South Florida

Proposed condo reform bill expected to go before Florida legislature for final vote

Hundreds of Miami-Dade condo owners protest in Doral in 2016 to demand changes in Florida condo law.
Hundreds of Miami-Dade condo owners protest in Doral in 2016 to demand changes in Florida condo law.

A bill to reform Florida condo law is in its final phase in Tallahassee after it was unanimously approved by the Senate’s Rules Committee on Tuesday.

The bill is scheduled for a vote on Thursday in the House and is expected to go to the full Senate next week.

However, a last-minute change brought protests from condominium owners and their advocates, who for months have been pushing for approval of the reforms.

Through amendments filed this week and last week, lawmakers removed language that could penalize, as a misdemeanor charge, association board members who “knowingly and repeatedly” refuse to provide documents to which the owners are entitled.

Owners and activists who defend condominium owners said that language was the most important part of the proposed reforms. But the issue of potential criminal charges was controversial in Tallahassee, where lobbyists and lawyers — including a representative of the Florida Bar — strongly objected to that part of the bill.

The reforms still include felony charges for those who alter, manipulate or remove records of associations for the purpose of committing fraud. In addition, the reforms still include criminal charges for actions related to electoral fraud, such as falsification of signatures on ballot papers.

But some Florida condo owners said they feel cheated.

“We’re back where we started,” said Maryin Vargas, a Miami condo owner and leader of the Reform Florida group. “Special interests are the only ones who have a voice in Florida. The lawyers know that without records, owners can’t fight their cases and find out if a crime is being committed in their condominiums.”

The bill came one year after el Nuevo Herald and Univision 23 published Condo Nightmares (Condos de Pesadilla), a series of investigative stories on condo abuses in South Florida, like electoral fraud, falsification of signatures, conflicts of interest, embezzlement and cases of fraudulent bidding.

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