Everyone who lives in, or has thought of living in a homeowners association in South Florida has heard the stories of crooked boards of directors who seem hell-bent on controlling every aspect of the residents’ lives. The term condo commando comes to mind more often than not, although sometimes it is simply a perception of the residents who do not fully understand what the board of directors actually does.
That being said, there are times, as have been recently documented on the news and in print, where members of the board may be skirting the law at best, and outright flaunting the law they are supposed to uphold at worst.
Sometimes, it seems like there is no real recourse for the average man on the street to take against those who flaunt there power, and only want to punish the underlings who live, sometimes quite literally, below their feet.
Q: Dear Adam,
Would you have any tips about who could help when officers and directors are the worst offenders of laws in the association, and try to enforce rules they are breaking?
I am living off of social security and small investments and can’t afford expensive attorney’s fees.
Is there a court that handles ethical misconduct? Any help would be appreciated.
-Steve in Fort Lauderdale
A: The letter writer doesn’t clarify if he lives in a condominium or an HOA. He references HOA help but often folks call all types of communities HOA’s even when referring to condominiums and cooperatives.
His options are greater if he lives in a condominium in terms of filing a complaint with the Division of Florida Condominiums and/or reaching out to the Ombudsman’s Office for assistance and advice. Both of those options are free of charge but they do come with potential for lengthy delays given the amount of folks both agencies help each day.
If this individual lives in an HOA and he is unable to afford to hire an attorney to confront the directors with their transgressions, he has two options: enlist the help of other community members to recall those directors or file a police report if the director’s actions are criminal in nature such as embezzling funds. He might also want to contact Broward County Legal Aid to see if they are willing to assist him on a pro bono basis with this matter.
Lastly, it sounds as if the directors in this community might be trying to enforce certain rules against the letter writer that they themselves are breaking. In that instance, this owner does have the choice to represent himself pro se in any action the association might bring and one of his defenses would be a selective enforcement defense.
Hope this helps.
-Donna Berger, Managing Partner of the statewide community association law firm of Katzman Garfinkel & Berger (www.kgblawfirm.com) and the Executive Director of the Firm’s not-for-profit Community Advocacy Network (CAN) (www.canfl.com).
Hopefully, this advice will help not only the reader in Fort Lauderdale, but other readers as well. Sometimes it may feel like you are going it alone, but through this column, hopefully you will realize that there are people out there who can help.
Be sure to subscribe to this column, and stay abreast of issues involving you, the homeowners of Palm Beach County! If you’ve had any issues with your HOA that you’d like me to try and delve into, and possibly write about later, please let me know.