By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities
How can someone else take away the home that you own, and declare you their tenant? That is the question of former condo owners in Delaware County, Pennsylvania.
Former condo owners have filed a class action lawsuit against Daniel Berger of Boothwyn Partners.
The condo takeover playbook
It all starts with a distressed condo association that just so happens to be located on potentially valuable land. Opportunistic investors see potential for substantial financial gain by converting the property to rental apartments. So they buy all the vacant units, as well as any short sales or foreclosures. When they own enough units, investors gain sufficient voting interests to literally elect themselves to the board.
Once an investor controls the board, the tyranny begins. Exploitative special assessments. Questionable collection tactics. Fining owners for bogus or trumped up violations or nuisances. Leasing condos to tenants from hell. Pressuring remaining owners to sell their units below market value just to escape these unpleasant realities.
Eventually, the investor-controlled board owns 80% of condo units, and then “votes” in favor of termination (also referred to as dissolution) of the condo association corporation. And then the investors declare themselves the new landlord of YOUR property.
It’s all technically legal, or at least not illegal
But what Berger has done may be perfectly legal. If City Hall tried to get away with the tactics of Boothwyn Partners, it would be considered illegal. There would be an uproar.
But not so with a condominium association. Why?
Do not believe industry propaganda about condominium associations as small democracies, where owners elect their neighbors to lead the association for the good of all owners.
A condominium association – like nearly all mandatory homeowners associations – is a corporation. Corporate voting interests are assigned to the number shares one owns, and in the case of Association Governed Residential Housing, that means voting interests are tied directly to the number of units or the total square feet of property one owns.
Contrast this to the voting rights we have as residents of our Cities and Counties. Each registered voter age 18 and up gets but one vote, regardless of homeownership status. (With the exception of convicted felons, whose voting rights can be redeemed after serving their sentence.)
According to U.S. Constitutional law, a landlord does not get to one vote for each apartment or home she owns! A developer does not get “weighted” votes in return for his investment in real estate! That only happens in Association Governed Housing developments.
I repeat: a mandatory condo association is a corporation. Therefore, a condo association is vulnerable to hostile corporate takeover. It’s really no different from any other corporate merger or consolidation – the kind that result in hundreds or thousands of employees losing their jobs as a result of “reorganization” following the takeover.
Except…a condo takeover means you lose your home – and any equity you may have acquired – instead of your job.
Not just a problem in Florida anymore
Condo takeovers occurring in the Sunshine State made national news a few years ago, including reports in the Wall Street Journal and CNBC.
But the trend has spread to Illinois, Arizona, and now Pennsylvania. No doubt the same process has been taking place – unpublicized – in states all across the U.S. Florida was merely the incubator for a process that has been very profitable for real estate investors.
No sympathy, no help for homeowners
And the worst part of this injustice is that, thus far, there has been little help for homeowners. Florida legislators considered and approved statute amendments meant to alleviate financial loss in a hostile condo takeover, but have done nothing at all to prevent what amounts to the theft of your home against your will.
Florida statutes remain full of loopholes that allow investors and developers to avoid a legal requirement to make you whole when they convert your condo to an apartment.
Willowbrook residents can’t halt sale of condos; lawsuit continues
An Upper Chichester apartment complex at the heart of a class-action lawsuit sold last month for $18.5 million and former individual unit owners now say they are being asked to rent what used to be their homes.
“Basically, they wanted the complex and now they have it,” said Christine Scott, lead plaintiff in the lawsuit encompassing claims from a dozen former owners at Willowbrook Apartments. “No matter how nice that may be for them, it cannot make what is happening to people around here right.”
The complaint, filed earlier this year in Delaware County Common Pleas Court by attorney Leslie A. Margolies on behalf of the former owners, alleges 16 counts including fraud, unjust enrichment, deceptive business practices and criminal conspiracy against real estate broker Daniel Berger and others who allegedly orchestrated a hostile takeover of the property in order to auction it to themselves.
Berger’s company, Boothwyn Partners, has denied the allegations.
Read more here:
2 thoughts on “What gives one person the right to take your home?”
Another Florida condo owner forced to sell at a loss!
Going through the process gives a new perspective, one I did not have when I was purchasing several years ago. The laws in Florida work against small condo/apartment units owners, especially non-resident.
What often happens with beachfront or other desirable locations is the lot owner sells out to a hotel/apartment investor. A document for termination is soon filed, but can be appealed. The sale price can be negotiated before the deadline or later contested through a mediator from FBCT. There is still room for negotiation during the various stages before trial. Having understood the issues better now, like most would approach the situation differently.
The termination process is difficult to understand and accept for non-professionals because it seems very unfair, but there is only one chance to get it right!
1. Keep focused and prioritized.
2. Know your limitations.
3. Choose the right attorney (one who has a track record of working with small owners, not corporations).
Wow, this hits home even in single family HOA’s who are after what 40 years still under the control of a developer who votes with lots that do not exist but voted as future development which is not even on the planning departments desk they are not even on the tax rolls as per the Florida Statues. What is this form of voting rights called (Binding Letter of Interpretation) which was filed with the State, is this a legal form of voting rights for the developer. No this is nothing more than a tool used by the state for: The Florida Legislature first visited the subject of growth management and comprehensive planning in 1972 with the adoption of two land use programs for reason: The Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) reviews developments of regional impact for compliance with state law and to identify the regional and state impacts of large-scale developments and makes recommendations to local governments for approving, suggesting mitigation conditions, or not approving proposed developments. The developer or DEO may appeal local government decisions to the Governor and Cabinet, sitting as the Florida Land and Water Adjudicatory Commission. But here is the question and concern it is only an interpretation as with all future development times allow for change so what is given today may not be approved tomorrow real estate concept of change is always in motion. So should a developer be allowed to use this as their voting rights, I say no because it is not real nor will such binding letter of interpretation stand the test of time for future development. Which developer is using this method to cast votes in an HOA currently Avatar is a HOA community called Poinciana. Even the states laws state the property must be on the tax rolls which these so called lots are not, is this fair no it is not and should never be allowed as this gives the Developer control of the HOA for eternity with no hope for the homeowners to ever get control of their very own community. So the developer will always cast votes for those who will protect them and not the homeowners interest.
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