Judson Owen III, who has lived at the EmeraldBay Condominium on Key Biscayne since 1981, said he was warned.
His sociology professor at Miami Dade College in 1966 concluded, as a political scientist, that it is impossible for a board of directors to properly manage a condominium. These volunteer boards often don’t have the skill set to grapple with finances, building maintenance and residents’ needs.
Eventually ego or hubris gets in the way, Owen recalls the takeaway from his professor at the time.
This lesson reverberates today at EmeraldBay as it grapples with lawsuits, the arrest of its property manager and struggling to obtain its 40-year structural re-certification, records show.
Residents ousted longtime President Louisa Conway in a June election only to see her reappointed to a litigation committee, according to records reviewed by the Independent.
The post gives her an unelected role shaping the response to various lawsuits She was recently deposed in a case brought by the Key Colony Homeowners’ Association, which alleges nonpayment of some maintenance fees. EmeraldBay has denied the allegations.
Further south, the residents of Casa del Mar staged a coup, mounting a recall in October that prompted all of the directors to resign. The majority of the new board was elected on Monday night according to the former president. The issues related to the way the Association was managing costly fire safety upgrades and the fate of enclosed balconies, issues that both related to compliance with safety codes.
The cloud that hangs over it all, according to experts, was the June 2021 collapse of Champlain Towers South in Surfside that killed 98 people. The tragedy stands as a monumental failure of a condo board to perform its most sacred duty: keep your residents safe.
“It takes a catalyst to move things forward. Well, Surfside was one heck of a catalyst,” Owen said.
At a Wednesday evening town hall, Key Biscayners can hear for themselves the changes in the law and regulations in the wake of Surfside. They can also hear what is planned to hold condo boards more accountable.
The 6 p.m event at the Community Center, will be hosted by Mayor Joe Rasco and will feature presentations from State Rep. Vicki Lopez and District 7 Commissioner Raquel Regalado. Both represent districts encompassing Key Biscayne.
There will be a slate of speakers. Village Building, Zoning & Planning Director Jeremy Gauger will update the crowd on building safety updates for the island. Other speakers will tackle building code updates, condo regulations and property insurance.
There will also be at least an hour set aside for public comment, which has been pointed at previous town halls on the subject in recent months, Lopez said.
“There’s a lot of complaining about condo board misbehavior – which includes not giving access to the records when requested – a lot of election issues including election fraud,” Lopez said. “There’s just a lot of angst sort of expressed over condo boards and the way they operate.”
Complaints to DBPR have increased nearly 40% over the last fiscal year from 1,598 (2021-2022) to 2,383 (2022-2023).
Lopez says she is working on proposed legislation called Condo 3.0 that will beef up the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, the DBPR, to respond to resident complaints, require condo boards to be transparent on financial matters and address conflicts of interest that she says are often rampant among board members.
Dana Goldman, a veteran condominium attorney and former mayor of Sunny Isles Beach, said many of these condo boards don’t face consequences for violating state law, such as refusing to turn over financial records to residents.
“There’s been so much of a focus on keeping our buildings safe and finding the appropriate measures to maintain the buildings,” Goldman said. “It has moved the conversation somewhat away, at least for the last few years, away from the issues of fraud, corruption and abuse.”
In the wake of Surfside, the state now prevents condo associations from “waiving” reserve funds needed to maintain prudent reserves for primary structures like the roof. Condos must also perform milestone inspections and structural integrity studies. Paying the piper means condo residents are being hit with sizable assessments, often for years of deferred maintenance.
Many of these issues have been percolating for decades. .
In 2016, Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez-Rundle empaneled a County grand jury to look at the issue. In a blistering report, a grand jury found that too often, condo boards lack financial transparency, are rife with conflict of interest and engage in fraudulent elections.
“Because the condo laws and regulations lack ‘teeth,’ board directors, management companies and associations have become emboldened in their willful refusal to abide by and honor existing laws in the area,” the report concludes. “They even engage in fraudulent activity which goes unpunished.”
Lopez said the grand jury report – as well as the House’s select committee’s finding – were ignored. She has studied the findings of both.
“We are now taking some of those and putting them into the condo bill,” for the upcoming session in January, she said.
Update at Casa Del Mar: As they promised, the four remaining members of the condo board at Casa del Mar resigned on Monday night.
Former president Hope Wigmore said five new directors were selected from the recall ballots turned in earlier this month: former board member Kate Yannuzzi, Dr. George Ibars, Dr. Mehrdad Ghahramani, Eduardo Lara and Rodrigo Teijeiro.
Yannuzzi led the recall effort and is a former board member. She did not return a message seeking comment. A top priority will be selecting a new manager after the resignation of Iosvany Acosta, who said he would rather quit than serve with Yannuzzi as a director.
No officers were selected. Two more director positions also must be filled to bring the panel back up to seven members.
“Hopefully that ends this unfortunate chapter of Casa history,” Wigmore said.