New state law seeks to penalize condo fraud

by Chelsea Niaz

Fort Lauderdale Waterfront

Condo board fraud and other improper behavior by condo building administrators is not punishable by jail time and other penalties under new state law sign by Gov. Rick Scott, according to media reports.

After media reports and state investigations found numerous incidents of condo board vote-rigging, embezzlement and records tampering led state lawmakers to amend the portion of state law regulating condo associations, according to the Miami Herald. 

Firm Consequences

“For the first time there will be criminal consequences for those who commit fraud,” Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, chairman of the Miami-Dade delegation to the Florida Legislature and prime sponsor of the condo reform proposal, told the Miami Herald. Florida Senate voted unanimously for criminal penalties on condo violations like electoral fraud, theft of funds and conflicts on interest within the bill.

Falsification of signatures on ballots for board elections, theft of ballots and disappearance of votes are now considered crimes under the bill with steep fines and possible imprisonment. Withholding condo information, if it's proven that the documents were denied in order to commit or cover up a crime, is also considered criminal. The bill makes it clear that "various criminal components of [Florida state law] do apply to condominium cases," Miami Democrat José Javier Rodríguez who co-sponsored the bill, said in a Miami Herald article.

Stipulations of the Bill

Condo associations with 150 units or more are now required to publish their financial reports on a web page accessible with passwords, according to the Miami Herald. The bill restricts the number of years directors can be on the homeowners association board to eight in an effort to reduce fraud. Directors also cannot receive payments from the association or hire their relatives.

“This is very important for Miami-Dade because it’s something that condo owners have been waiting for for nearly a decade,” Hialeah Republican Sen. René Garca, co-sponsor of the bill, told the Miami Herald.

"Condo Nightmares"

The bill's approval comes after the investigative series "Condo Nightmares" revealed harsh truths about condo fraud and other offenses within Florida's condominiums. The series, which aired on El Nuevo Herald and Univision 23, showed cases of electoral fraud, financial mismanagement and conflicts of interest among many others, according to the Miami Herald.

The program uncovered four board members in a Hialeah building who accepted more than $100,000 from the management company, unbeknownst to other owners. Perpetrators in "Condo Nightmares" often walked away unpunished, the Miami Herald reported. Lack of repercussions for wrongdoing is a problem consistent with many disgruntled condo owners' experiences.

“This is a first and very important step in the fight to correct all the problems we have,” Isidora Rodríguez, the owner of a condo in Hialeah said in a Miami Herald article. Rodríguez showed her support for the bill by traveling to Tallahassee to watch it get signed.

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