Homestead - South Dade

Military families moving to Homestead often must wait in hotels for background checks

Dee Sonntag moved to South Florida from North Carolina when her husband Kurt was stationed at the Homestead Air Reserve Base last year.

Like most military families, the Sonntags knew the drill with relocation: you get 10 days to pack up, move and settle in a new home.

They didn’t expect, however, to have to wait up to 30 days to get approved by their new homeowners association.

“They tell you they need to run background checks, but the soldiers already have all these security clearances,” Sonntag said. “It was unexpected for us. It could be more efficient because then you’re sitting in a hotel.”

The military community has a harder time relocating in Homestead because the majority of homes are managed by homeowners associations. Most don’t take into account the limited time families have to move in.

After 10 days, it becomes the families’ expense to stay in a hotel and keep their stuff in storage until they are approved to move in.

In the Sonntags case, they were approved on time after the Military Affairs Committee of the South Dade Chamber of Commerce intervened.

“We all need to understand that they have been vetted by U.S. government,” said Rosa Brito, president of the South Dade Chamber of Commerce. “What we are all trying to do is explain to HOA board members. We visited all the HOAs.”

Military personnel undergo a background check, a credit check, and security clearance, according to a public affairs officer from the air reserve base.

City officials have also taken up the task of convincing HOAs to provide an expediting screening process to help accommodate military families.

The city complied a list of about 20 HOAs that have been approached, but haven’t changed their policies. Most of the associations on the list are managed by Alton Madison Property Management and First Service Residential.

“Although there is no official expedited process, we do all we can to accommodate these applications as quickly as possible,” said Lilian Feijoo, a spokeswoman for First Service Residential. “In fact, we’re currently in meetings with the Homestead council and the military to discuss how this process can be improved upon.”

Since 2013, the Homestead council has tried to advocate for a seven-day approval process at the state level to establish and enforce it for all newly formed HOAs.

While most haven’t changed their policies, a couple of HOAs have started accommodating military families with an expedited process.

Tracey Rubin, Senior Community Association Manager for Guarantee Management Services, said that the HOAs they managed changed their policies immediately after speaking with the city.

“Military personnel does not have to go through background check,” Rubin said. “[We] do everything possible to make their transition into the community quick and easy as we are aware of their time restraints.”

Only family members that are 18 and older have to go through a background check, which according to Rubin, takes two to three days.

Follow Rebeca Piccardo on Twitter: @rpicc002.