By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities
Is regulation of association-governed communities possible?
Some states, such as Florida, California, New York, Arizona, Colorado, and Virginia have attempted to protect housing consumers with various state agencies: Ombudsman offices; Attorney General-Consumer Protection divisions; administrative offices that regulate businesses and issue professional licenses.
But all of these efforts have yielded disappointing results for taxpayers and consumers.
Florida’s Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) is a prime example. The state agency has very little authority, and, it appears, Florida’s judicial system has absolutely no respect for DBPR Arbitrators’ decisions.
Earlier this year, DBPR Arbitrator Terry Leigh ruled that Association of Poinciana Villages (APV) must void its February election, and conduct a new election. The DBPR ruling required APV to compel developer Avatar – also known as AV Homes – to provide proof of its actual number of buildable lots owned.
But AV Homes didn’t agree with the DBPR ruling. The developer filed a lawsuit in Civil Court, asking a judge to certify that AV Homes could cast one vote for each lot it owns based upon a decades-old vague provision allowing maximum number of lots (density) per acre, regardless of whether some of those lots happened to be under water or located on wetlands.
A judge agreed with AV Homes, and a second election was held this summer. But APV was forced to allow the developer to cast more than 9,000 votes, making it impossible for concerned homeowners to elect their own volunteers to Village Boards, and thus, gain some seats on the APV Master Association board.
Arbitrator Terry Leigh filed a Florida Bar complaint against Attorney Thomas Slaten, taking the matter to court while an appeal of DBPR’s decision was still pending.
But the Bar cleared Slaten of all pending ethics claims.
Then Poinciana homeowner Martin Negron filed a complaint in the 10th Judicial Court, asking the state to enforce DBPR’s ruling, and to throw out the AV Homes vs. APV case, because Negron was not notified of the case and given a chance to intervene and present his own arguments.
Unfortunately, Judge Randall McDonald dismissed Negron’s plea, calling it ‘untimely.’
Court refuses to enforce arbitration ruling against homeowners’ association in Poinciana
By Mike Ferguson, The Ledger
Posted Dec 3, 2017 at 9:32 PM
Updated Dec 4, 2017 at 7:11 AM
POINCIANA — A judge ruled in the Association of Poinciana Villages’ favor against one man’s effort to enforce an arbitration ruling.
Judge Randall McDonald ruled in favor of the homeowners’ association in a case against resident and former board candidate Martin Negron on Nov. 21. Negron sought to have a June 23 Department of Professional Business and Regulation ruling enforced by the 10th Judicial Court and to have the ruling of another case thrown out because he was not given the opportunity to intervene. The judge ruled Negron’s motion was “untimely and did not establish a right to intervene.”
Negron successfully won an arbitration case with the Department of Professional Business Regulation in June. The arbitrator, Terri Leigh Jones, claimed that APV was “capricious” in the way it counted developer votes and ordered APV show that unplatted lots were developable. The ruling also nullified the results of the Feb. 14 HOA election and forced APV to hold a new one in August.
With increasingly insurmountable legal obstacles, is it possible for Poinciana homeowners to win control of their own neighborhood from a wealthy and politically-connected community developer?
If DBPR’s rulings are not respected by Florida state courts, what is the point of having a regulatory state agency?