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“It’s out of control.” Condo reform gaining steam in Tallahassee

State Sen. Jason Pizzo listens to an attendee of a condo corruption seminar in Aventura on Friday, Nov. 10. 2023. Pizzo is one of a number of lawmakers calling for reform to stem abuses by condominium boards.
John Pacenti
/
Key Biscayne Independent
State Sen. Jason Pizzo listens to an attendee of a condo corruption seminar in Aventura on Friday, Nov. 10. 2023. Pizzo is one of a number of lawmakers calling for reform to stem abuses by condominium boards.

After a workshop on condo fraud and corruption ended on Friday, dozens of residents of high-rises throughout South Florida swarmed the podium. They wanted to tell their tale of woe about their condo board to either State Sen. Jason Pizzo or Miami-Dade Assistant State Attorney John Perikles.

Some talked about how condo boards got perks from vendors. Others spoke about how elections were stolen. Many talked about how they could not get financial records from boards.

Both Pizzo and Perikles listened patiently at the Aventura event but they didn’t sugarcoat the situation during the two-hour panel discussion. All leverage remains with boards, the laws remain vague and weak, and the agency in charge of protecting condo residents is worse than toothless – it’s apathetic, they said.

“Guys it’s out of control,” said Pizzo, who represents District 37 that runs mostly along the Broward County coastline. At one point the state lawmaker name-dropped Key Biscayne, referencing the recent arrest of the property manager at EmeraldBay for allegedly stealing maintenance fees from residents.

The seminar organized by former Sunny Isles mayor and real estate attorney Dana Goldman hit many of the same notes of the town hall held on Key Biscayne and anchored by State Rep. Vicki Lopez and Miami-Dade Commissioner Raquel Regalado.

The effort is also bi-partisan. Both Lopez and Regalado are Republicans, while Pizzo is a Democrat.

“I don’t mean to curse, I’m sorry, but nobody in Tallahassee up until now has given a shit about people who live in condos,” Pizzo said. “It’s been the Wild Wild West and they’ve (the boards) been doing whatever they want. And that’s now finally changing.”

The panelists also included a representative from a property management company, the CEO of a business helping condominiums install electronic voting and an advocate for the rights of condominium owners.

But the show belonged to Perikles and Pizzo.

At one point, Pizzo asked the crowd if they knew of any board members who have received free renovation work or other types of kickbacks from vendors. “Try two condos and Caddy,” one woman responded.

Perikles was carrying the flag for his boss, Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle, who on last week’s episode of the Anti-Social podcast said the perfect landing spot for any want-to-be thief is a condo board because of the lack of accountability.

Perikles, as the head of the economics crime unit, built the case against board members in the Hammocks in Kendall. Prosecutors allege more than $2 million was stolen from residents. He also oversaw the grand jury that wrote a scathing report on condominium corruption.

But the seasoned prosecutor said large law firms who represent condo boards have a huge sway in Tallahassee and any reform is still an uphill battle. “There seems to be a lot of resistance out there,” he said.

The proposed legislation is expected to be filed within days and has been called “Condo 3.0,” following reforms during the last two sessions the focused on making sure another Surfside collapse never occurs again.

Lopez has said she expects the bill to seek to expand the powers DBPR and create criminal penalties for boards who repeatedly won’t turn over requested documents to residents.

Pizzo had nothing nice to say about DBPR, calling it “useless, worthless.” “The same agency that licenses nail technicians should not also be overseeing condominiums,” he said.

Pirekles says condo residents trying to press a complaint often find themselves going to the DBPR with a complaint only for the agency to refer them back to police, saying it’s a criminal matter. Yet, when those residents go to police, they are told it’s civil and their options are either try their luck with DBPR or file a civil lawsuit, a costly proposition.

This story was originally published in the Key Biscayne Independent, a WLRN News partner.

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