time. 

What people don't agree to in these contracts are to be ruled by boards who steal money or use the money for private vendettas. 

What these people don't agree to is being victimized by attorneys and community association managers who work I'm collusion to fuel disputes and billable hours. 

What these people do not agree to is having thousands of dollars of unregulated attorneys fees assessed against them if they are a couple days late with a payment or if their payment is lost.  

What these people don't agree to is being sued for exercising statutory rights such as implementing Florida Friendly Landscaping. 

These people entered into these contracts thinking if something went wrong the State of Florida would protect them.  The State has failed our citizens. 

The State of Florida has aided and abetted the creation of a system more corrupt than any government.  

Barbara Billiot Stage, Esq. 

Sent from my iPhone

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Abuse of Power -- Living Miserably in a Florida Association

If I had to briefly describe Florida community associations (COAs, HOAs, Mobile Home Parks) I would sum it up to "abuse of power."  

A majority of the associations in the State of Florida abuse the power granted to them by the statutes and the governing documents (Declarations, Bylaws, Articles of Incorporation, and Rules and Regulations) of the association.  In the early to mid0-2000s, House Representative Julio Robaina, who was head of the House Select Committee on Condominium and HOA Reform set up town hall meetings all over the state to listen to the complaints by owners regarding their associations.  Hundreds of people attended these town hall meetings and only one or two people ever spoke up to say they were happy with their association.  As you can guess these one or two people were board members.

Don't get me wrong; there are a number of good associations out there who do their job without abusing the owners.  I know because the associations I represent operate their communities that way or I would not be representing them.

The problem lies with the association attorneys, as well as the courts and the Florida Bar for letting the association attorneys behave badly.  The problem lies with the Florida Legislature for not enacting more laws to protect the owners or creating an agency to properly regulate the associations.  Homeowner associations are not regulated at all.  The other types of associations that are regulated do not provide adequate protection for the owners or do not have jurisdiction to investigate the biggest problems, such as assessment disputes.  This means the only remedy available to homeowners is costly litigation and the attorneys know this.  They advise their clients the likelihood of someone litigating against the association is slim and even if they do chances are they will drop the case when they realize the money it will take, which is between $100,000 and $150,000 on average to get a case to court.  In fact one association law firm gave a  sales presentation that I sat in on and stated that 95% of the homeowners cannot afford to litigate against you. Their motto was "do now, defend later."  The board members, once educated on this fact, then start to abuse the power they have to suppress the property rights of the owners. 

Tactics include censorship of those outspoken owners and litigation against them if possible.  Associations will foreclose on an owner who is past due a few hundred dollars and is outspoken rather than foreclose on someone who owes more but doesn't make trouble.

Attorneys' fees are the biggest problem with association abuse.  The statutes actually provide for the owner to reimburse the association the attorneys' fees without a court action!  Even worse, any payments are applied to interest, late fees and attorneys' fees first.  Payments are applied to assessments last, so if you are past due, unless you pay the amount in full, you will always be at risk of foreclosure.  Knowing this, the law firms representing the associations pad their bills heavily.  A recent case I was involved in, where the association lost the client's monthly payment of $160 resulted in almost $800 the first month and $62.50 each month, minimum, just for handling an account in collections and processing the payment.  This client paid in advance several months at a time and there was only one month in dispute, but the association sold off the debt to a finance company who then applied hundreds of dollars in legal fees almost every month on top of the legal fees the association attorney charged.  The attorneys' fees reached $20,000 quickly despite one $160 payment being in dispute.

I have had clients who are turned over to the association attorney for collections and they are told they cannot go by the law firm and cannot call.  They are given the email address of a contact person to discuss settlement.  Guess what?  That person no longer works there and the owner is given two or three email addresses of former employees.  While I complained about this to the law firm several years ago, I recently discovered the firm is still engaging in this practice.  When they finally do read the emails the owner sent, they want to bill the owner for all the emails sent despite no one reading them when they were sent.

Violations are another area of abuse.  If your association doesn't like you, you will be targeted with violation notices and possibly fines, which then can be a lien and foreclosure on your home if the fines exceed $1,000 and are unpaid.

Life in an association does not have to be this way.  There is a better way of operating these associations, but until the State of Florida wises up and realizes they are promoting a "cash cow," not just for the attorneys, but for the community association managers, as well, life in an association will be a living hell with a dictatorship form of government.  By the way, the courts have ruled long ago associations are not governments or quasi-governments.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Community Association Living - Notice Requirements for Board Meetings and Member Meetings

Very rarely is a statute clear enough to avoid debate by lawyers taking different positions. Even if the law seems to be clear, it will still generate lots of questions with lawyers taking different positions.  The notice requirements in Fla. Stat. 720.303(2)(c) are a good example.

This statute provides the Bylaws will determine the notice requirements and if they do not then the following apply....  The statute then goes on to state BOD meetings are to be posted 48 hours in advance of the meeting in a conspicuous place in the community.  Exceptions to this are meetings to "levy" assessments or to change rules governing parcel use, which require fourteen (14) days notice to the members by U.S. mail to their home address.

The confusion comes in because the statute reads:

"An assessment may not be levied at a board meeting unless the notice of the meeting includes a statement that assessments will be considered and the nature of the assessments. Written notice of any meeting at which special assessments will be considered or at which amendments to rules regarding parcel use will be considered must be mailed, delivered, or electronically transmitted to the members and parcel owners and posted conspicuously on the property or broadcast on closed-circuit cable television not less than 14 days before the meeting."

Breaking this down, you can see the confusion.  First, what is the meaning of "an assessment may not be levied.."  It is unbelievable how much you can debate if an increase to an existing assessment is levying an assessment.  My opinion is each year when you set the rate of assessments you are "levying" an assessment. The next issue is the second sentence states the fourteen (14) day written notice is required for "special assessments" and ignores regular assessments.

Leave it to the lawyers to muck it up, right?  Just use common sense!  Play it safe and use the fourteen (14) day notice.  If your Bylaws have a longer period (many have fifteen days), then use that.  Out of precaution, don't use less even if the Bylaws permit it.  Industry practice has been to use the fourteen (14) day notice as a guideline.  When in doubt, be conservative!