By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communties
The Tallahassee Democrat reports that two condo owners, Anthony Dewees and Lynda Tiefel, are suing Adams Street Lofts Condominium Association. Dewees and Tiefel allege that the condo association’s board and management company have ignored or denied their requests for access to official records of the association.
Florida statutes require association-governed communities to provide their members with access to financial records within 10 days. But when a condo, cooperative, or homeowner association fails to comply with those statutes, an owner’s only hope of enforcing the law and obtaining access to records is to file legal action in circuit court.
Trade groups promoting the community association industry insist that association-governed communities such as condo associations are neighborly, democratic institutions. They claim most associations are led by well-meaning homeowner volunteers, serving the best interests of their communities.
However the governance structure at Adams Street Lofts Condominium bears no resemblance to a friendly, democratic community.
Homeowner volunteers or real estate investors with ties to a Tallahassee Commissioner?
According to local reports, current Board members include:
Paige Carter-Smith, a well-know real estate investor in the city, who has been on the condo board since 2012. Carter-Smith currently serves as President, and her consulting company, Governance Services, owns most of the units at Adams Street Lofts, as well as the common areas.
Carter-Smith’s sister, Christy Carter-Cameron, once closely involved with Scott Maddox’s campaign for City Commissioner.
Former Jackson County Commissioner, Jeremy Branch, a previous employee of Maddox’s consulting services company, Governance, Inc., as well as Carter-Smith’s Governance Services.
Developer John “J.T.” Burnette, who owns a single unit that he currently leases to tenants.
According to Dewees and Tiefel, Maddox serves as the de facto manager of Adams Street Lofts, conducting board meetings at his law firm, and handling various service requests and complaints.
All but a few of the units are owned by Paige Carter-Smith, who, along with City Commissioner Scott Maddox, have hired Lewis Association Property Management to handle daily operation of the small luxury condo community.
Both Carter-Smith and Scott Maddox are part of an ongoing FBI probe into alleged misconduct within Tallahassess Community Redevelopment Agency. The pair have engaged in several suspicious real estate transactions and equity swaps that have raised eyebrows among City leaders and concerned citizen groups.
No apathetic homeowners here
Tiefel briefly served on the condo board, where she learned that Carter-Smith’s company, Governance Services, was $90,000 delinquent in association dues at the time. That prompted official requests for 7 years of financial records, all of which have been repeatedly ignored or denied.
Dewees has made several attempts to meet with Maddox to resolve maintenance and financial issues. Carter-Smith insists that all assessment debts owed to the Association have been repaid, either in cash or in kind.
But condo owners have not been able to verify this statement with official copies of relevant financial records.
Both Tiefel and Dewees have been labeled as “disgruntled” owners with political motivations. Carter-Smith dismisses owner complaints, citing that the pair has ties to activist citizen groups that have filed ethics complaints against Maddox.
Out of a total of 31-units at Adams Street Lofts, Paige-Smith and Maddox are the only two owner-occupants.
Condo owners sue Adams Street Lofts for financial records
Jeffrey Schweers, Democrat senior writer Published 6:26 a.m. ET Nov. 20, 2017 | Updated 6:29 a.m. ET Nov. 20, 2017
It’s been months since Anthony Dewees and Lynda Tiefel asked to see the financial records of their condominium association over concerns about maintenance issues, bills being paid late and the association’s reserves being depleted.
Their attempts to obtain the financial records they’re entitled to under state law have been ignored, they say, prompting them to sue the Adams Street Lofts Condominium Association run by Paige Carter-Smith and City Commissioner Scott Maddox, and the management company they hired, Lewis Association Property Management.
Carter-Smith and Maddox are longtime friends and political and business associates who are named in federal subpoenas delivered to City Hall over the last five months as part of a probe into the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency.
The other 26 units are owned by Governance Services, a company Carter-Smith set up in 2007 to make up for the money that Maddox’s consulting business, Governance Inc. lost in the recession. Carter-Smith took possession of the remaining 17 units she didn’t already own and the condominium’s common area as the result of a 2014 bankruptcy hearing.
After Carter-Smith obtained title in February 2015, Steve Leoni, the previous owner, sent out an email announcing the new owners and that his management company, Student Housing Solutions, would be replaced by Lewis Association Property Management.
More details are revealed in this Journal Sentinel report
Maddox in the middle: Adams Street players at heart of Governors Walk project, FBI probe
Jeffrey Schweers, Democrat senior writer Published 4:40 p.m. CT Oct. 27, 2017 | Updated 9:48 a.m. CT Oct. 29, 2017
It’s quite clear that owner-occupants and single-unit owners can never override the voting power in the condo non-profit corporation, held by the Paige-Smith.
Any and all inquiries or complaints initiated by two condo owners are political non-starters.
Can the condo association, its board members, and its management company successfully argue that there are no political motivations, no conflicts of interest with Tallahassee City Commissioner Maddox?
Or will Dewees and Tiefel prevail in court on their complaint, gaining access to financial records to which they are entitled by law?
By the way, for readers who might be inclined to dismiss this condo dispute as an “isolated incident” or an “extreme case,” think again.
The vast majority of association-governed common interest communities in the U.S. consist of fewer than 50 units. Many of these are self-managed, meaning that the owners of the association provide for their own management services, without hiring a full-time community manager from a third party management corporation.
It is not uncommon for smaller HOAs to be majority-owned and managed by a real estate developer, investment group, independent property management firm, or real estate broker – or by a few family members and close business associates.
The leaders of these small associations may also take advantage of close personal relationships with local politicians, in order to garner construction permits, zoning changes, affordable housing grants, tax benefits, and other advantages at the expense of taxpayers.
Is it any wonder we are seeing more and more reports of federal investigations into “pay to play,” alleged corruption, and ethics complaints involving conflicts of interest surrounding redevelopment in many municipalities across the U.S.?