State Rep. Vicki Lopez made it clear Wednesday: condominium boards who are corrupt, who are not financially transparent and who do not respond to their residents are very much in her crosshairs this next legislative session.
“Some condo boards have actually lost sight of the fact that they are not an entity upon themselves — separate and apart from the condo owners,” she said of the need for stronger laws at a condo “town hall’” convened by Village leaders.
Lopez said the legislation she hopes to file in the next few weeks – which she calls ”Condo 3.0.”— would address many problems about associations she has heard from residents.
In a crowded room at the Key Biscayne Community Center, where the leaders of some of the island’s troubled condos were present, Lopez said her bill would increase fines and possibly hold directors personally responsible.
Lopez said the jurisdiction of the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, the agency that regulates condos, needed to be expanded. Too often, she said, the DBPR could not follow through on resident complaints and hold boards more accountable. She talked about new proposed requirements on providing owners with financial and other documents such as engineering reports. And she talked about the problem of conflict of interest rife on boards.
“We’ve seen a lot of misbehavior of condo boards,” said Lopez, who lives in a Brickell apartment and whose district, including Key Biscayne, is chock full of condo residents.
Louisa Conway, the ex-president of the EmeraldBay association, walked out after Lopez’s opening remarks, but returned later in the meeting where she would ask pointed questions of Lopez.
EmeraldBay is embroiled in two lawsuits centered on alleged nonpayment by the condo association. It is behind on its 40-year recertification and repairs remain under supervision by the Village’s code enforcement department. And recently, police charged EmeraldBay’s former property manager with stealing maintenance fees from residents.
The alleged theft only came to light when EmeraldBay’s management company started sending delinquency notifications to residents with threats of legal action.
Still, Conway – who was voted off her board in June – lit into condo residents not paying their fair share as the real problem.
“I’m a little worried about your “Condo 3.0,’” she told Lopez. “One of the problems with delinquencies in the state of Florida is that it gives these delinquent owners a really long time before they actually settle up these accounts.”
Conway said the Legislature needs to think about delinquencies after mandating boards must keep reserves on hand to deal with major repairs. Lawmakers took away a condo association’s power to skip reserves in the wake of the Champlain Tower South collapse in Surfside in June 2021 after learning that the condominium didn’t have funds to address critical repairs.
Lopez responded to Conway by telling her that well-run condo boards have nothing to fear from the legislation she is about to introduce.
“If your board is doing everything it’s supposed to be doing, you’re good,” Lopez said. “It’s the bad actors I’m going after.”
The town hall had an impressive panel. Besides Lopez, there was Miami-Dade County Commissioner Raquel Regalado, Village Zoning and Planning Director Jeremy Gauger and numerous other experts on property insurance and changes in County requirements after Surfside.
Gauger said all buildings in Key Biscayne are deemed safe with 15 buildings recertified and 23 undergoing construction work to get over the finish line.
Lopez returned repeatedly, though, to the subject of bad condo boards.
“We learned about conflicts of interests. We learned that property managers recommend their brothers, their other business partners, and nobody knows about it. They don’t disclose the conflict,” she said. “And we’ve learned that condo board members are also doing the same thing.”
She said her proposal will make sure associations can’t keep secret from residents milestone inspections and structural integrity studies – mandates Tallahassee made to ensure another Surfside doesn’t occur.
One of the biggest problems with condo associations is lack of transparency where residents and even board members are refused records – even when DBPR orders them turned over.
Lopez said “to put a little teeth into this legislation” she will propose fines of $1,000 a day if documents are not provided after being ordered to do so by the DBPR.
“It’s terrible that we have to hit people over the head,” she said. “But I’m sorry, I’m tired of condo owners being ignored.”
For some, it was tough medicine – especially for those condo officers who said they were doing everything they can to adhere to new requirements.
Frank Wimer, the president of the Towers of Key Biscayne condo, told Lopez he worried that a technicality could result in a hefty fine.
“You said, ‘those condo association boards, we’ve got to get into line,’” as if all associations are the same, he said, pushing back.
“Please distinguish between them.”