By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities
Kudos to Miami Herald journalists Enrique Flor and Brenda Medina, for their investigative reporting of condominium fraud and abuses in Florida. Finally, reputable media outlets are beginning to expose the truth about how Association Governed Residential Communities really operate.
Today I want to highlight two of at least seven articles recently published in the Miami Herald. The first article reveals how a requirement to file notarized affidavits of election ballots is creating a false sense of integrity to South Florida condo elections in some Associations. The system of notarizing election ballots was supposedly enacted to prevent fraud, but dozens of condo owners claim that their signatures were forged on those ballots, or that they never had their ballots notarized in person by Carmen Aslan of FM Law Group.
Ana Pla Rodriguez, 57, a Cuban business person who lives in Puerto Rico, said she was on the island and did not sign an affidavit on Nov. 18, when Aslan notarized her signature on the document. On that same day, Aslan also notarized the signatures of another 33 owners at The Beach Club and Los Sueños condos.
“That signature that appears on that affidavit is not mine and I do not know that notary,” Pla said in a telephone interview from Puerto Rico. “The last time I went to Miami was in June of last year when my father died, and I stayed for two weeks,” she said. “And that woman never came to Puerto Rico to notarize the affidavit that I supposedly signed. All of that is false.”
Pla added that sometime in November she received a package with ballots for the association election at The Beach Club, where she owns three apartments. She filled in the ballots and returned them to the address of Carlin Castillo, a resident who was supporting the reelection of the condo board.
A previous investigation published in March by el Nuevo Herald and Univision 23 showed that the signatures of at least 84 owners on ballots for that election — the one that the affidavits were supposed to protect from fraud —were falsified.
Last month, the Miami Herald reported on several condominium associations grappling with costly special assessments to pay for roof repairs. An investigation revealed irregularities in the contract bid and award process, and a history of poor workmanship from the contractors. Several owners are interviewed, dismayed by the fact that they cannot afford assessment increases, and yet they still have leaky roofs.
Questions arise over bids in condo roofing repairs (March 18, 2016)
Owners of The Beach Club have paid about $400,000 to D&T General Contracting Inc. to repair the roofs of the 12 buildings in the 712-unit condo. The owners association began collecting the money last July, and the work began in February.
The board of directors at The Beach Club hired D&T, a Fort Lauderdale company founded by David Taylor just a year before, according to Florida corporate records.
The el Nuevo Herald and Univisión 23 investigation showed that the two other companies that submitted bids for the contract existed only on paper and were linked to employees of Taylor’s companies. The companies are Tri-County Inc., based in Weston, and Northeast Contracting Corp. in Plantation.
A search of public records shows Taylor has created at least 15 roofing companies, and that at least some of them face legal challenges. Condo owners in Broward filed two of the lawsuits.
Owners of the Eagle Nest Townhouses in Coral Springs filed a suit last year against Taylor, his brother Joseph and his firm, ABC Roofing, as well as Tri-Coast Roofing LLC and owner Barry Carter, alleging improper work after Hurricane Wilma. They claim that roof tiles came loose easily, even though the roof has a 20-year guarantee.
Two attorneys representing Taylor who showed up for a Feb. 11 court hearing, which was canceled, declined to comment.
In a separate case, the owners’ association of the Fairway Views condos in Margate filed a complaint against David Taylor with the DBPR alleging improper work in that complex of 176 units. The complaint alleged that the condo paid $3.7 million to fix damage caused by Wilma but that rain continues to seep through the repaired roofs.
“They leaked from day one,” said Sitra Friedman, president of the association and a resident of Fairway Views for a decade. “It was horrible … they changed names several times, and they would not speak with anyone other than the previous president, who gave us no information. Everything was put in wrong. They used the worst materials.”
Connecting the dots
Now let’s consider both of these reports together. How are alleged election fraud and bid-rigging for lucrative contracts related?
If you happen to live in a condo, cooperative, or homeowners’ association with a Board that is steering contracts to one or more particular contractors – and at the same time denying owners access to association records – it’s a good bet that someone on that Board is making money. This dynamic might happen with assistance from the Association’s management company and/or law firm, or it might start and end with the Board alone.
Those in control of the Association will make it difficult to prove conflicts of interest and wrong doing. And, in fact, weak laws often facilitate self-interest rather than common interest. For instance, the state of Florida has laws that require open access to association records for its members, but the law also provides no practical enforcement mechanism. Therefore the law is widely ignored or abused, as clearly illustrated by the investigative reports above.
Florida law does not outlaw conflicts of interest with regard to awarding contracts. It merely requires those conflicts to be disclosed. The reader can clearly see how this typical corporate practice can lead to abuse by a majority of like-minded board members.
Now, when owners start to complain about spending a fortune on substandard work, naturally, they will be inclined to vote for new board candidates, if given the choice.
Voting for new association leadership would mean a disruption of money and power for the few that benefit, would it not? Perhaps that provides the temptation to falsify ballots or even notarized affidavits?
It’s common sense.
And because Association Governed Communities are private entities – usually non-profit corporations – they are not required to adhere to state “Sunshine Laws” that pertain to open government. No open bid process. No Association meetings open to the public and members of the media. No requirement for third-party oversight of the election process.
How many home buyers are made aware of those realities before they close the sale?