Residents who try to hold condominium associations accountable are often subjects of retaliation, creating a culture of fear where rogue boards can run amok, said former Sunny Isles mayor and real estate attorney Dana Goldman.
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Goldman spoke at length on condo issues on the Anti-Social Podcast on residents’ rights, how the Surfside Champlain Tower collapse has led to increased assessments and the threat of growing insurance premiums. She also talked about what occurs when residents try to assert those rights by asking for financial and other documents that they are entitled to under Florida law.
“The story is 100% incontrovertible truth that once you become that unit owner that’s requesting and questioning what is the operations and what’s happening, you are going to be a target,” Goldman said. “And the incumbent board and council will use the full brunt and the force of their authority to make sure that happens.”
She said the choice often isn’t easy for residents who care about the operation of their building and suspect a board of corruption, lack of transparency or financial malfeasance. It is one between apathy and activism.
Still, residents who choose to speak out about their concerns and seek records are protected under the Florida Condominium Act.
“You have an absolute right to those records and the association can’t tamper with or remove that information,” Goldman said. “Also, as a unit owner, you have a right to, if you pose a question.”
Still, the fear is real.
Residents recently contacted about the criminal investigation at Key Colony’s EmeraldBay into a misappropriation of funds have said repeatedly they won’t go on the record because they fear reprisals. Police have not released the details of the complaint, citing their ongoing probe.
So what are the signs that a condo board no longer has the resident’s best interests in mind? Goldman said a bad board might just ignore the needs of unit owners or fail to account for how their money is being spent. A huge assessment without explanation is a red flag.
“And then it becomes that level of distrust or suspicion amongst the unit owners,” Goldman said. “Essentially, not good governance.”
Goldman said holding rogue boards accountable is difficult. She said it was unfortunate condo owners and their associations were stripped out of the Associations Bill of Rights and Protection Act just passed by the Florida Legislature. The new law stems from the HOA fraud case in Kendall that involved misappropriation of $3 million.
There is the Florida Condo Ombudsman Office that is supposed to offer some oversight but Goldman said residents shouldn’t think it is a panacea for its main purpose is to preside over condo election disputes.
“What happens is the ombudsman gets inundated with these questions because unit owners don’t have enough direct access to attorneys and for legal opinion, advice or help, right? There aren’t enough resources for unit owners,” Goldman said.