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IT TAKES A COMMUNITY

The Downfall of Senate (SB736) and House Bill (HB611)

David versus Goliath,

David wins…

Incredible feats of improbable underdog victories, give hope to what might otherwise appear as insurmountable obstacles. The odds of volunteer community associations, under represented and poorly funded beating big industry in a Legislative showdown was almost laughable. Add to the fact that the special interest groups that had the beef with community associations never even discussed with them once their grievances. Instead, when the 2015 Florida Legislative Session began, so did the attacks against community associations.

The attack against the millions of folks living in community associations was in the form of a proposed law, SB 736. The “Estoppel Bill” was expected to breeze through the floor of the House of Representatives as quickly as it blew through the Senate. The 2 Senate Committees overwhelmingly approved the Bill. We were being steamrolled. However, as any citizen in a proud democratic society knows, “always bet on the people.

On April 23, 2015, SB 736, after weeks of email blasts and telephone calls, from neighborhood volunteers and last minute negotiated amendments, the Estoppel Bill reached “the floor” of the Florida Senate and was overwhelmingly approved. Bad news for community associations.  The next stop was “the floor” of the Florida House of Representatives where it was a forgone conclusion that the Senate Bill would simply be approved by the full House of Representatives.

You did not give up. You emailed, then emailed some more and then kept calling your elected representatives and literally begged them to reconsider. The Bill was held up just enough. The Speaker closed up shop 3 days early and the Estoppel Bill promptly died proving that if the people of Florida want their voices heard never give up.

SB 736 and HB 611 both began with lobbyists for realtors and title companies who likely contributed $2 million dollars into the campaigns accounts of certain Legislators.  In turn, there was tremendous support of this Bill without consideration to the approximating 9 million residents living in Florida Community Associations.

CAN led the charge to build bridges, create new alliances between advocacy groups who lobby for laws that benefit condominium, cooperative, and homeowners associations and rallied all to oppose the proposed Estoppel bill.  An Estoppel is a legal document that can be used by an owner when selling his or her home.  The community association produces the estoppel which is often requested in relation to a closing on a particular home or condominium unit.  The estoppel itemizes any amounts that are owed to the community association related to that owner’s parcel/unit.  The person requesting the estoppel may rely on the amount stated in the estoppel as being the correct amount owed on the account related to that parcel or unit.

Current Florida law provides that a community association may charge a reasonable fee for the research, drafting and production of the estoppel and that the estoppel must be provided within fifteen (15) days of the request.  Proposed SB 736 and HB 611 sought to cap the fees allowed to be charged, reduce the number of days which an association had to provide the estoppel, and required that the fee for the estoppel could only be paid through the closing…oh yeah, and if the closing did not happen, that fee could be secured by a lien against the property and then foreclosed upon by the association similar to an assessment lien.

This bill would have been horrible for the more than 9 million people living in approximately 60,000 community associations in the State of Florida.  A homeowner whose closing failed would have an added burden of having their property potentially liened. Assessments and dues for almost every community association neighborhood in the State of Florida would have been increased due to lost fees and increased legal expenses related to estoppel preparation as a result of the fee cap. Our not-for-profit associations and volunteer board members would be stuck paying the bill as proposed by the realtor and title lobby.

Katzman Garfinkel’s Community Advocacy Network (CAN) worked hard to establish the alliance, and then worked hand in hand with some of the leading statewide coalition groups representing the interests of neighborhood community associations. We formed a never-seen-before special effort, a united front against SB 736 and HB 611. The Community Advocacy Network (CAN), The Community Association Institute Florida Legislative Alliance (CAI/FLA), Community Association Leadership Lobby (CALL),  The Chief Executive Officers of Management Companies (CEOMC), Council of Neighborhood Association (CONA), the Council of North County Neighborhoods (CNCN), and The Space Coast Communities Association (SCCA).

Democracy works, the actions of all of these fine community association advocacy groups is proof.  Against seemingly insurmountable odds, this first of its kind coalition toppled huge money and big special interests that did NOT have the interests of Florida voters, residents, homeowners, and citizens in mind.  It is good to know that our elected representatives decided to turn to the unified voices of voters and not toward the all mighty dollar

 

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