Roger Kesselbach: Bad bill for homeowners needs major surgery
After a half century, Alvin Lawrence Alce gets his due. Image via Monroe County.

Florida’s homeowners and neighborhoods need a doctor.

We need someone who can perform surgery on a very bad bill, a bill that sticks homeowners in the heart with what amounts to a legislatively mandated dues increase.

I want to be crystal clear about this: CS/CS/CS/SB 736 aka, the “estoppel bill,” will force homeowners’ dues to go up.

Here’s how:

The Florida Senate passed a bill that requires condominium and homeowners’ associations to cap the cost of preparing a legal document known as an estoppel certificate. Sometimes these documents take many hours, accountants and lawyers to prepare in order to make sure they are accurate. When that happens, the cost goes up. It’s that simple. That’s how the free-market works.

These certificates are not easy to prepare. We must verify the absolute correct address of the property, resolve any inconsistencies in it, make sure the owner’s information is also perfectly accurate (oftentimes either through a marriage, divorce, or other significant life events, someone’s name can and will change), and then the collection status must be verified and supported via documentation. This part of preparation alone can be especially complex when the homeowner has a large number of outstanding charges, many of which are often disputed. Further, assessment levels can differ from home to home and condominium and homeowners association boards of directors, who are generally volunteer community residents untrained in such matters, often must have professional help in verifying the pay-off figures and ensure the certificates are correctly completed.

In short, even a so-called, “simple” estoppel certificate can take many hours to accurately prepare.

And this must be stressed; these things HAVE to be accurate because when a homeowner fails to pay thousands in past dues or fees and sells their home, the neighbors end up stuck with the bill if they are not.

But the Senate has said that not only will homeowners no longer be guaranteed payment, the actual price we can charge will be capped at an absurdly low amount. This price-fixing move will force neighbors to pay the extra cost of preparing these documents.

The Senate has decided that the best role of government is to interfere in a private transaction and set an artificial limit on what one party may charge another. It’s not just morally reprehensible; it is flat out unfair to homeowners who will now be forced to pay the extra cost.

The bill is now headed to the Florida House – the last place it can be fixed. The Florida House is the last hope for homeowners and neighborhoods. The Florida House is the last stop for true conservatives to step up and say, “We believe in less government, not a government that believes in price-fixing and government-imposed caps.”

And I ask because this session, the voices of homeowners are not being heard. We – actual real live homeowners are going to pay the price for this bad legislation.

This bill will put an unnecessary burden on Florida home and condominium owners and on the association volunteers who donate their time to manage the not-for-profit community associations for the residents. It is the homeowners who will be footing the bills for the balance of the cost of estoppel certificate because of the arbitrary and artificial caps this bill impose, costs that delinquent owners should be paying, not their neighbors.

It is these small not-for-profit association volunteer boards who will be stuck trying to jump through legal hoops knowing that their communities may no longer be able to afford the costs caused by delinquent owners. It is they who will be stuck tracking real estate transactions that the association they manage should NOT be involved in in the first place.

And the Florida House – where this bill now resides – is the last stop where this bill can be thrown on the table, put under the knife and surgically repaired.

So I ask, “Is there a doctor in the House?”

Roger Kesselbach is president of the Space Communities Association, a non-profit all volunteer organization representing nearly 20,000 residential units and their owners in Brevard County. He can be reached at [email protected]. Column courtesy of Context Florida. 

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