By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities
Ah, yes, the “democratic” homeowners’ and condo association election process at work. You know, the ability for owners to “vote the bums out” if and when dissatisfied with current board of directors/trustees. It sounds so simple, so civilized, so American the way HOA industry promotes it.
Surprise, surprise. It’s election time at many condo associations in Florida. And, once again, there is conflict surrounding the election process. The Miami Herald just released a shocking report of its recent investigation of south Florida condominium election fraud.
Multiple South Florida condos under state investigation for election fraud
Highlights from article:
In 2015, Miami-Dade recorded the highest number of complaints of irregularities and fraud in the administration of condos of any county in Florida
El Nuevo Herald and Univision 23 launched its own investigation after allegations of fraudulent ballots at several South Florida condominiums
At one Hialeah condo, a 2015 vote received 115% participation of owners; at The Beach Club at Fontainebleau Park, dozens of apartment owners claim their signatures were falsified
This is an article every owner in an Association Governed Residential Community must read.
Clearly, given the level of complaints in one county in Florida alone, there are plenty of condo owners who are not apathetic – they are participating in elections, and they are exercising their rights to review official records. But, despite extensive Florida statutes governing such rights, without meaningful enforcement, too many condo association boards are simply defying the law.
That’s because Florida’s regulatory division (Department of Business and Professional Regulation, DBPR) has limited authority to investigate and enforce condominium statutes, and even more limited authority with regard to the homeowners’ association act.
Where are the “teeth” in statutes governing Owners’ Associations?
At first glance, if you read trade group Community Association Institute’s Rights and Responsibilities for Better Communities, it seems quite reasonable. Elections are supposed to be fair, and access to records freely given. Everyone involved should be reasonable, ethical, honest.
Homeowners have the right to:
1. A responsive and competent community association.
2. Honest, fair and respectful treatment by community leaders and managers.
3. Participate in governing the community association by attending meetings, serving on committees and standing for election.
4. Access appropriate association books and records.
5. Prudent expenditure of fees and other assessments.
6. Live in a community where the property is maintained according to established standards.
7. Fair treatment regarding financial and other association obligations, including the opportunity to discuss payment plans and options with the association before foreclosure is initiated.
8. Receive all documents that address rules and regulations governing the community association—if not prior to purchase and settlement by a real estate agent or attorney, then upon joining the community.
9. Appeal to appropriate community leaders those decisions affecting non-routine financial responsibilities or property rights.
Makes you feel all warm and fuzzy, doesn’t it?
But then when you read CAI’s Protection for Community Association Volunteers, it’s quite clear that the main concern is to protect board members from any and all personal legal accountability. And CAI’s leadership, including community management company giants Associa and First Service Residential, just so happen to be in the business of providing insurance policies for needed protection.
Here’s an excerpt of the policy:
Community Associations Institute supports statutory protections against unwarranted exposure to liability for volunteers serving on an association board of directors or authorized committee. Responsible judgments can be made without fear of personal loss interfering with that judgment or decision-making process. CAI further supports indemnification of community association volunteer directors and members of authorized committees by providing directors’ and officers’ insurance coverage as a budgeted, common association expense.
In other words, as a homeowner in an Association Governed Residential Community, you will pay for insurance that protects your homeowner, condo, or cooperative association board from liability. That insurance coverage pays the legal fees of the association’s attorney to defend the corporate HOA interests if and when a dispute arises with one or more homeowners.
And state laws, in general, provide little to no enforcement mechanism, mainly because the folks at CAI are crafting the statutes and lobbying against consumer protection.
Problems are not isolated to one state
Lest my readers think that this can only happen in Florida, I provide you with another egregious example of election fraud and corruption from Nevada.
Related info from NV