Criminal penalties in proposed condo law spur controversy in Tallahassee
By Brenda Medina
The condo reform bill has been signed into law.
The Florida condo reform bill is moving forward in the state
Legislature, but the controversy between those who are in favor of and
those who are against criminalizing certain infractions could intensify
in the coming weeks.
The bill, led by Miami-Dade lawmakers, seeks to make condo electoral
fraud a crime, such as falsifying signatures for condominium elections,
and to create penalties for retaining documents to which homeowners are
entitled. But lawmakers are facing resistance from colleagues,
lobbyists and lawyers who do not favor new criminal punishment.
“We’ve figured out that there is really no teeth in some of the laws
that apply to condos and associations,” Republican Sen. René García, of
Miami-Dade, said during a committee meeting.
“Our residents feel that they are living in third world countries,
almost, with totalitarian regimes, where they are being intimidated and
told what they need to do in their associations,” added García, who is
cosponsoring the bill with Sen. José Javier Rodríguez, a Democrat.
The bill was recently presented in the Senate’s Regulated Industries
Committee, where it was preliminarily approved in an 8-2 vote.
Miami-Dade lawmakers have already made several changes to the bill
related to language and other technicalities, but insist that criminal
punishments (which in some cases would lead to imprisonment) are an
essential part of the reform plan. The bill is now under consideration
by the Senate’s Rules Committee (SB 1682) and House of Representatives’
Judiciary Committee (HB 1237), which is scheduled to vote Thursday.
The reform proposal was submitted a year after el Nuevo Herald and
Univisión 23 published the series “Condo Nightmare,” an investigation
that revealed cases of electoral fraud, forgery, conflicts of interest,
alleged misappropriation of funds and fraudulent bids in several South
Those who oppose all or several of the criminal punishments insist that
criminalizing offenses that should be handled as a civil matter — such
as fines — would discourage homeowners, who would then not want to
become condo board members. They argue that the new rules could end up
accidentally punishing board members for making mistakes.
“We’re dealing with about 36-40,000 associations, and there are
certainly those that are bad actors,” said Travis Moore, a lobbyist
with the Community Associations Institute (CAI), who testified before
the Senate committee. “We are trying to regulated those ... but without
affecting the volunteers that serve in many of the other associations
in a positive way.”
Moore said his biggest concern is that, in the absence of board
members, the associations would have to be managed by a court-appointed
receiver. This, Moore said, would particularly affect associations at
small condominium complexes, where there aren’t many owners willing to
take on volunteer board positions.
In any case, stronger regulations are needed, said Miami-Dade County
Commissioner José “Pepe” Díaz and North Bay Village Commissioner
Andreana Jackson, who appeared before the committee in Tallahassee to
advocate for reforms.
“These problems have seriously impacted many people who do not have the
financial means to defend themselves, to go to court to recover money
that, many times, has been stolen from them by members of some boards,”
Richard Pinsky, a lawyer and lobbyist, who represents property owners
on behalf of Cyber Citizens for Justice, said the condo fraud cases are
not an exclusive problem for Miami-Dade County.
“This affects a lot of people across Florida and, on behalf of those living in condominiums, we support the bill,” Pinsky said.