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Homes Can Be Lost Over Missed Homeowners's Association Payment

Aug 17, 2007
Under Florida law, a homeowner's association can foreclose and take anyone's home after a missed payment.

To save their homes, owners not only have to pay the original debt, but late charges and association legal fees that can easily double the amount of their debt. Hiring a lawyer to fight the foreclosure also can be costly.
For example, Roberto Martinez-Fuentes and Mayra Crespo of Miramar Gardens, who owed $555, had to pay $3,668.39, more than six times that amount including $2,500 for attorney fees and $613.34 in other costs to save their home last year.

State Sen. Jeremy Ring, D-Margate, is proposing protection: His bill would bar homeowner's associations from filing a lien or trying to foreclose until the owners had been warned in a registered or certified letter that they had 45 days to pay.

Attempts to require a certain amount to be owed before an association could foreclose have failed in the Legislature several times, including this year.

Rep. Julio Robaina, R-Miami, and Sen. Alex Villalobos, R-Miami, had filed proposals this year that wouldn't allow foreclosure until an owner had missed $2,500 in payments, or 25 months of dues, a bill similar to a law California enacted.

But the proposal was defeated early on, with strong opposition from association leaders and attorneys.

Fort Lauderdale association attorney Ferren L. Korr says the proposed foreclosure restrictions would have been catastrophic.

The ability to collect delinquent assessments is critical to the survival of any association, he wrote in an e-mail to The Miami Herald. By hampering an association's ability to collect past due assessments, the Legislature would, in effect, be rewarding those who do not pay their fair share to the detriment of those who do.

To initiate foreclosure, the association doesn't have to verify that the money is actually owed. Normally, you have to prove someone owes you $500. Not the guys representing homeowners' association. No proof necessary to file a lien for a homeowner's association, says Jan Bergemann, whose statewide Cyberspace for Justice is lobbying the Florida Legislature for better consumer protections for owners in community associations.

Owners who are dissatisfied with their associations have few places to turn. Florida has few laws regulating homeowner's associations, and there is little enforcement of the existing laws. Condo owners have a state ombudsman, but homeowner's associations do not.

The only place most homeowners can go with association disputes is civil court, which is costly.

That leaves homeowners who want change with only one remedy: Get their neighbors together and vote for a new board of directors.
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