By Steve Miller
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting
There are many folks out there who refuse to purchase property that has a homeowner association attached to it. It has to do with money to some degree, but also due to the fact that stories of HOA boards run by abusive, power-hungry, angry people living that quiet desperation thing are rife.
In Florida, in some places we have condos as far as the eye can see, accompanied by condo associations that have drawn so many complaints that the state has an office dedicated just to those beefs and pays one official, Michael Cochran, $89,634.74 a year to oversee that office.
Norman Rogers turned to the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting first to tell his tale of condo woe.
In an email, Rogers told us: “I own a condominium in Miami. In 2009 I received a $1,600 bill from an attorney I never heard of. He has been dunning me ever since trying to collect this bill.”
The attorney, Nathan Mandler, represented a number of condo owners in a dispute over property taxes. He did well, and some of the condo owners benefited from his work, including Rogers. It looks like the county makes things easy for these multi-housing appeals, providing a ready form.
Except, Rogers said, he never asked Mandler to handle anything for him. Instead, the lawyer was hired by the condo association, which claims it gave everyone in the 166-unit building a chance to opt out on being represented by Mandler.
“If you opt out, you don’t get the break,” said Greta Pardo, assistant manager of the Grovenor House Condominiums Association. “They won’t take the case if you opt out. Or you can do this all on your own.”
She said the condo association voted to use Mandler. Paying the lawyer, though, was the responsibility of each resident. That seems to set the table for, at the least, a misunderstanding.
Rogers says he doesn’t recall getting an opt-out notice and never knew about any legal work being done on his behalf until the bill arrived. And arrived again. And again. Nasty emails have been exchanged. Last fall, the alleged debt went into collection.
“When I first moved in there in 2006, the taxes were $25,000 a year,” Rogers said in an interview. “Then after this guy apparently worked his magic, taxes went down to $20,000 a year. Oddly, though, when I look at Zillow for property values, my value went up. How does that happen?”
Rogers has another condo, in Chicago, where the condo association hires and pays the lawyer on behalf of the residents, presumably out of condo fees.
“I have no intention of paying this bill, for a service that I did not agree to,” Rogers said.
In a later email he added: “I find it strange that he pursues me so relentlessly but does not sue. Perhaps he would prefer not to have public exposure or discovery.”
Mandler didn’t return a call or email.
It appears that the biggest offense in condo-land is the failure to pay condo fees. Rogers, though, is facing a different challenge in his standoff with the condo association lawyer.