At last, the state has taken an important step to penalize the fraud and abuses that have plagued many condominiums in Miami-Dade and Broward — and the rest of Florida.
Last week, Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed into law needed condo law reforms, bringing their dealings into the light.
From now on, condo associations that have 150 or more units are required to issue financial reports and make them available on a website with a shared password.
The enhanced law will also limit to eight years terms served on condo governing boards, and it broadens and clarifies the definition of conflicts of interest.
This key addition will help prevent nepotism, such as the granting of maintenance contracts and services to relatives of board members or the managers themselves.
Under the new law, fraud in the election of condo association directors, falsification of signatures on election ballots, the manipulation of condo records, and the theft or disappearance of ballots will be considered serious violations that could be punished with prison terms — giving the law some sharp and teeth.
The Miami-Dade delegation introduced the bill in Tallahassee earlier this year.
These lawmakers are to be commended for fighting tooth and nail to get it to become law. They celebrated their victory with a handful of condo dwellers from Miami-Dade who worked to get the bill passed and traveled to the state capital for the final vote.
The bill came out of an investigative series on condo abuses by el Nuevo Herald and Univision 23.
The series, “Condo Nightmares,” revealed numerous instances of condo board election fraud, falsified signatures, conflicts of interest, possible misappropriation of funds, and other irregularities, all uncovered by reporters Brenda Medina and Enrique Flor of el Nuevo and Erika Carrillo of Univisión 23.
“This is a very important law for Miami-Dade because it’s something that condo owners have been waiting for for nearly a decade,” Hialeah Republican Sen. René Garcia, who co-sponsored the bill with Miami Democrat José Javier Rodríguez, told the Herald. In the House the bill was championed by Rep. Jose Felix Diaz. In the end, it was the House version (HB1237) that was approved by the legislature.
The abuses uncovered by the series led to a scathing February report by a Miami-Dade grand jury that echoed the series’ findings and recommended significant changes and a beefing up to Chapter 718 of the state statutes, which regulates condos, as well as the state agency that is supposed to monitor and punish violations, the Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR).
The bill faced a hard road. The original legislation, which was stricter on abusers, was opposed by attorneys from condominium associations and also the Florida Bar, claiming it did not want new crimes to be created. Miami-Dade lawmakers made several amendments to the bill and got it done.
Now, the new law clarifies the crime committed and the punishment to be faced.
Police departments and state prosecutors had said they have not investigated complaints of electoral fraud in condominium associations because the law did not spell out criminal punishments and they could do little to charge wrongdoers.
For the millions of Floridians who live in condos — and for those who are being held hostage by a homeowners association gone rogue — there is now stronger legal recourse.