By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities
As the end of the calendar year approaches, owner-advocates are working on getting regulation of Association-Governed Communities in their respective states. One of the items on their Wish List: an official department or agency to take complaints and mediate or arbitrate disputes between property owners and their Associations.
A few states have such agencies. California and New York grant narrow, limited authority to their Attorneys General (AG), while states such as Colorado and Nevada have carved out small departments within their Business Regulatory agencies.
Arizona is somewhat unique in that it has created an Office of Administrative Hearings within their Department of Fire, Building, and Life Safety to hear certain types of HOA disputes. In July 2016, those HOA dispute resolution duties were transferred to the Arizona Department of Real Estate.
But most states have no specific regulatory agency for HOAs, and no consumer protection available through their Attorney General. Homeowners from these states think they are missing out on important protections available in other states.
But owner-advocates in “HOA-regulated” states tell me that the level of HOA consumer protection offered by Real Estate Divisions, AG offices, and Ombudsmen is minimal at best.
One prime example is Florida, the state with the most Association-Governed Communities in the US, more than 47,000, according to industry trade group Community Associations Institute (CAI).
In Florida, within the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, the Division of Condominiums, Timeshares, and Mobile Homes assists property owners in mediation and arbitration of disputes involving board elections, recalls, meetings, and access to records. Note that in Florida, homeowners associations of single family homes in planned communities are not regulated to the same degree: the Division will only arbitrate matters related to board election disputes, nothing more.
Condominium, timeshare, and mobile homes associations pay $4 per unit, per year, as a method of “self-funding” the DBPR Division.
Yet I hear from condo owners quite often that are frustrated that the DBPR is of little help to them, and of even less help to owners of single family homes in HOAs. Many disputes take months to resolve, if they are not dismissed for lack of jurisdiction (for example, complaints about inadequate maintenance of common areas) or on some kind of legal technicality.
Well, a recent article appearing in the Tallahassee Democrat may shed some light on what’s going on over at DBPR. It seems there’s a great deal of internal controversy, including an employment discrimination lawsuit filed by some female attorneys who handle arbitration of condo, timeshare, and mobile home association disputes.
In what the attorneys claim as apparent retaliation, DBPR is now considering outsourcing arbitration services, in favor of keeping in-house attorneys on staff at the state agency. In other words, Florida state officials now want to further privatize the HOA industry by removing direct oversight of its very limited regulatory function.
Somehow, I don’t think that sets the stage for a productive and cooperative staff of attorneys, just waiting to tackle the next chaotic condo dispute. More bad news for consumers who own property in Florida.
Department in legal dispute with in-house arbitrators
Jeffrey Schweers , Democrat staff writer 9:40 a.m. EDT October 12, 2016
The Department of Business and Professional Regulation has rankled several lawyers by holding a hearing Wednesday on whether to seek and certify outside lawyers to handle condominium association disputes.
The hearing comes two months after a lawsuit filed by several female attorneys who handle condominium cases claimed they are paid 50 percent less than their male counterparts. They called the hearing unlawful retaliation for the lawsuit on the part of the DBPR and its Division of Condominiums, Timeshares and Mobile Homes.