By Thomas R. Collins
A Senate bill that would give the state more oversight of homeowner associations, and impose a $4-per-year fee on every parcel to pay for it, has drawn opposition from an area alliance of property owner associations, which says the measure is unnecessary.
The bill (SB 1348) proposed by Sen. Alan Hays, a Republican from Umatilla in north central Florida, says “it is necessary to provide regulatory oversight of such associations to ensure compliance with federal and state laws and local ordinances.”
So far, the measure hasn’t gained steam in Tallahassee.
Under the bill, a division of the state Department of Business and Professional Regulation could investigate complaints and enforce compliance in homeowner associations that are still under control of the developer. And after the homeowners take control of the association, the state only would be able to investigate complaints on financial issues, elections and homeowner access to records.
An ombudsman’s office would be created, along with an 800 number for complaints that would be available to residents in homeowner associations.
Condominium associations already have such an ombudsman dedicated to their communities, and already pay the $4 fee.
Hays has said that the proposed law was prompted by complaints from homeowners within his home county as well as from around the state.
But Lori Vinikoor, executive vice president of the Alliance of Delray Residential Associations, says the current system of mediation is already sufficient state oversight. In that system, differences over homeowner association bylaws can be settled by a state-appointed mediator after both sides pay a fee.
That system works, Vinikoor says.
“You have recourse if somebody doesn’t perform,” she says. “There’s always a place to go.”
But with such ease of access as an ombudsman, homeowners would be inclined to make frivolous claims, which will cost associations time and attorney fees, Vinikoor said.
“It’s like putting up a quarter or dollar into a soda machine and getting a soda,” she said. “If it’s as easy as that, wouldn’t it be easier for there to be more frivolous things?”
In condos, she said, most of the complaints come from a “very small percentage” of condo owners, who have been dubbed “recreational complainers.” She says the same could happen in homeowner associations.
Vinikoor said she is unaware of any homeowner associations in southern coastal Palm Beach County who have been following the legislation closely.
Highland Beach Vice Mayor Ron Brown, who also is president of the Bel Lido Home Owners Association in Highland Beach, said he was unaware of the bill. He said complaints within his community typically can be resolved locally.
“My opinion is that it’s not needed at the level our association functions,” he said.
Bel Lido likely would not be affected by the bill, since membership in the association is voluntary.
The prospects for the bill might be dim.
A similar bill was proposed last year, and did not go anywhere. This year, there is no House companion bill for it and hasn’t been heard in any committees, said Yeline Goin, a community association attorney.
“It doesn’t have a good chance of passing, in my opinion.”